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Direction for New Sergeants

One of the required duties of a chief is to give directions to the newly appointed staff members. Often this is a formal recapitulation of the new job description and the new assignment. Some chiefs write formal letters of encouragement with goals and objectives sprinkled throughout the letter. This is a great idea, for you have a paper trail to remind the newly promoted of their failings should they not successfully complete their probation. 

Often times this is accompanied by ‘the talk’. I recall mine, it probably would not pass the political correctness muster of today, but it worked for me. I have polished it up with several leadership tidbits for my talk. Plus have added a few nuggets from my experience. I was recently told of a young lad in another department that I know is soon to be promoted. Since I am not his chief I cannot give him ‘the talk’ but can offer this to him. Again, some political correctness forgiveness is requested.

First of all, look at your new uniform. You have a lot of stripes now! However a zebra has more stripes than you and he is an ass. So now young man, don’t be an ass. The learning point here is that you were selected to a sergeant for your specific knowledge, skills and abilities. You are a raw material that the staff feels can be molded into a fine sergeant; you have what it takes to make it. In others words, continue to be yourself. I have seen a few that after getting promoted obtained instant intelligence. It was nearly like a changeling   had taken over their body. Be your natural self, should you try to act as the new person, then it is doubly hard and more destined to fail.

Respect the skill sets of your new squad. Each of them has something to offer you and the mission. Don’t be a know-it-all, for none of us do. If you have skilled officers allow their performance to come through. Never, ever forget these are your officers! I do not care if they did not like you before or after your assignment. They are your officers and you are charged to care for them. Notice I said not in charge of them but you are charged to direct and care for them. Long day - you should be the last to eat and last out of the door. You should ensure that your officers are cared for and end their tour of duty safely. Think they don’t respect you now, if you earn it daily it will develop. You can’t buy it and it cannot be given, only earned. I was once asked the definition of a police squad. I was told it was 10 to 12 officers out to get you indicted.  You will earn the respect of the squad and others, it will come, often piecemeal.  

Thousands of others have been promoted to your position before you. It is easy to follow the young sergeant rule of barking at your troops about haircuts, uniforms and unshined boots. Set yourself apart and lead with substance, yet these are important; there are more important things to delve into. Work with your troops on their tactics, improve their skills that make them excel. Hint- if they excel, so will you. Sure appearance is the easy one to spot but your officers will appreciate helping their skill levels more.

Learning is not over, now it gets harder. Not only do you have to stay sharp with your state and departmental courses. You now have supervisory courses to attend as well. Many of these will be new, invest well in understanding human resources. It is important that when an officer has a problem, you may be the first one to observe and assist them, know what to do for them and what is available. You now have to be more tactically and technically competent than ever. Your decisions affect the entire unit now, not you alone.

Do not be afraid to ask questions? You are in a different role now, almost a new world. As you receive your orders or directions for a mission or shift, make sure you fully understand what is expected of you and your squad. Go forth with understanding and never, ever lie to your staff. They hold their trust in you each day, violate it and it is over.

You will make mistakes and they are not the end of the world. When you do, take responsibility and your lumps. Turn this into a learning experience and drive on.  

The next talk I will offer is when you take the next step to lieutenant or whatever is when the next rank in your department. Believe in yourself, be confidence and be safe. Drive on and make me proud of you.