Not long ago, I had a trainer colleague call me for some career advice. After a lengthy phone conversation, I could not help but wonder if others are not having his same career questions. So here is the question, you are very happy in life, job is going well and all is happy in your world. Now the promotion announcement is posted. Several co-workers and supervisors are encouraging you to take the test and go for it. What to do?
There are several ways to evaluate this situation. A close retrospect of you, your current situation (family, lifestyle, financial) and life goals are in order. This is not an easy question to answer and I have seen a few missed chances and few regrets of others along the way. If nothing else, do the old pro and con column on each question. Also consult your best confidant, one who can give you the real answer and not the one you want to hear. Let’s go through a few talking points…
First of all, are you honestly and truly real sergeant material? I know many officers who came on the job to become an officer or deputy. Not in their wildest dreams did they ever fathom that they would even take on a higher position and there is nothing wrong with this. Most of us come on the job with the same dream, to be a cop. A few do state that they would like to become a detective, motor officer, SWAT operator but few say I want to be a police sergeant or chief of police. Now if being a cop was in your DNA, what about being a supervisor? It is not for all and certainly not for the faint of heart. You must answer this question to yourself. Before you answer, what have you done to prepare yourself for this career move? Have you taken courses and challenges to prepare you? Have you assumed other leadership roles such as instructor or FTO? Just to think that this is a cool idea is one thing; reality orientation should have directed you towards preparation for this. Far too many wait for the announcement before they ponder preparing for this process.
What is your personal-family station in life now and can it withstand a major change in it? For instance this was the plight of one officer I knew. He was a corporal with seniority and primo days off that suited his life. He had an off-duty employment that was lucrative and all was well in his world. He would have made a top notch sergeant and most all wanted him to take the test, he refused. When I sat down with him here was the reality. A new sergeant would mean that his days off would change to midweek. Seniority as a baby buck sergeant now would be in the basement, so vacation picks would be the less desirable. His time off with his family was important to him. Plus, the change of days off and schedule demands (Sergeants had to attend Comp-Stat meetings) would mean dropping the off-duty gig, which added up to less take home money. So he passed the opportunity and completed his career happy and with honor. After hearing him out, he made the right decision for him and others, if anyone lost out it was his department for he would have been a fantastic sarge.
What was important here with my corporal was that he took stock of all of the other things in his life that mattered, not just a set of stripes. He valued his own time off, time with his family and had earned the better perts of the job (valued days off and seniority). Of course, some question the off-duty verses the increased pay that accompanies the rank but it was his choice, what he enjoyed and his overall happiness with life. Quite frankly I have known several who have mourned over the rank quest and the stressors and impacts it made on their lives. What is important to your overall well-being and not stripes is what you should weigh.
Next answer this question for yourself, why do you want the promotion? If it is prestige, think again. Being a police supervisor may not get you a better parking spot. If it is a step to grander things, so you want to be a captain or chief; then this is a longer and more complex journey. This will be a never ending quest, for one rank begets another and so on. But, why do you want this promotion? If you are the true lifer or company person then you want to share your knowledge, skills and abilities for the greater good of the department. You are the true dedicated employee and the entire world is second to this. If you are trying to get a better situation for you, your career or long term employment stability for your family, this too is fine. Maybe it is in your DNA to be a leader. You have always been the captain of the team, past military assignments; then your personality is geared towards being out in front. Decide how your life foundation will support you towards your goal.
Now, reality statement time! If you are applying for the promotion because one of your academy class members just made sergeant and you are keeping up with him or her, stop there. To do this for an “I’ll show ‘em” moment is absurd. Promotions are based on many good and bad reasons. Just to do something over spite is one thing; you can’t compare just the academy experience. What are the other things that a promotion is being based on? Education, training, life experiences are the positives. Of course, inter-department politics will always surface. Every department has their own terms of endearments for this. Somebody out of the blue gets promoted and everyone wants to know who is their godfather, rabbi, horse, daddy and list goes on? Bottom line is seeking the promotion for positive reasons and not out of one-upmanship.
The choice you make is yours and those who surround you should have input. One thing that I do is ask a question on promotional boards. Most answer far too quickly on this one as well. I will ask that if you are offered this promotion, do you really want it and all the responsibilities that come with it. I remind all to be careful of what you are seeking here. I have had more than one come back in and quietly withdraw their names after soul searching this question. To me, it took a greater officer to admit that they were not ready internally, most all have since later reapplied and been promoted and some never applied again. So, what is the point here? Before you submit your paperwork, think. Look into the mirror and weigh all of the good and bad of this and all scenarios that could stem from this. If you wish to go for the promotion, then by all means give it all you have to offer and I bid good luck to you. If you ponder and decide to stay the course of your current career, you too have made the best decision for you and all others. I have never liked being around a pensive leader who did not want to be there. If you are happy now, then best of luck to you as well. We in Policeland have had our great leaders, although sometimes few and far between. We also have all been victims of poor leaders, political appointees and those who are not leadership material. My goal here is that we need to garner our best leaders for the future. I want leaders who want to be there and for the right reasons.