“You are too nice,” I was told. “They do not think you can be tough when you need to be."
I had applied for a promotion, and I did not get it.
Kindness. They had to be kidding.
But I had heard it before. I would later learn that this happens more frequently to people than I ever expected.
Far too often, people underestimate kindness. Some equate it to a sign of weakness.
They believe that when a situation calls for toughness, us “nice people” would be too weak to effectively respond.
What I learned throughout my career, however, was that kindness was a trait that made me effective.
After 15 years of leading federal criminal investigators in three different settings I got more accomplished through the relationships I built than I ever did by screaming and acting “tough.”
I cared about the people under my command, and this created trust. Trust opens doors, even the difficult ones. When I did get “tough,” the impact was greater.
In other words, when the nice guys gets mad, you better figure out why.
Kindness does not mean you cannot be assertive. Or question a decision. Or discipline people that have taken advantage of you.
But kindness does allow you to build a culture that fosters growth.
And that matters.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training
“You are too young to retire.”
I never anticipated hearing this statement as often as I did after retiring at age 50.
After 23 years as a criminal investigator with the federal government and 28 years in the law enforcement profession, I was ready to do something else. I enjoyed my career, my employer, my colleagues, but I was just ready to do something else.
And, I was thinking about time.
I have thought a lot about time. Perhaps this is something we all do as we age.
Time is equal for everyone. And as I get older, I appreciate that more.
I think about a cartoon that I had hung in my old office as a reminder of this. It depicts three phases of a man’s life. In the first, the young man is chasing money. In the second, he is older, has money in his hands, but is still chasing more. And in the last, he is an old man now. His hands are full of money, but he has come to the end of his trail.
When is it enough?
At some point in life, you need to enjoy what you worked hard for.
For me, I had other passions like teaching, training, traveling.
Sure, I could have waited another 5 or 10 years, but why?
It did not make sense to me to put off my other passions until later in life and have less time to enjoy them. I have always tried to find balance in my life. And this should be no different.
When I hear people complain they do not have enough time, they are really saying they have other priorities.
The best way to manage time is to manage your priorities.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training
Talk to your kids.
Talk to your kids about drugs.
When your kids are young, you are their world. They are learning from the things you say and the things you do. Be a role model and take advantage of this time to give them information they can grow with.
Do not treat them like they are dumb or will not understand. Talk age-appropriate like you would with any other lesson, and they will probably understand. They know more than you think.
Do not avoid tough conversations because you are uncomfortable.
Find teachable moments.
And not all teachable moments have to be about drugs. Talk about making good choices. Maybe it is related to something that happened at school, or maybe it is something at home. Talk about choices and consequences.
Be specific whenever you can. “Drugs are bad” does not mean a lot. “Drugs can alter your brain” does mean something.
As they grow, they will continue to learn from what they see or experience. When they share things, find the lessons. When you listen, when you care, they will share more. Building communication means building a relationship. Before you know it, you will realize you are still their mentor.
Get to know their friends. Their friends will have an incredible impact on their decisions. Their friends will be influential. Offer your house as a meeting spot and meet every friend and offer to meet their parents.
Talk to them as they get older and have more experiences and potentially, knowledge of drug use. Even if you have never said anything before, it is not too late to start. I have spoken to a lot of parents of teenagers who think it is too late to have these conversations.
It is not too late. Start. At least take the first step.
Listening to your kids will go a long way to establishing trust with them. The more they trust you, the more likely they will tell you things and the more opportunities you will have to build a strong bond with them.
Many people turn to drugs to cope, especially when they do not think they have anything or anyone else to turn to. You can be that person for them.
Drug use is not as normal as many will tell you. Not everyone does it. We have been conditioned to think this is somewhat of a rite of passage; something everyone does at some point in their lives, usually in their teenage years. It is not. It is not “normal” to use drugs.
Do not wait until it is too late. Educate yourself now. There are a lot of good resources on the internet, like www.getsmartaboutdrugs.gov, www.justthinktwice.gov, and www.campusdrugprevention.gov.
And finally, do not be afraid to seek professional help. Untreated mental health can lead to drug use. It is ok if your kid needs to talk to a mental health professional. There is no stigma to this, do not let the stigma begin. Stop caring about what your Facebook friends will think.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training
When I ran the Leadership & Development Training Unit for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at the training academy in Quantico, Virginia, I would occasionally field calls asking for training to help struggling supervisors. Leadership was convinced that somehow, by merely attending the training, the employee would suddenly be more effective.
If only it were that easy.
I believe what makes leaders more effective is influenced by how we manage our thinking about leadership challenges.
How we manage our thinking.
Managing your perspective makes one much more effective than how skilled or capable a person is. Attending a training program or sending your struggling employees to training does not mean they will do what they learned.
Simply put, just because we are capable of solid execution, does not mean we will do it.
We must choose to do these things.
Only capability and choice together lead to use.
Capability + Choice = Use
What controls choice? Perspective.
We must manage our perspective.
A great way to do this is through our peers.
People that navigate in the same world.
People that know the consequences of our decisions. What works, what does not.
Attending in-person training with colleagues adds value to the program and the content.
The last two years of distance learning proved the value of in-person training. I think about the wonderful relationships that are developed over lunch, dinner, and cold drinks after class. Talking to peers. Listening to their challenges. Learning from them and not even realizing it.
These are the experiences we benefit from.
I am not dismissing good instruction. There is value in adding more knowledge and skills to the toolbelt. And good instructors are like good bosses. They do not just deliver content; they inspire us to want to apply that content. Just another reason I am completely supportive of in-person training and why I help people through training.
But the experience is the relationships. The things we learn from our peers sitting beside us. Our brain is always listening and learning how to be more effective.
This is the value of training together and learning from each other. This is the real transfer of knowledge.
By understanding this process, we can manage our thinking about leadership challenges and become more effective.
When you are stuck, think about perspective. What have you learned, or heard from your peers, that can help you manage your decisions?
Change your perspective and get results.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training
“Thinking for Special Agents…” An integral part of training our law enforcement personnel...
“It didn’t seem like a particularly serious mistake at the time. But it would end up being one of many things-a slow accrual, compounding steadily and imperceptibly toward critical mass.” Recent events regarding the current crisis in policing remind me of that Jon Krakauer quote from “Into Thin Air,” his novel chronicling the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster that claimed the lives of eight people, including two world-renowned climbers. I used a case study of that disaster while teaching Special Agent Trainees of the Drug Enforcement Administration at the DEA Academy. From 2014–2016, I developed and taught a course titled “Thinking For Special Agents,” (TFSA) — seven hours of classroom discussion and case studies on adaptability, critical thinking, and integrated decision making. TFSA taught problem-based learning tools on critical thinking, ethical decision making, and collaborative partnerships to improve decision making as recommended in the March 2015 Interim Report of The President’s Task Force On 21st Century Policing.
TFSA met with resistance from staff and students alike, many of whom believed that there was no need for these skills, as basic proficiency in firearms handling, surveillance techniques, and report writing would be sufficient to a new agent’s success in the field. They mocked these skills as “touchy-feely,” nonsensical esoteric exercises better suited for liberal universities than law enforcement academies. I disagreed then, as I do today, and worked diligently to highlight why these skills were crucial for success, both to new agents/officers and veterans. Adaptability, whether mental, interpersonal, or physical, helps them handle emergency/crisis situations, improve their resiliency and ability to solve problems creatively, and deal effectively with unpredictable change. This ability to manage adaptability is crucial to the effective and safe performance of an officer’s duties. I felt so strongly of the need to develop and improve agents’ individual thinking processes that I taught TFSA to 30 Law Enforcement Explorers, aged 14–21, who attended a leadership course hosted by the DEA.
Successful adaptation requires recognizing and understanding an organization’s implicit and explicit culture, defined as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that an organization learns as it solves its problems….that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relations to those problems” (Edgar Schein, 1992). This shared culture can become so accepted that it is unconscious (e.g. “That’s how we’ve always done it”). New members are socialized to learn the accepted way to feel, think, and act. I felt it crucial that the students understood the factors influencing why group think, a “go along to get along” mentality, and the code of silence are pervasive in law enforcement. I encouraged candid discussion on the proposition that most law enforcement officers are more apt to risk their lives than their careers. We discussed that moral courage is often much harder to exhibit than physical courage due to organizational norms, culture, and operating system pressures, as well as effective ways to deal with these pressures without risking being ostracized by peers and superiors, and losing promotion opportunities and coveted assignments.
Critical thinking requires the use of rational, clear, complex thought processes to come to an informed decision. This is a crucial skill for law enforcement officers. A barrier to such critical thinking within testosterone-fueled police agencies, which often pride themselves on exhibiting a kinetic ‘warrior’ mentality, is a lack of introspection, and a resistance to accepting constructive criticism, such as the officers who resigned from the emergency response unit in Buffalo, New York following the arrest of two of their fellow officers for assaulting a 75 year old man. If officers/agents are to make more effective decisions in stressful situations, such as choosing to de-escalate tension, they must be taught to acknowledge and deal with their preconceived notions, assumptions, biases (explicit or implicit), beliefs, dislikes and likes, as well as personal histories that color their individual decision-making processes
Returning to the Mt. Everest example above, it was a classic example of poor decision making, the factors of which are analogous to those affecting officers/agents: incomplete or faulty information, overconfidence, ego, lack of emotional control, information overload, improper framing (the lens through which one initially views a situation/problem based on one’s history, bias, experience, and education), and selective perception — paying attention only to information or evidence that supports what you believe is true while failing to seek contradictory evidence and ignoring relevant information.
TFSA provided students with decision-making models, such as John Boyd’s “OODA Loop” (Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act), and “Recognition Primed Decision Making,” along with their applicability to everyday law enforcement scenarios. It is as important to provide officers/agents with the tools to effectively build their thinking muscle memory, as it is to maintain proficiency with their physical muscle memory (e.g. firearms proficiency, handcuffing techniques). Unfortunately, the course was discontinued as those with the mindset that such issues were not germane to law enforcement training prevailed. I reflect on that period often these days and realize that the Italian politician Nicolo Machiavelli offered sage advice about reaction to change: “There is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiators have the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one.” Today’s law enforcement climate is in crisis, yet each crisis is an opportunity to implement effective change. For those who do not like, or are unable to effectively adapt to change, he/she risks becoming irrelevant, as evident by recent calls to defund law enforcement agencies. We all desire more effective police forces more in line with a guardian than a warrior mentality, and continuous effective training is key to achieving that goal. That training should include teaching law enforcement personnel to exercise their thinking muscles to a higher degree than currently exists.
- Dan Mehdi