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In just about every police station in America hangs at least one of those ubiquitous "motivational posters" displaying an image with a corresponding inspirational message.

Perhaps it's a picture of a crew rowing a "skull" to victory in a race against an unseen opponent accompanied by a sentence about the importance of teamwork.

Perhaps it's an image of a rock climber at a seemingly impossible spot on a sheer cliff with a message about grit, determination, perseverance, or all three.

Perhaps there are a half dozen—or more—posters, each expertly framed, hanging at intervals along a hallway or in a briefing room, conveying messages of courage, commitment, compassion, faith, integrity, and leadership.

These posters convey excellent messages, and they have real value. However, over time these adornments can become invisible—unless someone points to them and puts them into meaningful and timely context.

Here are some of my favorite quotes—some of which are famous and some of which are somewhat obscure—framed in the context of policing in 2019 and beyond.

Opening Statements

"My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds too."

—Jack Welch

Jack Welch offers a treasure-trove of leadership quotes. He also said, "Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others."

In the first quote, the context is simple: it is the responsibility of a police leader to ensure that the organization is fair but firm in disciplining individuals who act carelessly, negligently, immorally, illegally, or any combination of the above. Officers who consistently commit acts that reflect poorly on the agency should be shown the door.

The second quote represents the opposite side of that coin. People generally learn more from their mistakes than their successes. An officer's misstep is an opportunity for developing that person to be better, and true leaders seize on every "teaching moment."

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

—Winston Churchill

Law enforcement professionals—from patrol officer to chief—have opportunities every day to gather information about their beat, their jurisdiction, or their city by simply listening.

Whether it's "coffee with a cop" or a community meeting or an impromptu interaction on the sidewalk, there is invaluable intelligence to be gleaned by simply listening to the person or persons in front of you.

"Hire character. Train skill."

—Peter Schutz

This one is from the former CEO of Porsche, who during his leadership made Porsche "the car to own" in the 1980s.

With agencies across the country facing a staffing crisis, there has been talk in some circles about lowering hiring standards. For myriad reasons, this is a sub-optimal short-term solution to what really is a long-term problem.

Police departments should continue to hire individuals of the highest possible character, so that young people look at the police in their cities and towns and say, "I want to be like that."

It's not lost on me that the automobile every American desired during Schultz's leadership bore the number 911.

"Do what you can with all you have, wherever you are."

—Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt was an optimist who believed that greatness was achievable when a person puts forth their maximum effort. He was also once the Police Commissioner of the New York City Police Department.

The best police officers are constantly learning, training, and improving themselves. They challenge themselves to be better today than they were yesterday, gathering experience and applying its lessons as they continue their careers.

The best police officers take all that knowledge and bring it to every tour.

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing—that's why we recommend it daily."

—Zig Ziglar

It's very easy to look at the uphill slog that is modern American law enforcement—with a revolving door justice system that routinely allows criminals to return to the street with little to no penalty for their previous offenses, and governing bodies that pass laws decriminalizing everything from theft to narcotics—and lose all meaningful motivation.

Practically everyone in law enforcement has had one—or more—of those days.

This is why it's important to actively remember your "why"—the reasons you got into police work to begin with—on a daily basis.

As you're putting on your body armor, remember to armor yourself with revived and renewed motivation to do what it was you set out to accomplish the day you took your oath.

"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to make the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

—Michael Jordan

No list of motivational quotes would be complete without something from the world of sports. There are countless options to choose from. There's Bobby Unser's "Success is where preparation and opportunity meet" and George Steinbrenner's "Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing—breathing first, winning next."

I chose Jordan here because in law enforcement so many things can—and regularly do—go wrong, and yet police officers press on in their mission to serve and protect.

Cases get tossed, criminals walk free, victims are re-victimized, and yet every day, police set out on the streets in a constant effort to keep their communities safe. Rarely are they thanked for their efforts. They seek not thanks nor praise, but the feeling of achievement from a job well done.

"Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm."

—Publilius Syrus

If leadership were easy, everyone would master it. Leadership, however, is not easy.

In today's environment of outspoken police critics in the press, the public, and the political realm, even the smallest test of a police leader's actions are highly scrutinized.

The seas these days are anything but calm, but those who hold the helm must keep the ship righted, its crew safe and well cared for, and working together to move the vessel steadily on in the desired direction.

Closing Statements

Here are a few more quotes—each of a nautical nature.

Interpret them as you choose.

Aristotle Onassis once said, "We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, "To reach port, we must sail. Sail—not tie at anchor. Sail—not drift."

John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, "We are tied to the ocean. When we go back to the sea—whether it is to sail or to watch—we are going back from whence we came."

Sail on, my law enforcement friends.

"May you have fair winds and following seas."

—Unknown.

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Web Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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