Supervising Strengths - Part II

Cops are willful, opinionated, self-confident, and challenging. And that’s exactly why they were hired for this job. Good luck if you are “just a decent manager.” But if you can be both one of the “most effective managers” and a true leader at...


As we’ve studied the topic of morale and worked to apply what we’ve learned to our writing and teaching while focusing on the law enforcement community in particular, we’ve found and drawn heavily from solid, empirical research conducted by a number of business and leadership experts. Of course, we have our own opinions gleaned from years in our respective and various trenches as both leaders and led, informed by and supported by our formal training and education, but still it is always best to seek the views and perspective of others to weigh our subjective feelings and opinions against.

One such set of research we have come to respect and rely on greatly was an extensive, 30-year study of employee engagement conducted by the Gallup organization and looking at over 17 million employees in hundreds of different organizations. From this and related studies of employee engagement and satisfaction, management, and motivating workers, came several best-selling books, two of which we’ll list here: First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest managers Do Differently (Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman) and 12: The Elements of Great Managing (Rodd Wagner & James K Harter, PhD). Marcus Buckingham was, at the time his books were published, a senior vice president of the Gallup Organization and a disciple of Donald O Clifton, Ph.D., considered the “Father of Strengths Psychology.” Harter is a psychological scientist and researcher with Gallup.  

These books are rich with information for bosses and subordinates alike, and we highly recommend them to anyone interested in maximizing effectiveness and morale at work, either for themselves or those they supervise. From First, Break All the Rules… Buckingham and Coffman were able to determine seven things the best managers do that separate them from the ordinary. These seven qualities are:

  1. The best managers reject conventional wisdom (they are willing to think “outside the box” with creative planning and solutions),
  2. The best managers treat every employee as an individual (they understand and respect different points-of-view, temperaments, aptitudes and allow their employees to be unique),
  3. The best managers never try to fix weaknesses, choosing instead to focus on strengths (they promote success through existing strengths instead of trying to mold employees into something they are not),
  4. The best managers know they are on stage every day (their subordinates watch them very carefully, adjusting their behavior and performance accordingly),
  5. The best managers know measurements of employee satisfaction are important to an organization’s stakeholders ( in the LE setting, dissatisfied employees equal dissatisfied administration, citizens, elected officials, etc),
  6. The best managers know that “people leave their immediate supervisors, not the organization,” (employees quit working – literally or figuratively – and producing when they are dissatisfied or disgusted with their direct supervisor, and are much less affected by decisions and actions, whether positive or negative, made at the top levels of management), and
  7. The best managers create a work environment where employees can positively answer 12 key questions (we’ll come back to these shortly).

We’re not suggesting line supervisors, shift commanders, or administrators should squelch the ideas and direction they envision in favor of a lackadaisical “do whatever you want” management style. Setting a clear course is an important leadership prerogative and subordinates want you to do just that. But they also want that prerogative to be exercised with care and regard for how it affects them as employees, and taking their interests and skills into consideration.

If you are a supervisor now you probably have under your watch a variety of personalities, possessing a range of talents and aptitudes, embodied in a group of cops of marked diversity, all looking to you for not just management but leadership. This will likely be a demanding group. They’ll be willful, opinionated, self-confident, and challenging. Hey, they’re cops… that’s exactly why they were hired for this job, so what did you expect? Are you, at best, a decent manager? Good luck. But if you can be both one of the “most effective managers” and a true leader they’ll fall in love, and being a leader is what the seven qualities listed above are all about.    

Consider the opening vignette in view of these seven things the most effective managers do. How do Barry’s sergeant and lieutenant stack up? Considering the seven above, are they:

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