New Commander Misfortunes Can Hinge on One Thing: Preparation

Nov. 27, 2023
Police and law enforcement officials new to leadership can struggle with preparation, and a lack of discipline in that area can put commanders a step closer to failure.

Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to work with young command staff members and even a few new chiefs. There is a learning curve for this new assignment. Some of the elements are technical, and a few are elementary basics. This is where the rub begins, skill sets that should have been mastered way before they arrived in Chiefland. This consistent failure that many struggle with requires the most discipline – preparation. The failure to prepare for the most mundane meeting for the upcoming workweek can lead to colossal failures. It starts simply as not preparing for the next day's events, but will manifest into a larger problem if allowed to go unchecked. If you are the one that thinks, “I will fill up the gas on the way into work in the morning”. Well, surprise, you are in step one towards failure.

Time management seems to be the biggest struggle for most new commanders. If you are entering this assignment or career path, and you still desire the 8 to 5, 40-hour work week, you are in for a shock. Good leadership does not have a time clock, the burden of command does not punch into a time clock. The clock on the wall is just merely an illustration. Now, I understand that you have heard for your entire life about a day’s work and the work week paradigm. This may work in the factory setting for widget manufacturing. However, you are designing your time with planned meetings, but add in fluid, unpredictable evolving events, and throw in a few personnel issues all in the mix. Hard to have that routine 8 to 5 in an ever-changing in flux world. What will be your pathway to success – disciplined routines. 

My routines were drilled into me by my sainted blue-haired Irish mother. She drilled into me, “the best way to be late is to start late.” When I arrived in Army boot camp, not much was really that different from living under her command.  During my military years, it proved to me that the more responsibilities you have, the more hours are in that workday. You'll be the first one in and the last one to go to bed. So, let’s talk about how we can improve some things.

A downfall of many young staffers will always be meeting preparations. Whether they be staff meetings or city council meetingsyou cannot “wing it”, you have got to be prepared. I used to always set up a tickle sheet or reminders at my workstation to have data or reports ready the day before. Also include any monthly or quarterly reports as well.  To have this paperwork that I know will be required ready was reassuring. This prevents the last-minute panic which leads to errors or embarrassment. A sterling reason to have them posed 24 hours ahead of time is there will be some council person who will call you and ask you questions as they prepare. This could require you to tweak what you have or may require additional research. Either way, you have the foundation complete. Should there be more required, you have the foundation already prepared.  Another tip in preparing for your meetings is to keep your Friday clear as possible for next week’s preparations. Set aside some Friday afternoon time to review the next 7 to 10 days. Check your upcoming schedules for any updates or conflicts. This routine will create a safety margin for you, a conflict that can be managed a week away is far better than a ‘no show’.

Returning calls seems problematic as well. I would never leave the office for the day without returning that day’s calls. Even if the party does not answer and you leave a message or email. Therefore, you responded in a prompt manner. Never let calls simmer overnight. If you have a serious incident overnight, and you get diverted, the call may not be made at all, depending on the complexity of the incident. I always kept notes on the time and date of the call back and noted the essential points of the conversation. The prompt response is based on this premise – never let their little problems become one of your big problems. What could have been a five-minute conversation with a citizen can grow out of proportion if not promptly handled. Citizen is already uneasy so now they call the mayor, a council person or goes on a social media rampage. This is much akin to fighting a brush fire. If quickly addressed, a bucket of water will do, let it go and it will evolve into a forest fire. Procrastination is your choice! Should you decide to put off a task, you will be reaping the consequences of your own choosing.

“You can’t sit on a lead” was said by the late, great baseball manager Earl Weaver. Your tenure as a chief is like that of a baseball manager, you are hired to be fired. When you are winning at the game, all is good. But get behind for a few innings, which leads to losses, then you can be in trouble. When you are new on the job, the new routines will turn into habits that will serve you well. Once you become comfortable or abandon these tips that got you here, you are eroding your effectiveness. 

I used a FranklinPlanner ( my entire tenure as a commander and chief. I know there are some who use electronic planners, I also did that to send me reminders. I am a paper person and like to document meetings, phone calls and interactions. At the end of the day, all entries were reviewed (corrected if my handwriting was too scribbly). Then could flip the page for tomorrow. This journal was also reviewed on Friday afternoons to prep for the upcoming week. I would print out agendas, necessary notes and such and tuck in that day’s meetings. Go prepared, sometimes you do not have time to print out something. In other words, pick up the book and go.

Finally, some of these seem to be overly excessive preparation tips - but they work. In the executive arena, the last thing you want is to be seen as unprepared or even vulnerable due to lack of preparation. New routines are hard to start but soon they become habit or second nature. The responsibilities you carry can be managed with simple and effect tipsnow go forth and succeed.

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