I once worked with someone who always joked with me that I was spinning my wheels because no one cared. He told me all the extra work I did either went unnoticed or didn't change anything. He told me I was the only supervisor he had ever worked for who held his subordinates accountable and to a higher standard. He would often moan that I made him do things no other sergeant in the office had to.
For example, my co-worker never understood why I made him write a proper evaluation when, according to him, it didn't count for anything. I actually had to agree with him on that point. At the time, evaluations didn't help you get merit pay or count toward promotion, and really served no purpose other than the administration having the ability to say we did them. Still, my response was always the same: employees deserve a fair representation of their work, and it's part of your job as a supervisor. I would always end conversations by saying, "Someone has to care or why put on the uniform?"
If you are a good old boy, have no interest in leadership, or are just plain lazy, then stop reading. However, if you have ever wondered what single characteristic helps make you an effective leader, you might want to read on.
Your own experience dealing with various supervisors will no doubt confirm that one of the keys to effective leadership is caring. When you care, you accomplish more and help others do the same. There are three ways to care; you need to care about yourself, your people, and your mission.
Let's face it, if you don't care about yourself why should anyone else care about you? Giving a damn begins and ends with you. You need to care about the job you do before you can hold anyone else accountable. There is no room for hypocrisy in leadership. You need to do the things you ask of your subordinates even if it accomplishes nothing other than your having a sense of doing your job well.
The truth is, everyone has the choice to do a good or mediocre job. As a supervisor your choice is obvious but sometimes the hardest of all. You have to choose what's right, regardless of what your peers think. Someone has to stand tall and, as the saying goes, if not you, then who? If you don't care, you are just going through the motions and are no better than those you complain about. As supervisors, we are responsible for setting the tone. Don't ever kid yourself by thinking that sergeants and other first-line supervisors are trivial. Your agency lives and breathes by what they do. Whenever you see a lazy squad, look to their sergeant as to why. If you want to make a difference, you need to accept the challenge or move out of the way for someone that will.
You also need to care about your people. Those under your command depend on you for guidance. One of your biggest priorities revolves around taking care of them. You need to be their champion in the face of malicious intent. It's your job to make sure they have the tools and training they need to succeed. You need to be there for them when they stumble and fall. You need to understand their failure is ultimately your failure. You need to care enough to light the way for them. Don't expect anyone else to do it for you.
You need to look at your agency's mission statement and take it to heart. Look at it as a guide to where you and your actions fit into the big picture. With everything that is going on today, it's easy to make excuses, take sides, or forget what it is you are supposed to be doing. You need to center yourself and remember how important what we do for a living really is. We are the ones who help those that can't help themselves. As a supervisor, your job is to make sure no one ever loses sight of that. The only way to accomplish anything is if you care enough to do so.
To this day my former co-worker still says no one cares, to which I say, "So what if they don't?" It shouldn't change what you stand for, what you believe in, or be used as a cheap excuse to lower your standards. Sometimes you have to remember what you really care about. If it's not law enforcement, then there is no shame in going to work somewhere else.
People who care make things happen. People who don't care just complain about things. Want to be an effective leader? Start caring about yourself, your people, and your mission. No matter where you are in your career, it's never too late to start.
Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 29 years of experience. He also retired from the Army Reserve as a master sergeant. He holds a Master of Political Science degree from the University of Central Florida.