We’ve all done it, telling people what to do instead of explaining why they need to do it. It’s in our nature as cops. It’s efficient, direct and achieves the required (if not simply the desired) result.
As cops, we fall into the trap of ordering people around. And, to be sure, there is a time and place for that. You may be at a scene and yell at someone to, “Move and sit over there next to that wall!” This is the what. The why might be because Timmy’s off his meds again and has been taking pot shots at people all over the neighborhood and you want the person you just yelled at to get out of the line of fire. But you might not have the luxury of taking the time to explain all of this to your unwitting citizen.
The problem is we either get too used to this or so comfortable with demanding compliance that we tend to fall into that groove with all our interpersonal interactions – whether it be peer-to-peer, supervisor-to-subordinate, or even with our family and friends.
You, the employee
Our supervisors, peers and the public expect and deserve to be told the why of things. But I’ll take this theory one step further. You should be demanding the why from your supervisors also. If you are given an assignment, task or order to do something and you don’t understand what’s being asked, you should always be told why you’re doing it. You won’t always agree with it, but at least you’ll understand what your supposed to do.
If a leader is not willing to tell you why you need to do something, then their motives become suspect. I’ve had leaders who have told me that the reason they’re ordering me to do something is simply because they can. This instills little confidence in their decision-making and makes me wonder if they are doing this more for their own selfish reasoning or to perhaps gain some sort of clout with their supervisors at my expense. Let’s face it, cops are a suspicious group of people. But you don’t have to be in police work to know when you’re being manipulated.
The why is a gut feeling as to our motivation for why we show up to work everyday and why we care about what we do. Deep down, we want to make a difference. Or maybe we want to make sure the victim we’re dealing with doesn’t have the same crappy interaction with emergency services that you’ve seen or experienced yourself in the past. Maybe you want to come to work because it stimulates your mind, it’s interesting or the work fascinates you in some way. These are all legitimate reasons for your why.
You, the leader
As a leader “you must talk about why you believe,” according to Simon Sinek (2010). This is true if you want others in your organization to follow you, or if you want community members to follow your organization and comply with laws and other societal expectations. Simply stating that people need to obey the laws will work for most people because of their internal moral beliefs and feelings of community. But for others, they need to feel the reason why it needs to be followed.
This goes to the heart of police legitimacy around the world. If people don’t believe in the why of an organization, they won’t follow or comply when requested to do so. And, as an emergency services organization, if you can’t explain the why, the community will be suspect and sometimes assume that the actions are self-serving and not in their best interest.
Sinek also says, “We follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to” (2014). Isn’t that the truth in any free society? We have the choice to follow or not follow. But, here’s the problem in police work. So many get into this line of work, gain a great deal of skill and talent, then loose their love of the job. When you have this scenario, you have either an unwilling employee or a toxic employee (Gallagher-Westfall, 2020).
If you’re not leading people, I would submit that you’re simply manipulating people to achieve a goal. Unwilling or toxic employees will not be pulled or pushed into compliance in cases like this and your organization will fall into disarray.
So, in any interaction where you’re trying to gain compliance from another, you need to be honest in the why. Only then, will you be followed and gain that compliance.
If people are not willing to follow you or your organization, you need to ask yourself: “Are we explaining the why?” If they are not following you as a leader, you need to ask the same question: “Am I explaining the why?” And, if the why is because it benefits you at the expense of others, you will not be followed.
Finally, if your supervisor asks something of you or gives you direction to do something, you should always know why. You may already know the answer without having to ask, but if the direction or answer is ambiguous, demand the why — respectfully.
Gallagher-Westfall Group, Inc. (2020). Gallagher-Westfall Group. Q6 Performance Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.gallagher-westfall.com/q6.html.
Sinek, Simon, (2010). TED talk, Pacific Northwest. How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Retrieved from Youtube Video https://youtu.be/qp0HIF3SfI4.
Sinek, Simon, (2014). TED talk, Pacific Northwest. Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe. Retrieved from Youtube Video https://youtu.be/lmyZMtPVodo.