Egos On High? - Leadership -

Egos On High?

It may be ego or it may be discretion—but boss’s decisions stand

Bullethead | From the October 2013 Issue Monday, October 21, 2013


I've enjoyed your articles for many years, and I've shared their wisdom with my guys and coworkers repeatedly. I now need an experienced opinion on a situation all my own.

I am a sergeant at a county agency, where I was given a directive to adjust the schedule in favor of several deputies with less than one year on the job. Deputies with 4–9 year's service would lose their days off. This may have been necessary for the good of the agency and therefore a necessary adjustment. I suggested another course of action that would achieve the extra coverage plus a little extra and maintain morale by not moving the senior deputies. The response was a resounding negative. So I asked for a general explanation to take back to my troops.

This is when the problem arose. The response from both my captain and my chief was: "Because I said so." Literally. If that was the only explanation they could give, I thought, then there was an ulterior motive at work. I'm a new supervisor, so I am unsure if it's standard practice for superiors to expect men and women whom they pay to be inquisitive to follow blindly and unquestioningly? —Puzzled

OK, Puzzled, here it goes: There's a time for unquestioned following, but it doesn't happen too often. I ask my guys on a regular basis if I'm forgetting something, missing something or, more importantly, if they think the orders I'm giving are moving us in the right direction. At the end of the day I still make the call. But I'd be stupid to ignore their experience and perspective.

When someone's safety is at risk, sure, we might proceed without input. When we're moving through a house or doing a takedown, I need the guys who work for me to be able to think on their feet and still turn on a dime if I tell 'em to. If they ignore an order, they better have a good reason.

I'm lucky. I have sharp guys working for me. They know they're gonna have to stand tall if they ignore an order in a critical situation, so they better have a really good reason. These types of situations are also pre-planned events and we "what if" the hell out of them, so we have most of the angles covered. If things work out right, my job is to get out of their way and let them do their thing.

Sounds like you have some egos in your chain of command. We all have to deal with that, and no one enjoys it. I'd be cautious going head to head with a huge ego on someone who also outranks you. That's a recipe for landing on the worst assignments for a long time. I'd also be cautious of trying to sell the decision to the troops without owning it. Ol' Bullethead found out the hard way that the brass likes few things as little as a line-level supervisor who doesn't toe the company line while selling change.

I'm not sure how your agency works. Where I am, seniority plays a critical role in shift assignments. At the same time, there are changes that come along mid-shift and everyone just has to deal with them until the next shift change. We also have a strong officer's association that has a good working relationship with our admin and would take on an issue like yours on behalf of the affected officers.

Going forward from here, I'd take stock of your friends in high places. If you already burned all those bridges, start repairing them. You aren't looking for drinking buddies, you just need some people you trust and who trust you. Ask them if there is something else going on or some perspective you aren't seeing. For all you know they want to put a particular guy on a particular shift to keep him out of trouble. Maybe they're looking to string someone up and the shift they had you put them on is the one where he is doing bad things.

If it turns out you're just dealing with idiots in command staff then all you can do is fall back on reality. You have the stripes and they have the bars and stars. Nothing you can do about that. Tell the affected deputies to start looking for new assignments or promotions and consider doing the same.

My agency isn't quite big enough to move away from problems so I have a standard thing I do and I encourage my people to do. Bottom line: Do your job to the best of your ability and keep moving forward.

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