Future Directions for Young Commanders

Have you ever had to sit through a farewell speech? Matters not if military change of command, the transfer of a commander or a retirement speech; they have similarities. What is important here is to reduce the eye rolls that can be heard...

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Have you ever had to sit through a farewell speech? Matters not if military change of command, the transfer of a commander or a retirement speech; they have similarities. What is important here is to reduce the eye rolls that can be heard from across the room. Those uncomfortable reminders to applaud and smile when appropriately.  If the commander who is leaving is the only one who believes in what he or she is saying, then we have a problem that could have been averted.

It starts at the beginning

If you want to have a grand parting speech, then your preparation for it should have been on your first day on command. Your entire history as a leader has a tendency not to be forgotten. You may hope that others will forget, but nobody in Policeland forgets. Granted you could be forgiven by some but, bad leadership stories have the propensity to lurk in your shadows. What did you do wrong on day one when you accepted this assignment? There are a few cardinal sins of young leaders which should be addressed now. Did you refer to your other command or agency with the affinity of a lost love? Seriously, if you are a new chief and the other department was the best – why didn’t you just stay there. Your new department is similar to a budding relationship – you do not speak of the other person with yearnings. Love the new department with your soul.

Did you respect this new department’s traditions? Every agency has its own culture. One sage piece of advice I was given was not to wear a new department’s uniform until you have all of your certifications intact before wearing the uniform of those who are doing the real police work. Once you have all of the certifications, qualifications locked in – then wear their uniform with respect. Those officers had to earn that uniform and never take it for granted that you are allowed to wear it.

Another mistake is the use of the former departments’ forms, policies and administrative letters. This a common and accepted practice for you have a foundation or boiler plate to start with for a new policy, especially if one is not available. I get this but be careful to watch the department jargon / vernacular, references to state code and such. Closely edit to catch the slightest inference, if one slips through and you are done. Edit closely for past ties.

The Leaders Mission  

When I became a freshly promoted young buck sergeant in the US Army MP Corps, I had to attend special instruction. Back in the 1970’s the military lacked in first line supervisor training; most was learning by doing. My first sergeant would mentor every young sergeant with his own brand of leadership. After the workday at 1700 hours you went to his office for conversation, direction and sometimes homework/reading assignments. He invested his time into his new underlings. To this day, this was some of my finest moments for true leadership training.

Life lesson – a command is only as good as its weakest NCO. Yes, we heard the weak link in the chain analogy, but he applied to an army company organization. As you prepare your parting speech, did you invest your time with insights with all of your leaders?

The biggest take away was my main leadership lesson which was applicable to any assignment in life. When you accept a new command, you study it and closely analyze it. You do not dwell on their past but set your sights on their new direction. Your job as their leader to make them as technically and tactically proficient in their respective jobs and mission. When it comes time for you to depart, you have done your job if you have made them better than how you found them. Now it is the next commander’s job to take the same challenge to improve them. Constant improvement is the common theme, if you are ahead of the other units – never sit on a lead. The goal is to keep the flag advancing. In the military mindset, should a leader become a casualty, the unit mission continues. 

First and last

Many other officers’ directives were similar to another point made – first and last. A good leader is the first one in to prepare for the day and mission. They are the last to be fed, your staff is cared for first and foremost- tend to their needs. You are the last out to cut the lights off. It is not that you are doing the physical labor, but it is 10% telling (directing) and 90% checking (ensuring all is done- planning if you will). 

While on planning, I was taught that “planning is everything”. It is that ‘90% checking’. Whether it was the checklist of preparing or returning from a field mission – it created accountability of staff and equipment. The last thing of the day is to prepare for the next day, then open your journal to the next day so you will be ready when you sit down.

Leaders, pretenders and contenders come and go – the truth is in how you prepare and care for your outfit. If you have been true to the mission and department then you have earned the right to give a speech that all knows is the truth. If you are in midway of the assignment, you can adjust your course and still have a great speech. It is my hope that an aspiring young supervisor takes this to heart and sets off their path from day one in the correct direction. I was indeed fortunate to have a first sergeant invest time in me before I became a police supervisor, commander and later a chief. There is an Irish pub song “The Parting Glass” and from its lyrics I take solace in from my career- “and all the harm that I ever did, alas it was to none but me”. Create your legacy on one that builds up and improves the profession.


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