After the Webinar: Leadership out of your Comfort Zone. Q&A with Dr. Erik Fritsvold

Webinar presenter Dr. Erik Fritsvold answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Leadership Out of Your Comfort Zone: Best Practices and Proven Strategies for Success. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: As a supervisor, I am especially out of my comfort zone advocating for my employees against my higher-ups. I am their voice and I want to hold myself accountable. Do you have any advice when it comes to advocating for your team in opposition to those higher up the food chain? 

Erik Fritsvold: Absolutely not. And I imagine quite a few folks in our audience have that experience in their lived professional life. Ashley, maybe I’m defaulting here to my academic training. I believe the best arguments are evidence-rich arguments. So I haven’t always been successful here myself, but as you’re advocating for your people, if they need resources, if they need equipment, they need scheduling changes. In my respectful opinion, I think the best approach is bombarding them with undeniably clear and persuasive evidence. That it’s not just about making the ask. It’s about making the ask in a way that you can demonstrate the need and you can demonstrate the likely outcomes. Classic strategy here is to do a comparison that your people are lacking some particular safety equipment or some particular technology. Here at a neighboring agency, they have that and look at the great results that they’re getting and here we are working with a 2002 RMS system, or whatever the case might be. So, again, maybe it’s the inherent academic in me, Ashley. Evidence, evidence, evidence is how I think advocacy should be done. And to me that trumps no matter how well you deliver what asks for it, no matter how well you write the memo to be successful. It’s really the evidence that I think makes for the most persuasive advocacy position. That’d be my respectful answer there, Chris.


Audience Question: How do you lead a team that was once your peers and now resist your leadership?

Erik Fritsvold: That’s another one, I’ve heard a bunch in the role in my master’s degree program. It’s such an interesting thing about leadership, is that one day you’re working side-by-side with peers that maybe you’ve grown up together in the organization, and then the next day you’re the boss. Thinking back on the literature, I think a lot of experts argue, informal meetings with these peers can be particularly useful, that they’ll understand the position that you’re in. And if you can explain it to them transparently, and have some kind of mutually beneficial dialog, and say, “Hey, I know that we’ve worked together as peers, and we’re probably friends outside of work for this amount of time, and I was really humbled to get this promotion, and I’m excited about it, how can we work together effectively in this new role? How is it going to impact our relationship personally and professionally?” The literature uses words like, co-create, like, “How can we co-create the most functioning relationship for our unit or our team?” And, the second part? So, these individual kind of preemptive informal meetings generally are recommended in the research. But Victoria, to get to the second part of your position where people are resistant. I think that can kind of change your leadership approach right there. The research argues that we all need to be adaptive leaders and change your position over time. So, if you’ve done that, preemptory meeting, to try to co create a functional relationship. If you’ve extended that olive branch multiple times, maybe you’ve had multiple meetings with that peer who now someone who reports to you. And they’re just struggling with the relationship, and they’re giving you attitude, and you’ve really tried, as a human being, to build a bridge there multiple times, and they have not been receptive to it. Sometimes you just got to be the boss and tell them the way that it is. And if you’ve tried the olive branch strategy, a half dozen times, that’s probably sufficient. And you can kind of revert back to your role and take a more authoritative kind of approach to that relationship, and that’s okay, too.


Audience Question: Erik, you’ve mentioned the importance of first impressions as being best practice. What advice do you have for a supervisor who failed at their first impression? I think we’ve all probably been there, and one time, or another. 

Erik Fritsvold: Absolutely. As a as an academic from Southern California, I wouldn’t say attire is my strong suit. And I definitely have walked into the wrong meetings in a very casual surfer type attire, that I’ve made a very bad impression. I didn’t quite realize the meeting I was walking into. So Miranda, to do my best to answer your questions, the literature says it’s challenging to change a first impression, but not impossible. So, in my mind, I would just start over, would be my respectful suggestion, right? That next attempt, take your attire to the next level. Take your prep to the next level. Take your organization to the next level and show up in a particular type of way for that individual or that group. And the research shows that over time you can overcome that misstep upfront. And rest assured, we’ve all made it, any successful leader from the Colin Powell’s on down or whoever you want to cite. Any successful leader has made a mistake. That first time out has not executed well that first timeout has made a first impression that they’d like to take back. And the good news is, it’s hard but not impossible to change them. So, what does Duckworth’s research say about grit? Get up off the mat, Be extra well prepared the next time, and execute, execute, execute, and execute, and in the long run you can overcome that first impression misstep.


Audience Question: What advice do you have for moving from middle line supervision to management and changing vision to bigger picture thinking? 

Erik Fritsvold: Wow, what a good question Shayna. So, let’s see diving to the research, there are skill set competencies and there are leadership competencies. So, if you’re a commanding officer for a tactical team and I’m an outsider to the profession so excuse me if I misspeaking here but I get the sense if you’re going to lead a SWAT team, you better be a high level tactical person yourself, right? That those skills and life and death situations are so important, but as you go up to more of a managerial role and start to focus on vision. Those skill set competencies are a little less important compared to leadership and organizational competency. So, the nature of your day changes. To be quite transparent, as I hope this whole talk is, this is an area where I really struggle, that I get mired in the day-to-day of trying my best to take care of this endeavor and I don’t deliberately carve out as much time for vision and true leadership. Not management, but leadership work. Here are some best practices that have been recommend. We have an organizational leadership course in our Master’s degree program, that focuses a lot on this. That it’s too easy in a leadership role, to have your day-to-day get away from you. And so, you need to protect yourself or have an executive assistant, if you have one, protect you for that big picture, leadership and vision work. You have to protect it on your calendar. Carve out 90 minutes, carve out two hours. It sounds like an impossibility. But as you transition from middle management to more executive level management, vision work is now part of your job. My understanding is few organizations provide their leaders enough flex time or free time to make it happen. So, you have to vigorously carve out time to do that vision work. And my suggestion, the research shows mid-late morning, 90 minute chunks are typically our best complex task moments. You want to take the most complex thing, you have a day and put it in late morning, whatever that means to you, in a law enforcement or public safety schedule? I had a chief of Police, who’s on our faculty Tim Albright at Oak Grove in Northern California, who said, that in order to do this vision and leadership work over management, he has his executive assistant, protect his calendar, close his office door and protect him from himself. Because it’s the first thing to go when things get tough. So, maybe you need an accountability partner as well, where you can check in with each other. If you don’t have an executive assistant, you can have an accountability person at your level of the organization, to make sure that you’re both doing that. You can do weekly debriefs. Potentially over a cocktail at the end of the week would be my professional recommendation. Hold each other accountable for vision time and I’m now giving you advice that I fail at myself, but I still think it’s sound advice.

Host: I can totally relate to that, Erik. I know we here at Justice Clearinghouse, we try to hold Fridays as sacrosanct for that very reason. I mean, things happen. Invariably, something happened has to get squeezed into that Friday schedule, but we do something very similar because otherwise, life gets in the way of that future planning and the future thinking aspect of management and leadership. So, I get it.


Audience Question: Erik, many, if not most, managers, typically haven’t received training to be a manager. If we can’t, or don’t have time to go back to school, what books, or resources, or even just simple activities, would you recommend to help us learn about how to be a good boss? 

Erik Fritsvold: What a fantastic question. Clearly, our university and others now offer formalized leadership training, specifically targeting public safety professionals, so if you do have the time and bandwidth for a full-blown masters degree, obviously my contact information is there. But for those that don’t, here are some recommendations. In the public safety professions, there’s the classic leadership recommendations here. I’m trying to do something a little novel and difference. I’m going to give you some things that maybe you’re a little different here. I’d recommend anything you can read by Jonni Redick, she’s a regular contributor to Police one. She has two books out on the promotional process which are particularly helpful. She has a book out called Surviving the Sifting, about promoting up through the ranks. She was the first African American female in a chief level position, and wait for it, the California Highway Patrol, an agency of however many tens of thousands. Her ability to synthesize complex leadership, concepts, and advice into your standard police one length article. It is pretty remarkable. So, checkout anything that Jonni Reddick writes. Again, all for free are Google, right on police one. Let’s see, Simon Sinek is another classic recommendations Start with Why is talked about for a reason. That’s one I’d recommend. But another kind of non-traditional recommendation. It’s a book called Tarnished Toxic Leadership in the US Military. And I’d respectfully suggest, working for challenging bosses, toxic leaders is just commonplace in every type of organization. An author by the name of George Reid, he’s a retired military police officer who went to get his PhD in leadership and is now an academic dean. Just incredibly insightful guy. Anything you could read by him is great but in particular I’d recommend the book Tarnished. And it think that’s my greatest hits on leadership for you, Chris.


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