4 keys to boosting officer accountability with the ‘Big Boy Policy’

Here are four keys to making accountability and responsibility touchstones of your leadership, and of your agency as a whole

Many leaders — and subordinates — say they “want to be treated like a big boy” (or girl) but don’t like the burdens of responsibility and accountability that come with such status. 

Failure to treat people like ‘big boys’ makes them act like children, so I developed what I called the “Big Boy Policy” for every aspect of my career.

Here are four keys to making accountability and responsibility touchstones of your leadership, and of your agency as a whole. 

1. Hold Yourself Accountable
The first step in developing a Big Boy Policy is to make sure you act like one and take responsibility for yourself. Don’t pass the buck. Take responsibility for getting things done as well as for those under you who fail to get things done. Making excuses or blaming others for your failures comes from a lack of honesty and fear of the consequences. 

If you embrace failure,  (because you will fail)  and then set a course to fix it, you will be better respected. People understand failure but they don’t like surrender. Surrender is what you do when you blame others. 

Grab your boot straps, pull on the boots and get to work fixing the problem and learn. Surrendering teaches you to quit but embracing your failures causes you to learn and grow personally and professionally. 

You learned more in the first two months after you finished field training because of mistakes you made than all the time spent in basic and field training. You will be a better leader.

2. Hold Others Accountable
We live in a society where accountability is not the norm. It seems that for too many people, responsibility for an individual’s failure (or bad behavior) lies with everyone other than that individual. A student does not succeed because the teacher failed. Someone commits a crime because their parents, society, teachers, or others have failed them. 

It is your responsibility as a police leader to give your people the ability to succeed — not make them happy. Many bosses want to be liked more than they want to be responsible, but being the nice guy and trying to cater to every whim of subordinates for the sake of approval will not make them better. 

Never holding people accountable will actually make them whiny and encourage job dissatisfaction. They may not say it (they may not even know it!) but people like boundaries and rules — there is comfort and security within the walls. By holding people accountable, they will know what is expected and improve because giving them direction will be point them toward success. The more you set up expectations and goals in the beginning, the less time you will spend later correcting errors.

3. Encourage People to Hold Themselves Accountable
The main point of the Big Boy Policy is to make people self-disciplined. What is better than people who do the right thing without being told? It would be the ideal work environment for people. If you know people who are self-motivated and responsible, it is more than likely they learned to be so because they were held accountable or because they have a set of values that make them responsible to a higher purpose than themselves.

Valuing the standards and goals of an organization will help people be accountable. As part of the hiring, training and supervision of employees, showing associates what is to be done, when and to what standard will help establish their values. 

Finally, accountability will enforce those standards. As part of that enforcement, it is important that everyone in management adhere to the standards. The disparity caused by differing standards within management will cause a breakdown in morale. The more clearly expectations and standards are spelled out in the beginning, the less time will be spent correcting behavior later.

4. Make People Hold Each Other Accountable
Once you’ve established a behavior in yourselves and others, the final leg in establishing a responsible organization is to make subordinates hold their peers accountable. 

Several years ago — during a multi-jurisdictional training environment — some officers from one department were complaining about a new sergeant. They were complaining because they felt he should never have made it to his position because he was not qualified. They were blaming the administration for allowing him to get to his position and failing to remove him from it. 

I asked how long he had been a problem. They said that he had been a problem from the very beginning. 

I then asked if they had ever said anything to him or filed a complaint. They all admitted they had complained but had never said or done anything personally to correct the behavior or stop his progression. It was as much their fault as anyone’s but they refused to own the responsibility and now were paying the price for it.

With the exception of severe situations, I refuse to handle officer complaints against one another until they have addressed it with the offending officer. I do the same thing when it comes to training or safety issues. If it is not important enough to say something themselves, than it is not important enough for me. If it becomes a problem later, I will also hold those officers who knew there was a problem but did not act, accountable. 

By making yourself accountable, you communicate your values to others. When you hold others accountable, you establish your values with them and help them embrace those values. When they learn accountability, they show they now share those values or the organizations values which causes them to want to communicate those values to their peers. Once people share and embrace a common value, accountability becomes a desire and not a chore.

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