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How to Fail as a Supervisor

Newly promoted supervisors amaze me at times with the common mistakes they make. You do not need to attend a supervisor school to learn these; just watch the fabulous new buck sergeant before you and they will make them. It is a rite of sergeanthood.

Trusting is a word that most police supervisors do not have in their vocabulary but they really are the most trusting in the world. A young sergeant will want to ride every call, make every decision and literally be the cover officer to every situation. Some feel it is to control their squad or direct them. Some do not trust and others are just plain frightened. Here are some reality statements.

Many feel that a police squad is a group of 10-12 police officers that are out to get their sergeant indicted. This is not true; most officers want to go on their merry way without the fabulous new sergeant changing anything. They are in their comfort zones and were performing well before you got the new stripes sewed on. Now you sneaking up on them while they are patrol spooning (talking to another officer from driver's window to driver's window) is wasted time, get to know each of them before you try to break them apart.

Fact of the matter is that police supervisors are probably the most trusting sort of all bosses. Think about this, in a factory there is a line boss walking back and forth, glaring over your shoulder to ensure that you are working, the line is moving and the work is getting down. That is direct supervision.

A police sergeant has roll call and sends you off to your zones or beats. He or she must trust that you are on your beat, performing various tasks, ready to respond and not doing anything to get them indicted. They do not have global positioning on you or know your every thought.

You can't be everywhere; nowhere does it say that a patrol sergeant is given the powers of omnipresence. Recently, while evaluating a new supervisor on a training exercise who was insisting that her presence was needed for every task, I found she needed to be reeled in for a quick lesson on supervision. I told her that managing emergency services resources is like holding mashed potatoes in your hand. Puzzled she glanced down at her hand. I told her that the harder you squeeze them the less you hold. This made some sense to her despite my culinary analogy.

The mashed potato theory of management has two teaching points. One is that if you squeeze too hard they will shoot out between your fingers. You will possess less and have a mess. If you hold the least resources, you will fail under stress. I am not suggesting mollycoddling for a steady hand will work. Secondly, if you hold and mold them they will bind and become something; either a potato dumpling or a squad. Both have more strength from the starch that binds them or the camaraderie that binds them into a team. This is done with care and time.

Finally, never compare! If you came from another division or squad and you are the new leader, never, ever compare the old squad to the new. This is like a bad sibling rivalry for we don't want to hear about the great old squad that made all happy faces in its entire works. Thus we are the misfits, the stepchildren of the family. You cannot exhibit any affection for the past; you are in today and this new squad is the future.

I have not covered all of the mistakes of the newly promoted but these are the most prevalent in my eyes. As my old Army First Sergeant taught me when I made buck sergeant: don't fuss about shoe shines and haircuts, they are a given. Find something of importance that is different and make that your mark as a sergeant. So I did it and it was training, which paid off for me. I decided to ensure that my squad then was trained and trained properly; it paid off for them and me as well.