Tension: The Need for Healthy Communication

As an Organizational Leader you cannot underestimate the power of ongoing, informative communication. Once positions are taken, assumptions are made, and tensions solidified, the results can be disastrous. I was reminded of the importance of ready communication on a recent trip to Waco Texas and a visit to the location of the FBI’s siege of the Branch Davidian compound.

If you study the history of the Branch Davidian Siege, individuals on both sides of the conflict desperately tried to facilitate communication because they recognized the tragic path that both parties were on. Their words fell on deaf ears.

Why?

Because conclusions had been drawn, plans of action had been made and the tensions were so high that no amount of talking could deescalate the situation. It had past that critical moment where the tragedy was destined to play out and no individual, no matter how skilled, had the power to stop it.

The Result: 82 Souls perished. 76 Branch Davidians were killed, of whom, 34 were women and 23 were Children along with several Federal agents. The massacre was a true blight on American history and case study on Liberty and Federal overreach. Furthermore, it’s a lesson in the importance of communication that cannot be ignored.

For the leader, reflection on this event is very important. Fostering an environment of open and transparent communication is paramount to organizational success. It is inevitable, that within your organization, issues will arise that if swept under the rug will fester until the point they become irreconcilable, and your organization will pay the price.

Begin with your leadership team, make sure they know they can tell you anything and that you will listen. Furthermore, that whether you agree with them or not you will hear, consider, and respect their opinion. Then, as you model that quality, encourage and train them to be the communication facilitators for the remainder of your people.

The “stand offs” that you avert will keep you healthy, thriving, and moving forward to become the best organization that you can be.

Remember: Communicate, communicate, communicate…

Here is a Leadership Minute video that I filmed at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas.

What is wrong with you?

Published in Star News, a publication for Law Enforcement personnel.

How many times have we asked that question of someone? How many times have we asked ourselves; “Why did I behave that way?” When we begin to look into the specifics of how we handle these questions in our personal relationships, something very interesting happens. Those two questions come from two very different perspectives and once you realize where they are coming from you are more able to understand and correct unhealthy perceptions about yourself and others. Allow me to explain. It starts with the difference between human behavior and human nature.

When we see less than admirable traits in ourselves, we tend to attribute those to external causes and explain behavior away because of the influence of that cause. For example, “I blew my top because that guy would not listen to what I was trying to say!” In other words, I behaved badly because of an external influence acting upon me… He caused my reaction.

Funny thing is…

We rarely explain other people’s behavior in that same way. Call it an excuse, a reason, a justification, call it what you will, but we fail to extend that same reasoning to another’s behavior when they act contrary to our expectations of them toward us. We sometimes fail to see the external causes and wrongly attribute the reaction to their very nature. We superimpose their action on what we perceive to be the way that person truly is. This is most unfair.

Put simply: When I am mean to another I am really a nice person who’s behavior is mean because of something they did to me, but when someone is mean to me it is because they are a mean person.” Get it? Our actions are simply bad behavior, but their actions stem from their bad nature. We do it all the time. We do it to our spouse, our co-workers, our superiors and we do it on the street. “It’s their nature.” They are not behaving in an evil way; they are evil. They are not behaving aggressively; they are animals. The shift is subtle but destructive. What we explain away in our own lives through grace given to self, we should learn to extend to others in grace given to them.

We have all come to learn that when you give respect on the street you get respect on the street. The same should apply to our view of people’s nature. Much of life is cause, effect, and reaction. I would hate for others to view me at my worst and attribute what they witness to who I really, deeply am as a person.

Three Pillars of Trust

I write a regular article for STAR News, a publication for Law Enforcement Personnel. While directed at Law Enforcement I quickly realized how this applies to organizational leadership as well.

Any highly successful leader will tell you that the reason they were able to excel in their career and win the respect of their direct reports, is that they were able to foster an environment of trust. For some, this trust came easily, for others it was hard fought and won with time and a proven record. Regardless of which organization you represent, those that look to you as a leader must trust you. If they do not, you will fail as a leader, if they do there is no limit to the possibilities of success.

The problem? The realities of our culture and the many examples of broken trust place the leader in a position where distrust is the norm. For this reason, the leader must make building trust a priority. Trust must be built at all levels to succeed. Allow me to explain.

A man or woman of character builds trust at all levels; those below them, equal to them, and those above. This 360-degree approach comes naturally when one possesses integrity and has the character to respect and honor others.

That mandate to be a 360-degree leader is difficult in Law Enforcement. While it is easy to earn the trust of our superiors and colleagues, it is extremely difficult to earn the trust of the people we serve. While difficult, it is not impossible.

Each of us has a responsibility to earn the trust of others in three specific areas.

First, we must build Interpersonal Trust. Interpersonal trust is built when we keep our word and when our communication with others is civil, respectful and wise. Interpersonal trust is the foot in the door to the development of comprehensive trust. Without it, the other two trust areas are meaningless.

The second area of trust is one of Action or Application. Those we deal with must trust us to do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances. This is most important, especially in our field. We need the trust that we have each other’s back. We must know that one can be counted on when things get crazy. Trust of Action gives others the security that we care for their well-being and frees them to care for ours.

The third and final area of trust is Trust in Competency. This third area of trust brings with it a well-rounded relational trust to all parties. It is one thing to know you can trust an individual and their word. A new depth of trust is gained when you can rely on both their word and their deed. Comprehensive trust happens when you can trust their word, their deed, and their competency to accomplish what they set out to do. Competency instills trust. It is the capstone of the trio of trust.

While this triple trust relation is applicable to business, family and any aspect of life, it is clearly brought to reality with the following law enforcement example.

You have served for years with a fellow deputy that affirms that they will always be there for you. They have always kept their word, affirmed you on the job and encouraged you with their words. You have interpersonal trust! Eventually, you find yourself on the same shift and you roll to the same call. You enter a building with limited visibility, guns drawn, tactical light on, and he or she is right there at your side. You now have Trust of Action and the trust relationship deepens. Finally, the events of the night go south, you take fire. Your partner returns fire, as do you. His or her aim is impeccable and both of you get to go home tonight. You have Trust of Competency!

No matter how you apply trust, no matter the situation, all three areas are necessary to truly be a trustworthy partner. On the street, in the workplace, or most importantly in the home, you must work on trust.

I recently spoke with a newly married couple and grew in my respect for the husband. She had been married before and I admired them both as I heard the wife say: “He tells me he loves me all the time, and he shows me as well. He does the nicest things for me. He lets me see his love for me. Not only that, he has the ability to love. My first husband, though I think he tried, did not have the ability to love anyone but himself.

I saw it immediately: Interpersonal Trust, Trust of Action and Trust of Competency, a truly healthy relationship.

For the LORD God is my shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD, blessed is the man that trusts in you. (Psalms 84:11-12)

Consequences

I was asked to write a 400 word article for the Star News with the purpose of addressing suicide among Law Enforcement personnel. This short article was meant to lead the reader (the officer) to think I am talking about criminals, and then flip-it to talk about the wake of destruction caused by officer suicide. Star News is a monthly magazine for Law Enforcement personnel.

Consequences

Why do they do it? Why do they act in ways that leave a wake of destruction behind them? How can they do that thing that they do, and not consider the consequences to everyone they love? Is it selfishness, or a way to alleviate some suffering or perceived injustice that the world has dealt them? Who knows? It differs for each.

The fact of the matter is that there are real consequences to their action. The children—abandoned because of one moment of selfishness—will never return to what they perceived as a normal life. The spouse, who once had a partner in life’s great adventure, now finds herself facing a lifetime of struggle and loneliness. What about the parents? How many parents are asking themselves, “What went wrong? We never thought it would be our child!”

It is time we realized that the choices we make affect everybody that we know. One bad choice in a desperate moment leads to a life of pain and suffering for others. We see it frequently—don’t we—this selfishness that destroys the lives of good people. We see it every time the handcuffs are used and we make the trip to lock-up. However, it is not society’s criminal element that I am writing this article about.

I recently lost a very dear person to suicide.

The truly heartbreaking part of the experience is not (I am sorry to say) the loss of the loved one. The heartbreak is what the individual left behind. The tragedy is found in the eyes of the older sister who was trembling as I hugged her in an attempt to console. The tragedy was in the heart of the mother who will forever think, “If I had done this (or that) differently…” Then there is the Father who doubts every day whether he was a good parent of not. And if there are children… The aftermath does not go away—it is part of the wake—and the ripples of the wake will be felt for a lifetime.

Unfair? Yes. Tragic? Yes. But in one moment of selfish relief many lovely people were sentenced to a life of damage, a life they did not choose, a life traumatically changed.

Remember hope… there is always hope!

Major “Down in Flames” Fail

One hasty decision can lead to some really poor actions, and those actions can have consequences that will change the course of your life.

On August 17, 2015, the headline popped onto my screen: Firefighter loses $78,096 job for shoplifting $7.98 in items. The AP was reporting that a New Jersey firefighter with a serious case of the munchies shoplifted a breakfast sandwich, coffee, Gatorade and a bag of sunflower seeds.

I doubt he was able to keep the seeds, but in the off chance that he was, I hope he ate them slowly. They turned out to be the most expensive sunflower seeds in the history of mankind.

Considering munchie-man was hired in 2011 and the average tenure of a career firefighter is 26.5 years, he still had a potential of 21 to 22 years on the job. Then, calculating his salary with a modest two percent cost of living increase each year, he just threw away $2,174,580.25 not including any pension. Furthermore, considering there are approximately 9,600 sunflower seeds in a measured pound, and the most common consumer bag of seeds weighs in at two ounces, then his bag had approximately 1,200 seeds. Therefore, at a cost of $2,174,580.25, each seed came in at roughly $1,812.15.

I hope they were extra salty.

Perhaps they were those flavored ones. You know, Hot & Spicy, Barbecue, or maybe even the Jalepeño Hot Salsa… you get the picture.

We can laugh about this, but the truth behind it is tragic; that one bad decision, made in haste, can be detrimental to the future. For the leader, it is worse. A costly mistake carelessly made can not only ruin your future but destroy the livelihood of your subordinates.

In the heat of what you do, there will be moments when you are pressed to “decide quickly.” Proceed cautiously, gather as much pertinent data as you can in the time allotted, and seek council if there is time. Then, and only then, having done all that you can to explore the possibilities and (perhaps more importantly) the ramifications, make the call.

If you do it right, you may be able to relax and buy some seeds and Gatorade for the team!

Lessons from Hawaii

I was once again asked to write a short piece for Star News, a publication for law enforcement. This article will be published August 2011.

Life has a funny way of touching you at the strangest moments. If you miss those moments they will be lost forever, but if you find a moment of clarity within them they may just provide you with a moment of growth. I am writing this about three hours after one of those moments. You see, I have an absolute passion for Scuba Diving. There are very few things I have a passion for: Family, Faith, my Career, and Scuba Diving… That about sums it up!

Today’s experience brought several of my passions together in a single moment of clarity. I was diving with my son off the shore of Kona Hawaii and we were about to enter an underwater lava tube. Overhead diving is the most dangerous type of diving and it was quite a thrill as father and son entered into the unknown together. Apprehension, sure. Concern, you bet. Excitement, more than you know. Here is what I learned.

Whether it is Diving, Career, or Family, each of these can be improved by the lessons of this day.

First lesson, never enter times of apprehension or danger alone, you need the covering of those who care for you and your safety. The first rule of diving is always have a buddy. My son had my back and I had his. We watched each other and it put us at ease in an otherwise hostile and dangerous environment.

Second lesson, trust your training and the training of those you surround yourself with. Training is paramount. My son is well trained and should something have gone bad deep under the waves he would have shifted in a heartbeat from enjoying time with dad to getting dad safely to the surface. I trust him for that and he trusts me.

Third lesson, use your equipment. You see, in diving, maintaining and training with equipment is first priority. Quality equipment can make the difference between life and death and redundancy is part of the program. Two divers, two regulators each, two lights apiece, etc. You don’t want to be fifty feet into a pitch black lava tube, sixty feet beneath the waves, and have your light fail!

Forth lesson, it’s all equally important and it is the combination of all of it that brings you home. Companionship, trust of others, trust of training and trust of equipment. Whether life or career, each item means security for life. Could I have dove the lava tubes of Kona alone, sure. Perhaps for a lifetime without incident. But what if… Breaking the rules will eventually destroy you and those who love you.

Final lesson, for me, my final passion brings it all together. Faith makes it all worthwhile. Faith brings me the trust of others and the companionship that the human spirit longs for. It gives me the ability to trust and be trusted. It is my equipment for life, helping me with the times of apprehension, fear, and doubt. I approach those difficult moments in life, career and family in the same way I faced the entrance of that lava tube today, with a prayer!

Equilibrium

This past October, I was once again asked to write a short article for Star News after California lost four Law Enforcement Officers in the line of duty.

With each sister or brother that falls in the line of duty something else plummets in the life-space of those left behind. Peace. Four of our own have fallen in California this month alone. As society changes and things seem to disrupt our sense of security there are things that we must recognize, and equally important, things we must do. First, let me speak of recognition.

Recognize that these current events affect every one of us at a significant level. If things seem out of balance it is normal and expected. Even Superman would be affected by this amount of crazy. It changes us in many ways whether recognized or not, spoken or unspoken. Fear, uncertainty, anger, doubt, animosity, anxiety… all are normal but they must be recognized. Each of these affects our job, our life, and our peace. Not only that, it affects our family more than many of us realize. If things seem just a bit off right now, recognize it. It is the first step to regaining balance.

Secondly, do something. Internal pressures are released with action. Emotional wellbeing comes with activities that involve others or challenge self. In other words, physical activity helps to release the internal stressors that weight on the body and mind. Conversation helps to deflate the pressures that build in the human spirit. Spiritual practices help us reconcile ourselves to God and allow us to feel the protective arms of our creator comforting us as we trust in someone higher than ourselves. Action means action. Do something.

As a member of the Chaplaincy, I implore you to converse with your loved ones even though you have always tried to keep that healthy distance between family and the street. They need that. Seek spiritual guidance and allow a mentor or clergy member to help you process your significance in the world and your value in the eyes of the Creator. Exercise on a regular basis to get the blood pumping so you are not bringing that tension onto the street, or into the home. That tension can lead to serious mistakes. Realize that we are all in this together, processing the events of the day, and there are men and women worldwide “backing the blue” and praying for your protection.

We are all diligent to remind each other of the importance of “making it home safe.” I am asking you to do something far more important: “Make it home healthy.”

The Reverberation Principle

I was asked once again to write a 400 word article for Star News. A monthly publication for Law Enforcement personnel. Here it is.

Easily stated, “You get what you give.” No one knows this as well as you. As a leader, you give respect, and it returns. That’s the way we are built. Innately we understand this simple but profound truth yet we frequently fail to employ the knowledge as a method of containing the situation. Whether it be at home, at the office, or in the streets, it is sometimes easier to rely on a little “command presence” to get the job done. Don’t misunderstand. Command presence is sometimes the answer, however, it is not always the answer. Many a situation can be diffused by that calm, authoritative, yet respectful voice. Even the ancients understood this to be true.

Proverb 15:1-2 A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.

We get into trouble when our mouth belches out foolishness.

We need to exercise wisdom in the use of every one of our tools, whether it is pepper spray, the black-and-white, our sidearm, and yes, even our voice. Think of it from the other perspective. How many people have rode the plastic because they simply could not control their mouths? It is no less crucial for us to understand that simple reality. Our voice, properly used can save our life. Used improperly it can get us killed.

Think about all the times in your life when your words got you into trouble. In fact, I would bet that your words have come back to haunt you far more than any other action in your life. Put that in the forefront of your thinking. Professionalism begins with self-control and respect returns like an echo.

“The story is told of a young boy who lived with his grandfather high in the Swiss Alps. Often, just to hear the echo of his voice, the boy would go outside, cup his hands around his mouth, and shout, “HELLO!” Up from the canyons the reply reverberated, “HELLO…HELLO…hello…hello…” Then he would call out, “I LOVE YOU…I LOVE YOU…I love you…I love you…”

One day the boy seriously misbehaved and his grandfather disciplined him severely. Reacting violently, the child shook his fist and screamed. “I HATE YOU!” To his surprise, and shocked at the sound of his own voice, the rocks and boulders across the mountainside responded “I HATE YOU… I HATE YOU…I hate you…I hate you…”

Now for the realist. You’re on the street, you’ve given your respect. Does it always come back? Of course not. But once in a while, especially when you least expect it, it will, and it will feel great.

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]

Connected (LASD)

Adapted for a Los Angeles Sheriff Department Publication

I just accomplished in four minutes and fifty-three seconds what ten years ago would have taken days. Why, because I am connected. You see, the information that I needed was easily found with a web search and a few clicks. The system that we call the internet has transformed culture and increased efficiency. That’s what efficient systems do.

Consider the bigger question: How would you develop such a system? Imagine it’s you in 1969, sitting at the table, and someone posits the question: How can we put the entire corpus of human understanding into one place, and access anything we want in under five minutes? Every needed component was there in 1969, but to conceive of, and build the system would have been impossible. Systems as transformational as the internet build with time. I would hope that if I had been in that meeting, I would not have tried to envision the modern understanding of the internet. Rather, I hope my response would have been smaller; something like, “Hey John, you have a computer at Stanford right? I do too, let’s see if we can get those things connected over a wire!” That’s exactly what happened. On October 29, 1969 Stanford and UCLA connected computers for the very first time. It was the “great first connection” known as Arpanet.

The internet sprang from that first connection, and as powerful a force as the internet is, if we all turned off our computers at 12:01 GMT tomorrow, the internet would instantly cease to exist. It is only alive because of connections.

These realities apply as much to our careers as they do to the internet. For those of us who are charged with public safety, connectedness is extremely important. Making connections is what gives us the ability to be protected and have another’s back in the field. Being spiritually connected allows us to have that moral center that keeps us balanced and allows us to make ethical decisions. The connections that we have with family are what drives us to make it home each night. You may not realize it, but personal connections are the most transformational influences in your life.

Let’s face it, life and career require far more than just showing up, writing reports, and doing your duty. Ask yourself; “How can I make that ‘first great connection’ to change the life of another?”

Do you have a trainee that needs an introduction to the guys who are getting it done? Does the battered woman from last night’s call need to be connected to a local minister or shelter? Does that coworker who is on the edge need support from ESSB or the Chaplains? Do your kids need to know that you love them more than anything else in the world? The world gets too complicated when we try to figure out the big picture. Seek something smaller by looking for one great connection.