In my law enforcement and military careers, I have had the pleasure and honor to award decorations for bravery to numerous wonderful men and women who have risked their lives in the performance of their duties. Having given a great deal of thought to the issue of courage and bravery over the years, I have arrived at two conclusions (yes, conclusions!) First, I have been blessed to be part of professions made up of extraordinary individuals who, by and large, are likely to run into the types of dangerous situations from which the average man or woman is likely to run away from. Second, the overwhelming number of people who I have served with are equally as brave as those who have been decorated, but just have not been placed in a situation where their bravery has been called for.
Employees need to be clear that while they will die for their partners if necessary, they will not lie for them.
As a new cop, the term “the cavalry is coming” took on special meaning. In one critical incident after another, and year after year, it became institutionally obvious that I was in a profession where courage and bravery were the rules rather than the exceptions; bravery comes with the territory! Whether a citizen or fellow officer in harm’s way, and regardless of the circumstances, the men and women with whom I worked did everything possible to get to the scene promptly and take whatever action was required, including placing himself or herself in serious danger. In all of my years in the public safety or military trenches, I can’t think of more than just a very few people who lacked the courage to confront a dangerous task; it was just a matter of individual strategy.
Special types of courage
Without minimizing the greatness of physical courage and bravery, there are additional types of courage, which, in my judgment, are just as critical and often even more difficult for some people to exhibit. In my experience as an executive, I accepted as a “given” that the personnel of my command would muster the courage to appropriately take on whatever physical and dangerous situation came their way. The following types of special courage represent the day-to-day challenges that are so critical to our organizations in the areas of effectiveness, supervision, liability, training, employee wellness and development, conduct, discipline and related issues.
Field situational courage
It is essential that we select, train and expect all of our personnel to confront and challenge inappropriate behaviors being exhibited or potentially contemplated by fellow employees. Whether a seasoned officer or a new trainee, we need mature and courageous men and women who have the courage, inclination and loyalty to the organization and their fellow employees to immediately intervene in the event a co-worker is behaving inappropriately. From day one, employees must be inculcated with the reality that loyalty to our fellow employees stops at the line of misconduct and that rank and seniority are not excuses for failure to intervene. This is a very difficult expectation, but it is essential and will only occur when supervisors and managers show the courage necessary to make it clear to the workforce that failure to comply will result in discipline up to and including termination. Employees need to be clear that while they will die for their partners if necessary, they will not lie for them and, ultimately, jeopardize the well-being of their families and all that they have worked hard to achieve.
Supervisory control and guidance courage
It is essential that we select, train and expect our supervisors and managers to display the courage and decisiveness to ensure that all employees follow the rules and behave appropriately. Rules, policies and procedures exist for reasons and are meant to be followed. Our workforces are made up of all types of personalities, including the occasional employee who is inclined to deviate from the rules. Add to this mix the occasional employee whose strong personality makes him or her especially challenging to supervise. Those stripes and bars exist for a reason, and those who wear them must acquire the skills and demonstrate the behaviors expected of them. Most of us can look back on our careers and recall situations where we would rather have run into a burning building to save a life than confront a seasoned “old-timer” whose behavior required correction! All courage is not physical!
It is essential that we select, train and expect those in positions of responsibility to be honest, candid and comprehensive in the things that we say and do. The boss isn’t always right, but he or she is still the boss, and absent illegal behavior, still has the bottom line on decisions. That said, those in positions of responsibility must ensure that they do everything reasonable to ensure that the information they provide to the chain of command is accurate and unbiased, even when likely not to be well received. Loyalty to the boss and the organization does not extend to intentionally slanting or misstating information. Courage and diplomacy take on special meaning when there is a need to deliver bad news to the boss. Again, all courage is not physical.
Into this category, I place those situations where it takes a special type of courage to look someone square in the eye and professionally convey information that is not likely to be well-received. Examples would include situations such as termination, an unsatisfactory evaluation, failure to promote or receive a sought-after assignment and other related personnel issues. Into this category, I also place injury or death notifications, especially involving an employee or family member. I will never forget an extended backwoods search for a missing child, where just about every participant avoided being selected for the hourly brief to the frantic parents, but where all of those same people sought to be the ones to deliver the good news to the parent when the boy was found! In another situation, I shall always recall a sheriff who dismissed others who were en route to a deputy’s home to inform the wife that her husband had just been killed; he made it clear that it was his responsibility to make the difficult notification — he demonstrated what courage looked like!
The first few factors that come to mind when we think of courage are issues of a physical nature, such as bravery, gunfire, burning buildings, thwarting a crime in progress or pulling someone out of the line of fire. In reality, those are relatively rare events in the overall subject of courage.
Without minimizing acts of bravery, I can think of some pretty unpleasant and difficult situations involving special courage where I would rather have had gunfights or burning buildings!
Special types of courage are essential traits for leaders, and the presence or absence is a major factor that separates leaders from managers. Which are you?