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Book review: How the ‘Oz Principle’ can keep you above the line

Since its publication in 1994, “The Oz Principle” has become the worldwide guide on accountability. Here’s what law enforcement can take from this book

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Now, more than ever, police professionals must constantly look at the landscape, identify shortcomings, adjust operations and be responsive to the needs of our communities. We must exercise and demonstrate individual and organizational accountability for this to occur.

The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability” provides us with a framework for consideration.

Authors Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman use the story by L. Frank Baum, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” to illustrate and connect readers to the concepts. We all recall the story characters that start the fable as victims of their circumstances. As they travel through the land of Oz, they learn that they can control their destiny and significantly influence their situation. They grow courage, intelligence, heart and control along the way. It is in this sense that our lives and professions are ironically similar.

As individuals, we can positively influence our situations through accountability for our thoughts, words and actions. The authors describe this as “above the line” thinking, whereby we all have to ask ourselves the accountability question, “What else can I do to operate above the line and achieve the desired results?” Unfortunately, thinking below the line enables and encourages a victimization mentality, leading to negativity and pessimism.

The following six stages identified in “The Oz Principle” exemplify victimization attitudes and cycles:

  • Ignore/deny
  • It’s not my job
  • Finger-pointing/blaming
  • Tell me what to do
  • Cover your tail
  • Wait and see.

People attempt to shift responsibility for less than stellar situations, performance, or attitudes in these ways rather than own it themselves. Therefore, the first step in repairing these stages is accepting responsibility and moving thoughts and actions above the line while climbing the accountability ladder.

As leaders, we must look for ways to bring and maintain cultures of accountability to our organizations. This shift starts by acknowledging, accepting and mitigating our own below-the-line thinking. We can then model that behavior while encouraging and enabling others to do the same. Don’t we all want to work at organizations where we invite candid feedback, don’t hide from the truth, commit to what we are doing 100%, and delight in the opportunity to make things happen?

In the policing profession, we are seeing many programs relating to accountability in the work we do, as individuals, as teams and as organizations. For example, efforts relating to the duty to intercede, early intervention and active bystandership are predicated on a culture of accountability. Everyone should be willing to address problems in a see it, own it, solve it and do it attitude. The authors walk us through how to apply these efforts, and, in my view, the parallels to police work are uncanny.

In a recent Police1 poll, respondents indicated their top three concerns are recruitment and retention, media coverage, and officer wellness and morale. We know all these issues are closely tied to and impacted by organizational culture. I’d suggest that cultures of accountability correlate positively to all three topics.

First, we know, employees of today want to work for departments that have positive cultures with opportunities for ownership and growth. Second, media coverage often displays police employees who have engaged in below-the-line behavior, adding fuel to the fire. Finally, wellness is inextricably tied to our attitudes. When we choose positivity, more of it will come our way, increasing wellbeing.

“The Oz Principle” is worthy of your time to reflect on your opportunities to be accountable in words and action while always looking for ways to sustain perpetual growth. And remember, not all readers are leaders, but leaders must be readers. Be well!

How agencies can weave the duty to intercede throughout their policies and training

Connors R, Smith T, Hickman C. The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability. Penguin: October 1, 1998.

This article, originally published on January 13, 2022, has been updated.

Captain Gerard Asselin proudly serves his community with the Anchorage Police Department (APD) in Anchorage, Alaska. He was promoted to captain in March 2020. He is a lifelong Alaskan, a member of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and a Service High School graduate. He holds an MA in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership from the University of San Diego and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

Captain Asselin is a member of the FBI National Academy Alumni Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Alaska Peace Officers Association, and a founding member of Anchorage Cops for Community. He maintains close ties to his community through volunteer service, active engagement with the Scouts of America and other youth activities. He also proudly served as president with the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association.