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Leading During The Good and the Bad
I often say that the law enforcement career is a marathon and not a sprint and within the pacing of any profession, there will be good and bad days. If you aren’t as fortunate, there may be bad months or even years, but one thing is for sure…no job, anywhere, is full of fun.
If it was, we wouldn’t call that a job. We would call it vacation.
How Will You Adapt?
The good and the bad is true whether you are a rookie or seasoned veteran.
It’s true whether you are in your dream assignment or at the top of the food chain.
The key to overcoming hardships is understanding that they will come regardless of your agency, position, or authority.
Just as you prepare for anything in law enforcement through training, mindset and overall resiliency, every leader must prepare for the bad times and there is one main rule that every great leader must understand.
Bad times can never affect a leader in a negative way.
Leadership gurus love the mantra that leaders cannot have bad days and while that may sound sexy and tactical, it simply isn’t true this side of eternity.
Bad days will happen, but leaders cannot let that affect them…Everyone is watching.
A Personal Failure
I was recently in a meeting with one of my managers when an employee walked in. He was upset and told the manager of the latest crisis in his life and needed some time off. My day was already not great for no particular reason and once the employee left, I lit into him with the manager. All of the leadership traits that are important including empathy weren’t in my tank that day and it showed.
A few minutes later, the manager left to deal with the employee, and I was immediately embarrassed by my actions. I knew that I had let a bad day affect my performance as a leader. If I had displayed such wanton disregard for the needs of a hard-working employee in front of my manager, why would I expect any different behavior from them to others.
It was a huge wake up call to me that whatever was going on in my life, it simply cannot affect me in a negative fashion and definitely cannot be displayed in front of those I am leading. I grabbed my manager, apologized for my actions, and told him that it would never happen again.
And there have certainly been more bad days since but that was a tough lesson that I never want to repeat.
How To Handle Bad Days
Expecting the bad days is the first step to handling bad days and the practice of emotional intelligence daily will prepare leaders to not develop negative behaviors. While the topic of emotional intelligence is far too big to cover here, it is simply the ability to control your emotions through self-awareness, self-regulation, and social awareness so that your ability to lead will not be impacted in a negative way.
I am avid golfer and there may not be a better method to “practice” emotional intelligence then trying to hit a small round ball laying peacefully in a patch of grass. While your mind tells you it looks easy, the results are often catastrophic, and it becomes very easy to let your emotions destroy the day. Ben Hogan was one of the greatest golf players to ever play the game and his demeanor on the golf course was nothing short of an amazing display of the idea now called emotional intelligence.
Whether he hit a perfect golf shot or shanked it, his demeanor and expression never changed. He was Zen before it was cool.
Not letting bad days affect you as a leader is certainly easier to write about than do. It is not a trait that comes naturally and in the law enforcement community, griping and complaining is a rite of passage but if your goal is to become a great leader, it must start with your behavior in the good and the bad.
Note: I encourage you to check out the Principles of Courageous Police Leadership. They will guide your leadership decisions during the good and the bad times. Our latest seminar focuses on using these principles to be the Courageous Leader that your community and employees expect at all times.
Dr. Travis Yates retired as a commander with a large municipal police department after 30 years of service. He is the author of “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” His risk management and leadership seminars have been taught to thousands of professionals across the world. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy with a Doctorate Degree in Strategic Leadership and the CEO of the Courageous Police Leadership Alliance.