The silent threat: When vital information doesn’t reach the top
How transparent communication and a culture of growth can overcome gatekeeping and boost operational efficiency in law enforcement
This article originally appeared in the September 2023 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, see Fugitive photo mishap | The dangers of gatekeeping | LEO medical training and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.
By Greg Zaroslinski
Imagine this: Sergeant Jane, a dedicated sergeant in charge of a police department's wellness unit, stumbles upon an innovative program tailored for law enforcement officers. It promises not only to enhance their physical and mental wellbeing but also to address the unique challenges they face daily. Excitedly, she begins to envision how this could transform her department, boosting morale and operational efficiency. Yet, a few weeks later, there's no mention of this program to her superiors.
She speaks in whispers to a colleague about the program, but when asked why she hasn’t presented it to higher-ups, she cites "budget constraints." But as days turn to weeks, it becomes evident that the issue isn't just about money. Beneath the surface, Jane feels threatened, fearing that external expertise might overshadow her role or highlight her inadequacies. This sentiment, while rarely voiced, isn't unique to her. It’s a pattern repeated across ranks, from mid-level officers to those with specialized assignments like recruiting.
These individuals, passionate and committed, often find groundbreaking ideas, programs, or third-party vendors that could exponentially benefit their departments. Yet, due to feelings of inadequacy or the fear of being replaced, they withhold this invaluable information. By sidelining these opportunities, they unintentionally compromise their unit's potential and the broader mission of the agency.
Shadows of mid-level gatekeeping
Having delved into Sergeant Jane's story, it becomes evident that the real-world implications of such gatekeeping behavior are profound. Mid-level officers, strategically positioned between the ground forces and top brass, have a reservoir of operational insights. Still, this privilege can sometimes turn into a liability, especially when personal insecurities come into play.
Whether it's the wellness sergeant feeling overshadowed by external wellness programs or a recruiting officer hesitant to adopt modern recruitment techniques for fear of becoming redundant, these barriers hinder progressive change.
The quiet alarm: Is this happening in your department?
Every missed opportunity is a setback. Not just in the form of beneficial programs left unexplored, but in the shape of unseen risks, unchecked biases and vulnerabilities that can undermine your department's efficacy.
As leaders, it's paramount to be vigilant and proactive:
1. Insist on transparency: Frequently communicate your expectations to hear diverse perspectives. This is vital to foster an environment where officers feel safe sharing their findings without fear of judgment.
2. Bypass regular channels: Engage directly with specialized units or lower-ranking officers, ensuring they feel seen and heard.
3. Promote a culture of growth: Emphasize the importance of continuous learning and improvement, reassuring officers that external expertise is an asset, not a threat.
4. Implement a feedback system: Create channels that bypass potential gatekeepers, ensuring that every voice can be heard directly, with provisions for anonymity.
5. Provide leadership training: Emphasize the significance of upward communication and the value of external collaboration.
6. Hold gatekeepers accountable: Address instances of information withholding immediately, making it clear that the agency's mission takes precedence over individual insecurities.
In conclusion, every officer, regardless of rank or assignment, carries a wealth of potential. By ensuring that insecurities and personal reservations don't obstruct the flow of valuable information, leaders can cultivate an environment where innovation thrives and threats are kept at bay. Recognize the urgency, act decisively, and champion transparency and growth in your agency.
Topics for discussion
1. Do we see signs of "gatekeeping" within our own department, and if so, what measures can we take to address this and encourage more open communication?
2. What steps can we take to promote a culture of growth and continuous learning, so that officers feel more secure in exploring and sharing innovative ideas or programs?
3. How can we improve our feedback systems to ensure all voices within our department are heard and valuable information isn't lost due to individual insecurities?
About the author
Greg Zaroslinski is the president of Performance Protocol, a company that helps law enforcement agencies and their employees achieve their full potential through recruitment, development and retention. With over 10 years of experience in scaling businesses, Greg has successfully grown several ventures to over $45 million in valuation and earned the Entrepreneur of the Year Runner-Up award.
As a former Non-Commisioned Officer in the U.S. Navy, Greg also has a strong background in recruitment, staff development and organizational leadership. He was honored as the Rookie Recruiter of the Year in 2007 and the National Recruiter of the Year Runner-Up in 2008 and 2009. He leverages his military and business skills to inspire and educate others as a transformational life and executive coach, a motivational speaker and a competitive endurance athlete. Greg's mission is to empower people to overcome their challenges and achieve their goals.