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Columns : Stripes and Bars

You Are Not Their Friend

Trying to make everyone happy does a disservice to you and your subordinates.

July 16, 2015  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

The role of a law enforcement supervisor is to lead, motivate, and help accomplish the agency's mission. Nowhere in that role does it state you have to be everyone's friend. Being overly friendly is a common pitfall among new supervisors. It's also a problem with experienced supervisors. No one is immune from this mistake because of human nature.

It's hard to find someone who loves conflict. But supervisors who attempt to avoid conflict by trying to be everyone's friend soon realize the folly of their efforts. Whatever your leadership role, trying to be everyone's friend will only serve to undermine your efforts. It only works when there is smooth sailing. At any sign of bad weather, you will be the one going down with the ship while everyone else seeks dry land.

The problem starts with how agencies train new supervisors. Most of the time, an officer goes from asking questions one day, to being the sergeant who has to answer questions the next. Officers rarely receive much preparation for the transition. When new supervisors assume their command relationships, they are often left to their own devices. If the only supervisory role you have ever experienced is as the coach of a little league team, you are in for a rude awakening.

For example, the very guys you were telling jokes to yesterday in the locker room might be the ones you have to admonish today for their jokes being inappropriate. That role reversal tends to go over like a lead balloon.

The reality is you can't be everyone's friend. The best you can do is be friendly and treat everyone with respect. You have to understand that no one gets a pass when they violate policy and procedure. Your retirement is not worth their
inconvenience.

We would like to think that everyone in law enforcement can draw a line in the sand when it comes to on-duty and off-duty relationships. However, understanding and working though on-duty and off-duty relationships is easier said than done. It's been my experience that it is an exception to the rule when you can admonish a subordinate at work and yet have a beer over a game of darts later on.

Part of the problem stems from our own use of the English language. We use the word friend far too often and far too loosely. Today's meaning of "friend" (at least at work) really means "acquaintance." We use the words interchangeably. Yes, our duty binds us together at work, but that doesn't automatically make us friends. Ask yourself these questions: How many of the people you work with would you invite over to your house for dinner? How many would you like to spend the weekend with camping, fishing, or doing another favorite activity of yours? How many people are you really close with? If you are honest with yourself, it's not going to be that many.

Have you ever known a circumstance in which someone thought a guy was great until he got promoted? You know the only real difference in the guy is the new role he has to play and so does the guy who doesn't like the change, but he takes offense to it anyway. The argument becomes that what was once not important, now is. The disgruntled subordinate gets angry because he has been called on the carpet. He complains to anyone who will listen and says that's not the way to treat a friend. He will go on and explain that the co-worker turned supervisor thinks he is better than everyone else just because he has some rank.

Of course what Mr. Bitter forgets to tell you is that it's his own fault for creating the conditions that led to the reprimand in the first place, effectively putting his friend and new supervisor in a tough spot. True hypocrisy at its best. As a supervisor, you need to accept the fact that with some co-workers, you're only considered a friend as long as they get what they want.

A true friend understands the supervisory role and respects it. She will treat the supervisor the way she would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. My friends have never put me in an uncomfortable position at work in my 19 years as a supervisor. If you want to be successful as a supervisor, learn the difference between friendship and being friendly. It will save you a few headaches.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has over 28 years of law enforcement experience, and is an adjunct professor for Valencia College in Orlando.


Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

Jimmy Bell @ 8/1/2015 10:36 AM

That is the problem with supervisors these days. They forget where they came from.

george @ 8/2/2015 1:07 AM

I disagree. maybe back east in florida that would work. West Coast it would not. You need to earn their respect, by showing them you know the job, Policy, Laws ect. Yes you can be friends on and off duty. Everyone knows where the line is. I've had to discipline employee, then went out to lunch.
A good supervisor should know his employee's and their weakness and strengths.
They need to trust you.
I have seen were a supervisor was not trust and not liked because of how he supervised us. So when he wanted some help on a traffic stop. No one responded to help him. Another station had to respond.

Now, I 've seen well respected supervisor's who asked for help and the whole station and other stations have responded to help him.

JM @ 8/3/2015 9:19 AM

Did you two actually read the whole article? Its premise is spot on, that is if you’re not the kind of supervisor who “covers” for guys that are out there intentionally doing stupid things they know better than to do… I’ve been disciplined by a friend for an honest mistake I made, guess what, were still friends. But I also would not do anything intentionally against policy, the law, etc., and then expect them to cover for me. That’s how cops get bad names, and is the basis for calls of police corruption and cover ups. If you’re big enough to have the authority of a cop, be mature enough to take your licks when you screw up and learn from it.

Sgt. Mike @ 8/4/2015 7:02 AM

This is not an issue of remembering or forgetting where you come from. I’ll bet you have great supervisors who still handle business and are friendly while doing it. This is not a “be a jerk to people” pep rally, it’s the same attitude we teach officers to have in the public, a professional relationship. After all, our profession is just as likely to break into chaos as society is without unified leadership and discipline. (HINTS: The lack of community leadership in some of our major cities today and their realization of chaos and violence.) Discipline alone cannot fix these problems, but no amount of quality leadership can succeed without the efforts of a disciplined workforce.

kevCopAz @ 8/11/2015 4:22 PM

He has some very valid points. The boss is there to make sure things are done correctly, friend or not. The front line supervisor is the one who sets the tone, if he is not disciplined and does the job fairly and by the book with concern the entire system breaks down. Lt, Cpt Chiefs etc , they once may have been cops but now they have their jobs but we all know its NOT street police work. They are the policy guys the bean counters etc. ON the other hand pls read some of his other articles. I get the idea (hope I'm wrong) that he really has no personality, no ability to be a friend, he seems too "by the book" and hard ass. Perhaps he is a good disciplinarian with the officers due to the facts he isn't liked anyway. Hope I am wrong. He seems to lack compassion toward the officers on little points of "rules". We all know there are rules and then there are rules. Spirt and letter are two different things. If its policy or the Law we have discretion and should use it wisely and fairly.

?? @ 2/25/2016 6:50 PM

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