Webinar presenter Dr. Damon Ing answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Becoming a First-Line Supervisor. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: My leadership has told me that they’ve identified me for a front-line supervisory position in the future. This is not something I’ve ever really considered because I’ve enjoyed being in the trenches. Are there any resources you can recommend to help me determine if that is what I want for my career?
Damon Ing: That’s an excellent question. This is my viewpoint on this, is that a lot of officers have the same dilemma, you enjoy being there with the officers you enjoy being behind the trenches. The one thing you have to really do is think about it this way and I’m going to put it in this manner. Number one is, there are so many benefits to actually moving up the ladder. And the reason why I say that is the expression I have is that, when the higher you go up the mountain, the less people you see. But when you get to the top, it’s very beautiful. Unfortunately, there are not that many people around you. And that analogy is true in this case. But there are some articles that are out there. I don’t know of any textbooks. There’s a supervisory textbook, that first comes to mind, when it comes to leadership and how you want to do it. It’s actually put out by the US. Army Leadership, it’s the US. Army Leadership Field Manual, and to kind of give you an idea, it is actually, ISBN 9780071436991. And it’s a very good manual, but what it does is it talks about battle-tested wisdom for leaders in any organization. If you want to refer to that book later, you can, it really did help me out make my decision. But when you go through and you think about how you’re going to promote. You got to understand that leadership in law enforcement does not come around very often. If you’re in a bigger agency, it might come around more often, but depending on the size of your agency, the smaller your agency, promotions may come by you once every so often. So, you have to take advantage of those when you can, and with you being the one that enjoys being behind the trenches and being with your officers. What better way to enhance that but to lead those officers to teach them what you did to let them know how you are reacting. Also, is that no matter how much of a little increase they give you in your promotion, let’s say they give you a small little bump in pay or whatever the cases, to you might not seem very important. But later down the road. You will look back at your 20-year-old self and say, I’m really glad you took that promotion because that extra $100 a month or whatever you got for that promotion now translates to an extra thousand dollars a month in my retirement. So, think about it that way, think about your family, think about what’s going to happen for you. You can be in the trenches all day long and as a supervisor, you still can be frontline supervisor, or unless you’re going to a desk job, but you’re still deeply involved in what you love, and one thing I would say is refer to that textbook, but also dig deep in yourself. Talk to your family members, get their opinion, and if I had an idea, they would say, “Oh yeah, go ahead and do that promotion.” But on the other hand, you have to think about what’s best for you. What they’re offering me may come with these great benefits and all of this, but on the other hand, what are the negatives? Write down the negatives, write down the positives and find out what’s going to work best for you.
Audience Question: Responding to your mentioned about a team member diagnosed with cancer. So, our next person is saying, one of my team members was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of my new promotion. We have to deal with a lot as a team, but we’re doing team-building activities while on duty and off to be there for her co-worker. Any suggestions on this?
Damon Ing: Very, very interesting. And I can side with them perfectly because that’s the same thing that I had to think about doing. One thing that we did, and I know this may sound kind of unusual, but one thing is, you have to understand this officer is the same as anything else when it comes to law enforcement. We’ve had officers that were shot in line of duty, hit by cars, whatever the case is, and we need to treat cancer as anything else. One thing that we did is we had contact with that officer’s wife, and what we did was, is there were things that he could not do. Now, that we would be simple, like mow in the yard, doing something with the flower beds, maybe cooking a nice meal. This is what I did is I put out a sign-up sheet and on the days that he went to chemo, he just didn’t want to eat, there was nothing that could be done at that point, and he wanted to just rest. So, we talked to the wife and made sure that we weren’t overstepping our bounds, but making sure that you’re there for the family when he’s in the hospital, making sure that we have an officer when the shift is over with, go down and visit him. Make sure there’s a uniform there with them. Make sure that you are there to ensure that they have everything they need prior to him beating this cancer. And I’m really sorry that you’re having to deal with the same situation. But think about anything you can do to help that family out. As we all know, in law enforcement we have that camaraderie, we get along very well with each other at times. And we’re just one big dysfunctional family, but when it comes to the end of the day, we need to be there for him. If they’re having money problems, maybe we need to pass the hat. If we’re doing this, you know, function with the family, you know, maybe we can go ahead and provide food. Also, what we did was, officers have a lot of influence in the community. Go check with your local barbecue places or go check with some of the restaurants. Tell them that you have an officer. That they’re having cancer, you know, see if they’re willing to help out at all. It does take a community to help you with that. So, I know in my experience, what we did was we put something on Facebook with the permission of the wife. We got permission first. But we put down, we put a picture of him, and we set up a GoFundMe account. We also set up a fundraiser where we made T-shirts, then those t-shirts, we would sit there and, make sure that we sold them, you know, and we gave all the proceeds to the family. There are so many things you can do, and it takes thinking outside the box. And the one thing that I would really suggest that you do also make sure you get the permission of the family and make sure you get permission from command first. Once you’ve got all those secured, there’s no limit for you to assist the family any way you want to. But they’re just some ideas that I did on my end.
Host: I love those ideas that T-shirt one is a fantastic idea.
Audience Question: In my department, almost every decision now requires that a supervisor be notified. There was a time and a place when an officer was able to make their own decisions, but not anymore, I’m certain this is a response to external pressures on the agency, but I’d love your thoughts on how people can deal with this kind of situation, both as an officer, and as a member of the command staff that you might have to make those kinds of decisions and calls.
Damon Ing: That’s a very good question. Now, we’re starting to see that. It’s not just your agency. We’re starting to see the increased accountability when it comes to officers. And we’re starting to see agencies that are starting to restrict some of their discretionary decision-making also, so I can side with that. The one thing that I would say is, there are certain things we can control at our level, and there are certain things we cannot. Soon, as you learned that topic, I think everything is fine after that. But you got to understand that you need to take whatever your command structure is saying as far as the expectations on supervisors being at every call and all that. You need to let the officers know that right off the bat, and I’m sure they probably already know. But when you’re at shift briefing, you need to sit there and tell your officers, “Hey look, this is what’s coming down. We have increased accountability; you guys are going to have to run decisions through me. It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s just that this is what the wish of our command is. But on the other hand, I do want you to understand that when you contact me, I don’t want you to contact me and go, “Hey sarge I have a question,” I want you to contact me and say, “Sarge, this is what I have and this is what I am thinking about doing”, and I will be more of a guiding officer for you.” And when you do that, it sounds less as we’re taking control over the officer’s call. We had that for a short period of time. We had where an officer had to notify the sergeant by phone for certain things. We had to make sure there was accountability. Made sure the officer did a certain amount of business checks every hour, and on, and on, and on. But I made sure that the officers were understanding of what the expectations of command were. And that’s where we talk about communication. As long as you communicate to your officers what your expectations are, they can navigate within those. One thing about law enforcement is that it’s very fluid. We can change, and we can adapt and no matter what’s happening with this defund the police and all this stuff, everyone who’s boots on the ground in this webinar knows that we’re going to adapt. We always have. We’ve adapted ever since the Watts riots, so it’s nothing new. But when it comes to the increased accountability find ways to enable your officers to make decisions, give them the ability to make those decisions and within confines. If you know you had to be notified of something, change it a little bit. When they contact you say, “Okay, what is your solution officer? What are you going to do about this?” “I’m planning on doing this.” “I think that’s an excellent idea. Let’s go with that.” So, it’s all about the tone and the way you do it. But just keep in mind, when it comes to increasing accountability, there’s nothing we can do about that. The only thing we can do is navigate it. It’s a good question.
Audience Question: What happens when you supervise someone with more seniority, ask them to help you out, and they say no. They wanted to your job, they feel shafted by the precinct and they’re bitter. Where do you go from here?
Damon Ing: Ah, yes. That actually happens a lot. And it goes back to our discussion, we draw that line in the sand, it’s going to be one of those things, at the end of the day, he or she’s got to understand they have to have a respect for the rank. They may not have it for you. But they have to have it for the rank for the overall stability of the department. It’s going to be something that’s going to be a very difficult question to have. You’ve asked him, “I need your help. I need your buy-in”, and they go “I’m not buying anything. There’s no reason you should have got promoted over me. I have more time, I have more seniority, I have more education and more training than you do.” Then there’s nothing else you can do at that point. He’s already drawn his line in the sand. Then the next thing is, “Okay, I understand you, you have differences of me getting promoted, but this is where we are today. If this is going to be an issue, we need to address this now. But I don’t want this to affect the other shift. I need you to have buy-in, that I am now the supervisor, this is something that I did not choose. I chose to apply along with you, but they chose me. So now that I’m here, I would really like to have you as a part of my team. That’s me meeting at 50%, You’re going to have to meet me the other halfway.” They’re going to make the decision, it’s either a yes or no. They are who they are, and there are certain things that you can influence and somebody’s opinion of you. Somebody’s feelings, somebody’s outlook. Those are things you have no control over. And once you have explained to them, what’s going on. And if they say, “No, I’m sorry, I’m going to fight you every single bit of the way.” Then we probably need to look for a shift transfer, or we need to look at maybe involving somebody else. But there’s nothing else you can do on your end. It’s going to be something you’re going to have to address. But one thing I would not do is sit there and be quiet about it, and let it drag on. Because when you let it drag on, eventually, s/he’s going to start undermining everything you’re doing on your shift. And it’s going to be detrimental to your effective ability to lead. So, you need to address that right then and there. And then once you’ve made that adjustment for that person, then do follow-ups, do checkups every so often every shift, kind of check-in with him, “Hey, everything’s going good on shift?” or wherever the cases. He or she may not talk to you. Okay. No problem. That’s not a problem as long as they’re doing their job, as long as they’re meeting my expectations and kind of continue to go. Over time, you got to understand that. Initially, there’s going to be a lot of bitterness. And he’s projecting that to the only person that he or she sees and that’s you. He doesn’t see the chief, he doesn’t see all the decision-makers, he sees you right there. So, give it time, give it time to let the hurt kind of wear off. And if you want to put a time period on that, there have been times I’ve been promoted over friends or other people, and it’s taken a good eight months to a year, for things to even open up to where they said, “Hi” in the morning. So, it’s a very difficult position to be in, but it’s nothing you can’t navigate.
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