The Right Question

Originally Published in Star News. A monthly publication for Law Enforcement personnel.

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

As law enforcement personnel, you have the privilege of seeing behind the curtain of bad decisions – the results of a life of compromise – that eventually ends in arrest, incarceration, or even death.

What a privilege it is, to see on a daily basis what does not work – return to the place and people you call home – and in that place, do the right thing!

I believe that one of the major reasons certain individuals ride the plastic is because they live by a question that, in the moment asks; “What is best for me?” They are not people whom we consider people of character because their focus is on self, not others. When it comes to their lives, they are asking the wrong question.

While we are–for the most part–people of higher character, I would say that many of us are asking the wrong questions as well. When we approach an important decision, because we have asked the wrong question, our character (and our life) is not all it could be. We ask better questions than those in our back seats, but not necessarily the best question. We ask ourselves things like:

Is it legal?
Can I afford it?
Will it hurt anyone else?

While good questions, they are not the best questions. There is a better question, one that will help us live lives marked by impeccable character. The question is:

Is this the wise thing for me to do?

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:15 says; “Be careful how you walk, not as foolish men, but as wise, making the most of your time for the days are evil.”

It is not illegal, or harmful to anyone else to walk on the edge of what is right and wrong, balancing on the side of what is right. But, it is not the wisest thing to do.

It is not illegal, or harmful to anyone else to get an interest only home loan, to see how far we can go with a relationship without slipping, or ignore the small details of a report or investigation, but it is not the wise thing to do.

It is not illegal or harmful to anyone else for us to make entry alone, without backup, but it is definitely not the wise thing to do!

There are many compromises that we can make in life that do not qualify us as bad people, but they disqualify us from being “wise” people. We only need to be wrong once and our character will slip, or in the case of poor tactics, our lives could end.

Most of us would benefit greatly if we asked ourselves with every decision we make; “Is this the wise thing for me to do?” It’s that simple.

It is a question that will allow us to do what is best for ourselves and others every time. We live in a world of compromise. It is a world that says; “Just this once!” We must live above that standard.

“Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom. Psalm 90:12”

[Note: “Ride the Plastic” refers to the plastic seat in the back of the police car]

Being Great

There are those times in life when you encounter greatness. It takes your breath away. It’s one of those things when everything comes together in perfect harmony and you find yourself in the midst of something that just feels right… and you are inspired.

I had such an experience when I was called to do a business seminar for the leaders in an organization that hires me from time to time. I had worked as a freelance marketing adviser for this company in the late ’80’s but it had been years since I had been there to consult. I remember telling the then-owner (after our first meeting) that I would not advise on their ad campaign. He was shocked, and then I clarified.

It was early in my career and I had left an art director position for a company in Los Angeles to strike out on my own. I knew what it meant to represent the company which I had worked for and was greatly successful in driving campaigns to increase market share and product awareness, however, I knew little of this new company.

Back to the story. He was shocked. This Ad Guy who he had paid travel expenses to come and advise said that he would not. I could see his discomfort. Then I clarified. I would not advise because I knew little about their product. So he suggested that I spend the afternoon in the conference room with his in-house marketing staff and they could show me product, advise me on how it worked, and show me the previous ad campaigns they had run.

I shocked them again. During that meeting I refused to see any earlier campaigns (standard practice for me) because I did not want to be influenced by their previous attempts. Nor did I want to see the trade magazines they placed before me because the reason they were hiring me is that they wanted an outside evaluation of their product. Frustrated, the marketing team asked me; “So, what do you want?” My reply was simple.

“I want to build it!”

I scheduled an appointment (the next Monday morning) to work on the factory floor and actually build the product on the assembly line. I needed to know the nuts and bolts. Shock again!

Hear me. While I worked on that line, I understood the product deeper than most of the executives that had asked me to come. In fact, when it came time to advise on the ad campaign, I also advised on several product enhancements and a very small but beneficial change to the assembly line work flow that would save a small, but not insignificant amount of money every year. But I had to get under the hood to see those potential improvements. Their shock gave way to excitement.

Now I started this piece talking about greatness. I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about that company.

Returning years later to hold a seminar for their leaders, I walked into a completely different environment. The greasy carpet, the smell of a factory, the noise and the unprofessional receptionist had all been replaced. Instead I encountered what amounted to a professionally decorated sanctuary of a waiting room, and an attentive and extremely professional host. Furthermore, the noise and smell of the factory had given way to a gentle classical masterpiece playing during my very short wait. In fact, as I walked in I was surprised to see an LCD screen that welcomed me (and a short list of other scheduled appointments) by name. Something had changed. Someone had gone under the hood. Someone had entered the business with the eyes of a first-timer, and it was the new owner.

Before any employee knew who he was, he scheduled an appointment to meet with the staff, posing as a prospective new client. What he saw and experienced shook the company to its foundation, but also to greatness. He trained, fired and hired employees to mold the organization to his vision of excellence. He modeled it from the top and it showed. From the office of the CEO to the receptionist who offered me a bottle of water during my short wait, everything was a harmony. The corporate culture had changed. It had been defined. Now, they had asked me to come back to train his lead staff. He had heard of my day “on the line” and years later told his key people to get me back.

Today, he leads a company of excellence… And yes, he still calls me to advise from time to time. He did for the company what I had done for the product so many years earlier.