I was helping my grandfather clean out a cabinet. He is a World War II veteran and sometimes tell stories of his service. He served in Europe with General Patton’s Third Army and for a time was attached to the French First Army. Although he never had a personal encounter with the famed Patton, he tells several stories about serving under his command. My grandfather’s stories remind me of one of the best quotes I think has ever been uttered regarding leadership. This quote is as important today as when General Patton was alive.
“If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results”
Patton made a simple statement that holds leadership power. In today’s law enforcement world, such power is sorely needed in some agencies. Patton’s quote can empower officers and staff in your agency’s lower ranks. Empowerment is a valuable tool for any leader in law enforcement. Given time, we will truly be amazed at the results we will see from those that we lead.
In law enforcement, leaders can be appointed with little or no practical leadership development for several weeks or months into the new position. Economic constraints make it impractical to run a supervisor or leadership academy before every promotion. The new leader is “given the keys” without the owner’s manual. He or she may grab at straws trying to fix the problems that all leaders, especially new leaders, face in their jobs.
Empowerment is an amazing tool. Empowerment involves setting goals or objectives for your subordinates, but letting them reach them without you watching them constantly or micro-managing them. As a leader, empowerment requires you to be available to your subordinates to ask questions when they need a push in the right direction. They may also need clarification about issues they discover during completion of assigned tasks.
Leaders must plan well when using empowerment. As you consider an empowerment stance, consider the following easy points.
Has your command structure given you the authority to assign a task to someone else? If they gave instructions that you carry out the task, chances are that is who should complete it. That does not mean your subordinates cannot help, but be clear on this point before you practice empowerment.
What are the goals of the task, and when is it considered “mission completed”? Having clear goals is important in most things in the world of leadership, but even more so when we empower others. Make sure they are able to see a clear target or destination.
What parameters or special circumstances limit the creativity or progress of the subordinate you have empowered to accomplish the task? Most of the time we do not start a road trip without a map, or an understanding in how to get to our destination. Empowerment is much the same way. If there are certain criteria for accomplishing the goal, especially anything geo-political in nature, then subordinates must know about them in advance.
Will you be available for questions or guidance when those you empower need it? As a leader following Patton’s maxim, you must make yourself available for clarification of parameters, or “gentle” reminders of the goal. When empowerment fails, often it is because the leader did not provide measurable objectives and or support when needed.
Can I trust my subordinate with this task and not micro-manage them while they complete it? We were all subordinates of some kind at one time. Remember how you felt when your supervisor was breathing down your neck, and correcting you at every turn. Remember, small mistakes are good for the growth of an individual that works for us. Making small mistakes helps our subordinates gain confidence.
What completion date or timeline must be followed? Does the timeline lend itself to empowering a subordinate to get the task completed? Sometimes timelines are really tight on certain tasks. If your timeline is short, you may need to complete it on your own.
By using these points as our guideposts, you will find that empowerment is a very easy tool for you to use in staff leadership development. The best part is that empowerment works well for both sworn staff as well as those civilians that work for us.
Patton had it right on the empowerment principle. In combat history, there have been very few commanders that were so revered by their men. Even though Patton was a great leader, he also had a great supporting cast.
From his quote, we know that he valued his subordinate’s contribution to the Army. Patton also understood that with proper guidance, they would complete assigned tasks and solve challenges as presented. Law enforcement agencies of any size and composition can learn from Patton and benefit from the results of empowerment. The next time you have the opportunity, whether it is with sworn staff or civilians under your command, remember the lessons learned from General Patton. Your agency has nothing to lose and everything to gain from your empowering those who work for you.
Lt. David Crisler, Jr. serves with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. He is Unit Commander for the Bravo-One Unit at the Arrestee Processing Center. He has also served as a training instructor of various topics as well as the Assistant Training Director. Lt. Crisler has a strong interest in dynamic leaders and new practices that can be used in criminal justice leadership and agency operation. He is an accomplished high school football coach in Central Indiana area. Lt. Crisler strives on a daily basis to empower those working for him, whether deputies, civilians, or football players. David has also spoken at several national law enforcement training conferences and conducted training with several Midwest agencies. You can reach David at [email protected]