Leadership 101: Let your troops learn from mistakes

Often we fail to give the big picture to our subordinates and instead guide each and every phase of an operation

I heard a great story the other day. I don't know where it came from, so I can't give proper credit, but it isn't mine. 

A commander received three new lieutenants and wanted to see what they were made of. He told them that they had all day to come up with a mission order to put up a flagpole.

He told them that they would each have a flagpole, basic tools, a sergeant, and a platoon.

The Only Acceptable Mission Order
​At the end of the day, the lieutenants came and proudly presented their work, which was very detailed and left nothing to chance. The commander reviewed each plan carefully and shook his head as he told the lieutenants that their plans fell well short of his expectations.

In dismay, the three new lieutenants asked what they could have done better. The commander said that they failed to properly utilize their resources. The lieutenants asked what the commander meant, since their plans were so detailed.

The commander said, “Gentlemen, the only acceptable mission order is, ‘Sergeant, put up that flag pole’.”

The Big Picture
​I tell this story because it directly relates to what we do as police supervisors. Often we fail to give the big picture to our subordinates and instead guide each and every phase of an operation. 

This does not allow our charges to learn and grow. If our subordinates know what the final picture is supposed to look like, they can make decisions about how to best accomplish the mission without having to ask.

It’s kind of like giving our troops a 500-piece puzzle with no picture on the box. We have to tell our people what the end goal is supposed to look like, rather than tell them where to place each piece. 

We then have to give them the parameters within which they are to operate. 

Then, we have to get out of their way.

Our job as leaders is to prepare our people to do our job. They can’t learn if we never let them do it for themselves — with guidance, when necessary. Monitor your troops and intervene before they make catastrophic errors, but let them make small ones. 

They will learn from these small mistakes, and through proper encouragement, mentoring, and counsel, if we do our jobs right, our subordinates will be better leaders than we ever were. 

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