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The Big Picture

“Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

January 01, 2005  |  by Mark G. Stainbrook - Also by this author

"Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." - Vince Lombardi

What is so great about a New Year is that it is a time for fresh starts and a time to renew your commitments. Hopefully it will be a time to step up your commitment to the study and practice of good leadership for the benefit of your department and your people.

The topic for this column came to mind as I took a step back from my life and looked over what I have been doing over the last few years, and where I want to take my leadership skills in the future. Two years ago this month, I was deployed to Kuwait and preparing to cross the border into Iraq. I was privileged enough to be able to observe the division level planning for the invasion of Iraq, even though I eventually ended up leading a small team during the initial stages of the war. The benefit of that experience was that when I talked to Marines on the front lines and they didn't understand how what they were doing fit into the plan, I could explain what I knew about the "big picture." This always seemed to reassure them and allow them to continue to focus on their mission.

As police officer and leaders, we often get so caught up in our own little world that we fail to see how our job affects, or is affected by, the organization, the mission, new laws or policies, other leaders, outside organizations, or current events. An effective leader continually steps back and looks at the overall situation. If it makes it easier for you, try to break down situational awareness into three levels: tactical, operational, and strategic.

The tactical picture can be thought of as any event or events occurring in a short period of time, that are handled by a small number of people. For police officers, these are usually the daily calls or contacts with the citizenry, the sum of which make up their daily routine. It is easy to see that many police officers are so focused on these individual events that they lose sight of a larger picture. A major source of frustration for street officers is anything that makes dealing with these tactical situations more difficult.

My definition of the operational picture is the daily, weekly, or monthly projection and management of what people and assets are going to be needed to support the mission. If you are a mid-level police supervisor, you deal with this every day. Schedules, equipment shortages, training, managing units and calls for service, large investigations, crowd control, special events, problem solving, and community policing are all examples of operational issues. Within this context, good supervisors plan and manage at this level in order to make the jobs of the officers on the street a little easier.

The strategic picture is the longer term (think years) planning and management of issues that effect the organization as a whole, not just pieces of the organization. The strategic level deals with development of the broader mission statement, budget preparation, moral/ethical practices, public perception, policy development, and hopefully long term planning.

Police officers mainly work at the tactical level, but they are constantly affected by decisions made at the operational and strategic level. I find that there are three good ways that police leaders can reduce the amount of friction for their cops. First, keep them informed as much as possible. I will never understand why someone will sit on bad news, it never gets any better, and it just delays the pain. Second, educate officers to think about situational awareness at the different levels (tactical, operational, and strategic), so they understand why and how decisions are made. Finally and most importantly, support and encourage participation by officers in all levels of the organization. My unit's crime task force is soon coming to an end. Recently I passed out a short survey to the officers in my task force soliciting their input for the after action report. One of the most frequent comments was that all of the supervisors in the task force listened to officers' ideas and tried to implement them when possible.

As a final thought, consider this litmus test. When you were in a position in which you strictly dealt with the tactical level, what did you know and what do you wish you had known?

Tags: Command Staff, Leadership


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