Webinar presenter Dr. Jeff Fox, PhD answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Enhancing Your Leadership Skills. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: How do you approach basic leadership when many of the people that you supervise were promoted based on the Peter Principle and Micromanagement?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: The first thing I would do is I will look at a promotion process. That’s the very first thing. But knowing what the reality is, I understand what you’re saying. That can happen. But I would want to work on a promotion process to make sure we get the right people promoted. And I would base on many things: how long they’ve been on, their education, their training, their discipline, their performance, testing, in basket. I would do a lot of different things to try to make sure I promote the right people to begin with. That’s the very first thing I would do. Secondly is, to make sure that I have a training system in place to get them on my sheet of music. We used to have a two-week program but they could come anytime like the first year. You can’t get everybody in there at one time but sending them to a first-line supervisor school is a great way to doing it, then we moved into four weeks. And we added a lot of real-life situations and we actually got college credit for it. Make sure you get the right person promoted, have a good process, train them to be good supervisors, and then lead them as good supervisors. But that requires that next level up, because you just don’t put a person in a position without training them. And you mentor them, you coach them, you correct them, you do all those things, and they get their performance evaluations. It doesn’t happen a lot. It depends on your agency and we all know sometimes it’s going to work, sometimes it’s not. But sometimes a person is a supervisor who shouldn’t be a supervisor or at least not right then and they don’t stay there very long, they get demoted down. Sometimes we promote them to another position, to get the problem with somebody else. And then, down the road, they get promoted even higher. They shouldn’t have been where they were to begin with. I would say it’s three things: Having a good process to promote the right person. Training them good. And then follow up with good management of them. If you’re not being a good supervisor, maybe you shouldn’t be one.
Audience Question: I often see leaders focus only on the positives constantly pointing out what is great, yet they seem to avoid talking about or fixing what isn’t working. How do you get these people to understand that being a leader means that you pay attention to both what is working and what is not working?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: Honestly, it is through that training, but it is to whoever’s above them. And that’s where you get the individualized attention. That’s where that next level supervisor really needs to be spending a lot of time at looking at that person to see. I’ve experienced that. I’ve had areas where I had 1 sergeant, I had areas where I had 2, I’ve had 3, I’ve had 7, 8 or 9, plus 2-3 next-level supervisors. I had a supervisor once who supervise civilians. The civilian was just horrible. Just would not do her job. And I was like, “okay, you’re not going to take care of this, I’m going to take care of this”. She had a first sergeant who’s responsible for. And she turned to him. And I said, this is what’s going to happen. If you don’t start doing your job he is going to deal with you. She looked at him and she said his name, she said, “Are you going to do that to me?” And I thought myself, ‘my gosh’, and then I said, “Yes, he is going to do that to you”. And then when she was done, she got up and left. I told the first sergeant, “How do you feel about that? How do you feel that she looked at you and basically made fun of you because you won’t do your job?” And I disciplined him. When I say disciplined, I don’t mean I formally wrote him up. I was constantly counseling him and I was giving him a reprimand because he wouldn’t do his job. So, you got to hold feet to the fire. Who polices the police? And you’re right. It’s about a popularity contest and not wanting to be the bad guy. But here’s another thing. You’ve got to get everybody on the same sheet of music. I was in a place once where when I was there, they would rotate the sergeant’s every, all the troops every year, so you’d have a different sergeant. Everybody checked all the paperwork. When I left, I came back, they were still rotating the sergeants, and each sergeant only checked their own person’s paperwork. Even if they didn’t see him for 2 or 3 days. I said all of that stops right now. We’re going to do two things. We’re not going to rotate sergeants anymore. You got to keep the sergeant and you may not like it but this is the sergeant you will have for now on. And each person’s going to check everybody’s paperwork. You know what, we’re all going to check it the same way. You know how we’re going to check it. We’re going to check it to my standards, which is excellent. There’s no one good answer to that, but it really comes from a higher leadership holding that person’s feet to the fire.
Audience Question: I came into this agency with experience in a different field where people looked at me as a leader. I came into this agency straight as a supervisor not having been a supervisor before, and then now supervising people that have been in this field for a year or more. How do I approach this and become a leader that they are comfortable with and trust?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: Go back to that chart I was showing you, think about that chart I showed you. And there’s that beginning section. And when you don’t have that, either, because you don’t know it, it’s two things are going to come about. One is you don’t have their skills and if you don’t know where they came from. You really can’t talk in their language, it’s kind of hard to evaluate them- coach or teach them. The other part of it is, you haven’t earned their respect yet because you didn’t come from where they did. I’m not trying to be mean by that. I think you recognize that. What do you got to do? You got to get out there and get with them and spend some time learning what they do and learn to appreciate what they do. It’s all about time and effort. It’s all about getting to know them, and respecting them and letting them know ‘you know what I respect what you do’, not in a fake way, but in a real genuine way. As this is a time issue, you’ve got to get out there, you got to get with them, you got to work with them, they got to get to know you, you got to get to know them, and you want to learn what they do. You want to have a genuine interest in what they do. You want to learn all the ins and outs of it. It doesn’t mean you’re going to do that every day. So it’s a tough road but it’s not impossible. In some ways, you might have a little bit of advantage. Sometimes what I see is – not saying this to you at all, because I don’t think it is, but I’ll see a person get promoted and they stay where they are. Now that person was squared away and respected. That works out fine. But if that person wasn’t squared away and respected, they have a hard time saying now, “Do as I say not as I did”. So sometimes it can be a little bit of an advantage, but I would say what I just mentioned, spend time getting to know them, learning what they do, respecting what they do. And I think that’s going to help you and let them know in the right way that you don’t know what they know but you do know how to be a leader or manager.
Audience Question: Have you ever had a situation where people who disagreed with your leadership style formed a group opposing you behind your back? And if so, how would you handle this?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: I can write a book on that. I took over an area the size of the state of Delaware when I made First Sergeant. It was two different areas. They had one sergeant in each area, they had one secretary in each area. The First Sergeant who was supposed to do this, took a demotion back to trooper because he was protesting what they were doing. It was a budget cut and it was just too big of an area. And he said, ‘I’m not going to do this’. So, he went back to Trooper. The day he went back to Trooper I became the first sergeant and then I was supervising him. I had two different areas with issues: one area was like lambs that were lazy, the other area where like lions that were hungry, and the only thing that kept me sane was the beauty of the area. It was about a 45-minute drive between the two offices. And my worst area, I had 12 people, 4 of them hated me, literally hated me. 4 of them liked me a lot, 4 were neutral and just watching to see which way this was going to go. I knew going into it what worked. I had been a supervisor. I knew what worked. I knew how to lead I knew that if I’m going do this right, then no matter what happens I’ll be okay because I’ll come out of it – I’m going to come out of it bloody and I came out of the bloody. It was hell on earth for a year and a half. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever did. After a year and a half. They divided the areas in half. I had both places going the way it should. But one area, the secretary had decided, before I came there, she would find out all about me. Her goal, I found out years later was to get rid of me in 30 days. She didn’t get rid of me a year and a half later she left. I brought in a secretary and who did a great job. I took one of the least productive areas in my division made it one of the most productive area. They thought I was a headhunter, which I wasn’t. I was by the book. I was there for 4 years. When I left 4 years later, not one person had ever been formally disciplined. I had informally disciplined guys, I had given counseling and that sort of thing. But I had never formally disciplined anybody. And we turned it around completely. The First Sergeant, who was a Trooper was now my Sergeant working for me. It was hard for me to leave. I had taken an area which is filled with snakes and rocks and turn it and left a garden of Eden. But it wasn’t easy. It didn’t happen overnight. I knew what was right. I knew what I needed to do. And I did it. I did it with kindness and respect. But it wasn’t easy. I’ve got scars with me forever. You just got to know this is a game plan. It is nice if you have support from people higher up. People from higher for me kind of supported me but it kind of stayed back. And, and I got plenty bloody over it, but in the long run, is one of the most successful things I’ve ever done in my life. So, you just got to get a game plan and go in there and it’s not going to be easy.
Audience Question: So Dr. Fox, it sounds like you have to develop that game plan and then have the self-confidence to implement it knowing that it’s the right plan to move the organization forward.
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: Oh yeah, you got it. I don’t have to say this without sounding arrogant. I don’t think that would have been an easy task for a lot of people. I felt very comfortable. I’ve been preparing for years and years. I’ve been a supervisor in busy places. When I was a trooper, my supervisors looked at me as a supervisor. I felt I was very well ready to go into combat and that’s actually what I did was combat.
Audience Question: You mentioned leading and supervising sergeants, but how do you find it most effective to get your point across to superiors such as a chief or assistant chief? How do you influence them and drive home ways that can better the organization?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: That’s a very hard question, is not an easy answer. Part of it is going to depend on how big of agency you have and how much access do you have. If you’re a huge agency, and you don’t have as much access to that person, then this could be very, very difficult. If you were a moderate to small size agency where you can get with them. First of all, if you’re not a squeaky wheel, that’s a good thing. And when you do speak, they go, “Oh, this person is speaking” and they don’t complain all the time that this is somebody I respect as an employee or as a supervisor, I’m going to listen. So in other words, if you already have a reputation for being squared away, that’s going to help you. If you have a reputation for somebody who’s always complaining, always moaning, always screwing up, you don’t have a good starting point, to begin with. As they look at you as a good employee, sound, levelheaded supervisor, that’s going to make a big difference. If they don’t, you got a lot of ground to cover. Secondly, do your homework, get your ducks in a row and show this is how it’s going to benefit the agency. I always went up the chain of command, I wouldn’t skip over people. So, I would run up the chain of command. But you want to have your facts together. You want to be able to show this is why this is a good thing. And maybe you don’t get the whole thing. Maybe you get a bit or piece of it. Sometimes you got to pick your battles. I’ve been through that a lot. And sometimes I’ve been successful. Sometimes it took a while. Sometimes it took knocking on the door 2 or 3 times, but you also got to pace yourself and figure out how soon can I do that.
We had a situation where when people came to their division, they always had new ideas. And all of us knew that wasn’t allowed. So, we all sat back and waited for our next meeting with a new person who had new ideas. Our captain and lieutenant would say that’s not how we do it here. It was a ritual everybody went through. So, you just had to learn. I had sergeant saying, other divisions were allowing their people to do a different schedule for their supervisors. I didn’t think it was unreasonable for supervisors. So, I talked to my lieutenant, he said, bring it up at the First Sergeant’s meeting. Now my Lieutenant was like Hitler and Attila the Hun working together. So, I did, and I knew I had one person who was supporting me, the other ones would just be flies on the wall wouldn’t want to say anything. My friend who was supporting me wasn’t there that day. So, before I had a chance to say anything, the lieutenant said, 1st Sergeant Fox wants to bring up a new schedule idea for the supervisors. But this is what I think about it first. So, he spoke up and said he didn’t like it. And he said, ‘Go ahead, Jeff. tell everybody what you think’. And I did. And then they said, what does anyone had to say, and nobody said a word. As we got ready to leave, the lieutenant came to me and said so how did that work out for you? And I thought myself, “You know, what is wrong with you?” All you can do is do your best. Sometimes people are there to sabotage you, it just depends on the situation. Sometimes they’re going listen to you, a lot of it depends on who you are, and what kind of reputation you have. But you only have so much time and you got to put that best foot forward. Whether you talk about verbally, whether you propose something, and it’s nice if you can get buy-in from other people first, to get that support already before you even go to the top.
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