Hotwashes and Personal Growth Potential

Personal Disaster Avoidance Begins with self-inspection. Not all life’s disasters are natural; some are man-made and self-induced.


Through all of my four decades of working in emergency services, I have noticed that one principle of one discipline has a direct correlation on another discipline. After a few hurricanes, flooding events, add a winter storm and throw in a liquid tank farm explosion for good measure, you learn a few things about emergency management, life and supervision. Now add up all of the young officers under your supervision, field training recruits and academy recruits during this time span; these will add equal amounts of career disasters to manage as well. Some disasters are naturally occurring; others man-made and some personal ones are self-inflicted. If you are a supervisor of any rank from FTO to chief, you have got to learn to manage these career crossroads of your personnel as well.

After Action Plans for Careers

One thing that totally amazes me is the total lack of focus of some younger officers when it comes to career planning. Most are happy to get the job and in today’s economy, any job for that matter! One of the biggest issues that continues to perplex me is one key position that law enforcement does not have but every high school does, a guidance counselor. Even when I was in the US Army we had career counselors who were the Re-Up Sergeants in masquerade, but they gave you answers if you wanted to stay in and pursue a career. Most good first-line supervisors perform this feat as a collateral duty. Some excel at this, some struggle and others pass it off to somebody else who may be more adept. Still, do we do this all the time in Policeland? The answer is no. When I was assigned to the academy and training unit it seemed that I was the departmental career counselor. I sometimes felt like the cartoon character that the psychiatrist was in and advice in my case was for free. 

Most of the time a young officer comes in to meet with their supervisor about an ‘issue’ that is often not the real core of the major issue. If this happens post incident, supervisors pay attention and capitalize on this and now!  In the emergency management world we use the term “hotwash” for post disaster debriefings. What may be a career bump in the sergeant’s eyes could be a looming disaster for the officer. For my young supervisors here, not all of your staff will react to life’s challenges as you would have. How some handle a career counseling or even a simple verbal reprimand could be conceived as the end of the world by others. Never miss an opportunity to sit down and discuss lessons learned from life’s training moments. 

Of course if the officer gives reasons why the rest of the world is wrong and he/she is correct then we now have a problem identification issue. Their transfer of accountability towards others makes it bad for their growth potential. I have often said I do not want excuses but results. What the most important point here is to turn every one of life’s mistakes into a learning experience. Why is it so important to ‘debrief’ this officer so rapidly? If this is not a major discipline investigation or internal affairs process (which both have protocols and timelines), deal with the problem now. My mentor chief Dave Gellatly always said “to deal with little problems today before they become bigger problems tomorrow” (sic).

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