The Law Enforcement Leadership Blacklist

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The Law Enforcement Leadership Blacklist

I guess I was a little naïve about the way things work in the police world. Or perhaps my leadership education and dedication to the organization led me to be a little too idealistic about the way things ought to operate. I am a high “C” (compliant or conscientious) on the DISC personality profile after all.

I learned quickly that there tends to be this proverbial “blacklist” among certain supervisors within any given agency, and oftentimes civilian organizations as well. Sometimes we talk about this blacklist in terms of being on someone’s “bad side,” and it usually plays out like this.

At some point during the course of your career, you said or did something for which another individual took offense. Later, when that individual is in a management position, he or she refuses to select you for a desired position, fails to promote you, intentionally works to make your life miserable, or even finds a reason to fire you.

Before civil-service laws that afford certain protections to the employee, the problem was an even greater reality. Still, it seems that being a cop is oftentimes as much a political game as it is anything else, and I just don’t understand.

Great leaders place the good of the organization and those they lead before personal preferences or offenses.

I recently read the book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, and she tells the story of African American women working as human computers at NASA’s Langley Operations Center during World War II and the Civil Rights Era. There was a raging demand for a continual supply of qualified mathematicians and engineers to prevent progress from slowing in the Space Race against the Soviet Union.

Enter Melvin Butler, the personnel director who was tasked with providing that never-ending supply of qualified candidates. He was instrumental in the push to hire African American professionals to meet the demand, recognizing that the need could only be sufficiently met by deviating from the accepted norms of the day. Shetterly describes Butler in this way:

Maybe Melvin Butler was progressive for his time and place, or maybe he was just a functionary carrying out his duty. Maybe he was both. Whatever his personal feelings on race, one thing was clear: Butler was a Langley man through and through, loyal to the laboratory, to its mission, to its worldview, and to its charge during the war. (pp. 7-8)

 Butler began with the end in mind. He kept the mission in the forefront of his mind, and whether he was intentionally working towards desegregation, simply trying to fulfill the mission, or both, he did whatever was necessary to accomplish the mission.

Where are the leaders among the ranks of law enforcement who are so loyal to the mission, to the organization, to the best interest of the community that they are willing to put aside their personal feelings and agendas that lead to divisive and sabotaging actions?

In his oft referenced business leadership book Good to Great, Jim Collins worked to answer the question “How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?” One of the findings involved leadership that could not only bring the right people into the organization, but could put the right people into the right positions in the organization.

Being a great leader, and achieving a legacy of enduring greatness, involves building a successful team, putting them in the best possible positions, and then allowing them to achieve because you have motivated them, trained them, equipped them, and trusted them with responsibility. Being a great leader does not involve holding grudges, perpetual punishment for past failures, or allowing the presence of a blacklist – real or perceived – to keep the best qualified employees from certain positions or ranks.

Perhaps the greater challenge is for those who have been blacklisted and later rise through the ranks. The temptation is to get revenge, or to perpetuate the cycle. At some point, though, the Melvin Butler’s of law enforcement must rise up, deviate from the norms of the day, and commit to a culture shift for the good of all involved.

I’d love to hear your discussion on this topic. How have you overcome this challenge in your career? What positive steps have you taken, or have you seen a great leader take, to avoid the above-mentioned pitfalls? What advice do you have for others who may currently be experiencing the negative effects of being blacklisted?

Jonathan Parker, police officer, Chattanooga Police Department; pastor, Cop Church Chattanooga; host, Watch Your Six Podcast

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