The Leadership Beat: ‘It’s all on you, but it’s not about you!’
Chief Roger Schei details how he seeks to improve morale, align his agency more closely with its mission and initiate a shift in culture
The following content is part of a new Police1 initiative – the Police Leader Playbook – aimed at helping new law enforcement leaders move beyond basic management and supervision skills and become inspirational leaders with integrity and passion. Through a handful of questions presented by Police1, veteran leaders reflect on their early days in leadership roles and offer advice, while newer leaders detail their experiences taking on a new position. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to offer your insights for the Police Leader Playbook.
Chief Roger Schei became chief of the Pocatello (Idaho) Police Department in June 2019. The agency has 100 sworn officers serving a population of approximately 59,000 and is home to Idaho State University. Follow the Pocatello Police Department on Facebook and Twitter. Connect with Chief Schei on LinkedIn.
What put you on the path to becoming chief?
In 2014, I had the privilege of attending class #257 at the FBI National Academy. It was there I learned fundamental skills that would spark my interest in ascending to a higher level of leadership within our police department. Previously in 2012, I had expressed interest in the chief's position and had applied while serving as a lieutenant. In retrospect, I'm grateful I wasn't selected at the time because I realize now I wasn't ready.
As I continued to progress through the ranks and realized our current chief was nearing retirement, my desire to lead the organization grew. In the past, we've sought leadership from outside the department. While these individuals brought valuable external perspectives, the effects on morale were less positive, and they often struggled to navigate the unique demographics of both the area and the department.
I have dedicated significant time to building relationships within our department and our broader community, recognizing the crucial importance of such bonds. This understanding solidified my desire to serve in a higher capacity. Inspirational figures like Retired Marine Colonel John Forquer, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin motivated me to climb the chain of command. They showed me that in doing so, I could exercise a more significant influence on the department and the community I am responsible for protecting and serving.
What did you want to accomplish, improve or make better in your first few months as chief?
If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. This belief guided my actions, and I made sure to embody it. Having grown up within this department, I had established relationships with members of the agency, but my aim was to strengthen these bonds. This effort was crucial as, in my view, the most valuable action a leader can take is to cultivate relationships.
Early on, my focus was on bolstering these relationships. I pursued this by participating in squad meetings, conducting one-on-one sessions, attending additional training programs, regularly consulting with our union and diligently noting down suggestions from others. These activities were underpinned by my existing relationships, allowing me to better understand the needs and desires of our staff.
For instance, I discovered that our employees were advocating for a less restrictive tattoo policy. Paying heed to their voices, I enacted this policy within my first 90 days in office. This action not only boosted morale without imposing any financial burden on the department, but it also allowed me to accumulate valuable leadership capital. My objective was to improve morale, align our department more closely with its mission and initiate a shift in our culture.
How are you creating an organizational culture people want to be part of?
We have a robust leadership development program, including the Extreme Ownership Academy. From the moment officers join us until their departure, they are immersed in leadership training. Our department is renowned for its extensive training and is the highest-trained agency in Idaho. We equip our officers with the best resources and actively encourage their input on the equipment we acquire. Training, equipment and leadership form the triad of our winning culture.
Our department is guided by clearly articulated mission and vision statements, values, expectations and leadership principles. At the Pocatello Police Department, we provide our staff with operational guidelines and trust them to perform their duties efficiently. Importantly, we invite input from our officers regarding policies, procedures, equipment, training and other departmental needs. If a proposed idea aligns 80% with our mission, we are flexible with the remaining 20%. Our staff may pose probing questions if an element doesn't align with our vision, prompting further refinement of the plan. We encourage our officers to formulate and execute plans, fostering a sense of ownership and buy-in within the department and the wider community.
Listening, respect, influence and trust form the bedrock of our philosophy: to be listened to, we must listen; to be respected, we must respect; to influence, we must be open to influence; to be trusted, we must trust. Adherence to these principles has significantly transformed our department culture over the past four years. This transformation didn't occur overnight; it required the concerted efforts of our leadership team, all of whom understand and embody our mission, vision, values, expectations and leadership principles. Consistency, hard work and patience were, and remain, essential.
To ensure our message is accurately conveyed, I constantly check in with everyone up and down the chain of command to ensure the commander’s intent is well understood and implemented.
What’s your process for making major decisions?
We've established a five-year strategic plan that informs our decisions. In developing this plan, we solicited input from every member of the department, as previously stated, leveraging our internal experts to guide decisions and spearhead new initiatives. During the annual budget process, we once again seek input from each department member.
I ensure that division commanders comprehend their operational guidelines, and they, in turn, convey this message down the chain of command. As a staff, we need to excel at explaining the rationale behind decisions, ensuring everyone understands the mission while prioritizing our department's needs. Furthermore, we strive to listen to our community and strike a balance between internal and external needs, always keeping a broader, strategic perspective in mind.
Our decision-making process is iterative. We make a small decision that nudges us toward our ultimate goal, then critically evaluate the outcome. This approach prevents overcommitment, allowing us to adjust based on the ramifications of each decision. After making a small decision, we then determine whether we need to adjust our course or maintain the current direction. While our plans often need to adapt to real-world circumstances, we continually make small decisions, evaluate their impact and adjust as necessary. From an external viewpoint, it may seem like we've made one large decision when, in reality, we've made several smaller ones.
This method is why we rigorously test and evaluate equipment, training programs and other items before implementing them. This process ensures that we aren't investing in items that are likely to fail or prove ineffective. We select a group to conduct tests and evaluations, then collect their feedback. As previously discussed, we provide them with operational guidelines and then let them supply their feedback. This might entail dealing with time, budget, or manpower constraints. As chief, it's my responsibility to provide them with the reasoning, so they understand these constraints when allocating limited resources.
How do you show your personnel you are leading with value-based behaviors?
I have a saying positioned prominently outside my door that reads, "It's all on you, but it's not about you." This serves as a daily reminder that I must bring my best self to the task of leading the men and women of my agency, empowering them to serve the community we are entrusted to protect. It's vital that I embody our mission, vision, values, expectations and leadership principles, setting a standard for others to follow.
Ensuring our department is adequately funded and staffed is a key responsibility, equipping our team to successfully carry out the mission. This involves presenting our city leaders with simple, clear and concise information about the financial resources required to support our department's mission and its members. In doing so, I can ensure they receive the best training and equipment, guaranteeing their safety and, by extension, that of the community.
Providing our department members with the freedom to maneuver is equally important, letting them perform their duties without undue micromanagement. Trusting my department members fosters a sense of buy-in, while making consistent decisions and elucidating the rationale behind them are tasks I strive to accomplish daily. It's crucial to support team members when they're right, but equally important to take ownership when things go awry. If something goes wrong, it's my responsibility to accept it entirely and implement measures to rectify the situation. Conversely, when we succeed, it's because our department members have acted appropriately.
Living up to our standards, setting an example, and effectively conveying these principles is mission critical.
Leadership Lightning Round
What is a leadership book, podcast, or seminar you’ve found invaluable?
The series “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” “The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win” and “Leadership Strategy and Tactics” offer a blueprint for leaders.
How do you organize your schedule and stay on schedule?
I work with my executive assistant to coordinate our calendars, then we review to make sure we are on the same page.
If you knew the budget request would be approved, what’s a big purchase you’d make for your department today?
If I had one budget request, it would be for a new headquarters.
What is one way that leaders can show they care about their people?
You show that you care by listening, trusting, respecting and letting your people influence you.
At the end of the workday, how do you recharge?
I work out and listen to podcasts, and on the weekends, I go to church and spend time with my family.
Listen to Chief Roger Schei on the policing matters podcast: