6 keys ways police leaders can get courageous (and honest) feedback from employees

Bad leaders don’t want feedback — or simply ignore it when given — but courageous leaders crave feedback and seek it on a daily basis

Courageous leadership is about going left when everyone else seems to go right, and it indeed takes courage. 

Seeking and receiving courageous feedback is one of those less traveled paths. Feedback within law enforcement is rarely more than a supervisor telling an employee something — not the other way around. 

Here are six important concepts to remember if you want to achieve honest feedback from your officers. 

1. Have a Real Open Door Policy
An “open door policy” is by far the most abused feedback method in our profession. How many times has someone told you they have an open door policy but no one knows anyone that has been through that door? 

Having an “open door policy” is important, but only if the door is really open and if the leader is willing to walk out of that door for feedback. If no one is coming through your door on a regular basis then you don’t really have an open door policy. It’s time to leave the office and go to those the policy is for. Going to a squad meeting or briefing has the potential to not solicit true feedback because of peers being present but if you embed in the environment of those you are trying to reach, you’ll be able to solicit feedback. 

There’s a commander who decided to ride with every officer that was under him in one year. He rode with more than 100 officers on patrol. Even if only for a few hours per officer, courageous leaders do this, not to be seen as a nice person, but because the only way we can improve ourselves and agencies is by getting feedback, and what better way to do that than in the trenches with those that can help the most: the line officer. 

2. Know Names 
Courageous leaders should know the names of those around them. This may sound silly but it’s powerful and so many leaders don’t know or practice this simple principle. It may be  easier at a small agency but  can be quite challenging at a larger agency. 

There is a powerful phenomenon that occurs when a leader looks someone in the eye and calls them by their name. If you find yourself around an employee and don’t know their name then have the courage to ask them. Take a few minutes and ask about their family and their career. 

3. What You Say Matters
Critical feedback has a much better opportunity to develop change only if there is positive feedback that accompanies it. This doesn’t mean to always praise first and then criticize but if a leader’s overall messages are positive throughout the day, month and year, the critical message has a much better chance for success. 

4. Cultivate the Environment
Courageous feedback means creating an environment for accurate and meaningful discussion. If you are a manager who is rarely seen, you won’t get courageous, honest feedback. Those you need feedback from need to feel like they can give it, and you will consider and/or act on that feedback. 

We must convince others that their feedback will be evaluated and not dismissed. Courageous leaders also ensure that their environment is honest. 

5. Use a Team
Top managers in law enforcement must be able to reach down to all ranks. It may be impossible for the chief in a large city to do that but a team approach can help. Using representatives at each division or shift can bring much needed messages and thus much needed changes. 

A courageous leader may not be able to convince the rookie officer to come with them but that rookie may go to their shift representative with the same message which can then be passed along. 

6. The Most Powerful Phrase
Several months ago I was in a briefing with a group of officers. I asked if any of them had any questions and they remained silent.  

I then asked, “What can I do for you?” 

Still silent, they looked perplexed. I was later told they had never been asked that question. I then went to two more briefings that same day and asked the same question. The same confused look appeared but finally, in the last briefing, a hand went up. “Sir, the television is broken. We would like it fixed.” I later found out the television in their squad room had been broken for years and there had never been a request  to fix it. The question worked that day and every day since. I believe this question will help you achieve feedback.

Feedback is the backbone to the success of a leader. Bad leaders don’t want feedback — or simply ignore it when given — but courageous leaders crave feedback and seek it on a daily basis. They understand that the only way to improve is the synergy that only comes from honest feedback from those in their organization. 

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