By: Sgt. Joshua Browne, M.P.S.
Fundamental Misunderstandings and Culture
I wonder if a significant portion of the deep cultural obstructions in the law enforcement community towards acknowledging and supporting emotional resilience ventures, can be traced to fundamental misunderstandings. Our legacy cultural principle requiring steely grit, manifested in a “suck it up and drive on” philosophy, must be maintained within our operational capacity. However, there is an unspoken and insidious rider attached to this philosophy that has been wreaking havoc on our profession for generations. This deeply rooted cultural tenet was modeled for me beginning in the academy and reinforced by senior officers on the street. After sucking it up and driving on, while operating in a traumatic environment, I was taught to ignore and mask the emotional implications of my experience, even after we vacated the scene. Acknowledgement of my humanity would be viewed as weakness, as snowflake behavior that could not be tolerated.
Do We Tolerate Snowflakes?
Can we accept snowflake type behavior in our profession? The obvious answer is no. Our profession demands gritty and resilient professionals to succeed in toxic, corrosive and traumatic environments. I believe the entrance of millennials into the profession has confused, frustrated, and in many cases, infuriated the baby boomer holdouts, as well as the generation X cohort. Their behavior is identified by law enforcement veterans as a threat to the gritty culture required to accomplish our objectives. I am not suggesting that we should capitulate to entitled behavior or weaken performance expectations. I am advocating for the opposite strategy. I contend that these generational clashes present an opportunity for law enforcement leaders to reexamine our approach and elevate our ability to enhance professionalism, performance, efficiency, effectiveness, recruiting, retention, liability mitigation, while strengthening our gritty culture in the process.
Organizational Culture as an Ally and an Impediment
Organizational culture expert Edgar Schein (2010) describes culture as a group’s “deep assumptions about reality and truth.” These are powerful forces governing both the formal and informal systems of reward and punishment within an organization, forces that cannot be ignored as leaders attempt to pursue any initiative. Culture can serve as a powerful ally when it resonates with a specific objective. Conversely, it can stand as an impenetrable barrier when any strategy or initiative dares to challenge it. The late leadership guru Peter Drucker’s famous declaration that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” illustrates this critical component of organizational dynamics (Schein, 2010). Indeed, a gritty culture is required to ensure the success of a law enforcement agency’s requirement to provide protection from the wolves that roam our streets (Grossman, 2006).
Considering these ideas, you might wonder how championing emotional resilience supports this legacy cultural component. Wouldn’t addressing emotional needs breed the very snowflake behavior law enforcement agencies seek to resist in the 21st century? I assert that our culture may be misattributing recognition of emotional needs as weakness, when in fact, it is a courageous acknowledgement of the very endeavors we must pursue, to preserve our ability to perform our duties with professionalism, courage, honor, dedication and proficiency.
Generational Clashes and Similarities in New and Veteran Officers
Snowflakes from the millennial generation have been maligned for an entitled, victim based paradigm. Baby boomers and gen Xers have identified this spoiled, entitled, and soft attitude, resulting in prolific social commentary on the challenge of integrating them into business culture. Kyle Reyes’ (2017) snowflake test that gained national attention on various Fox Network programs, as well as various internet sources, illustrated this phenomenon. This realization has been exaggerated in law enforcement circles, where salty field training officers relentlessly complain about this new generation of soft and entitled recruits.
Ironically, some of the very field training officers forming the choir of criticism, may have missed their own metamorphosis from an idealistic, committed, gritty, energetic and optimistic new officer, into a bitter, entitled victim, emanating from a combination of overinvestment in the agency and a failure to engage in proper emotional resilience tactics. Perhaps they rationalize their behavior as appropriate, since they have “paid their dues.” Perhaps the perspective of millennials, as well as veteran officers, requires an adjustment towards a more effective and appropriate cultural model of resilience, allowing optimization of wellbeing and performance. While millennials may need to learn to “suck and up and drive on,” veteran officers may need to abandon their tendency to ignore their trauma. Both will require proper training, agency support and utilization of emotional resilience tactics for long term success in the profession.
Appropriate Training and Tools Support Resilience and Performance
We cannot tolerate poor behavior from new or experienced officers. Conversely, we cannot expect exceptional performance and commitment, while failing to provide the training, tools and support our colleagues need to remain resilient. We do not send our special operations forces into combat, without first providing comprehensive training designed to build their physical and emotional resilience. Former Navy SEAL, Eli Crane (2018), recently authored an article chronicling his experience in SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) school, in preparation for combat deployment. This grueling course prepared him with the resilience tools he would need to survive a possible capture in a theatre of war. In a similar way, we must assume our responsibility to integrate proper resilience training and behavior into our culture, necessary to fortify our officers and agents against the tide of trauma incurred throughout a law enforcement career.
Leading Emotional Resilience Via Multidirectional Leadership
We must build and maintain grit in our new officers, while restoring depleted resilience and commitment in our old sheep dogs (Grossman, 2006). I argue that we have a responsibility to protect our gritty culture by crafting a culture of resilience, designed to promote enduring commitment, selfless service and idealistic intentions. Some of our own may already be thriving, some surviving, while others wander as psychological casualties, broken and lost. All of us, regardless of our official position in our organizations, possess multidirectional leadership responsibilities in ensuring we assist our peers, subordinates and superiors in addressing their comprehensive wellness needs (Browne, 2017). Realizing these objectives requires a multifaceted approach, including ubiquitous commitment from all levels of the organization, necessitating top organizational leader support, to reinforce the acknowledgement and pursuit of resilience as a core cultural component.
I argue that it is every law enforcement professional’s responsibility to lead a new cultural philosophy that acknowledges our responsibility to engage in deliberate action to elevate overall wellbeing, addressing both psychological and biological needs. As we embed the importance of both emotional and physical wellbeing into our culture, more resilient and contented officers will naturally connect with their idealistic and dedicated natures that led them to the profession. Every law enforcement leader has a vested interest in enhancing professionalism, performance, efficiency, effectiveness, recruiting, retention, and liability mitigation, while strengthening our gritty culture in the process. I contend that the most pressing concerns of law enforcement organizations will be moderated, as leaders remember to invest in the emotional wellbeing of their employees. I invite you to join the movement towards leading emotional resilience, subsequently fortifying our gritty law enforcement culture.
Sgt. Joshua Browne, M.P.S. is a police sergeant, adjunct professor within The George Washington University’s Master of Homeland Security Program, and founder of Heal the Badge Consulting. He authors articles and provides training courses in the realms of emotional resilience and altering organizational culture towards wellness. His efforts seek to realize the goal of fortifying law enforcement professionals, leaders and their families, by providing the necessary resilience tools for success within, outside and beyond the law enforcement career. He also utilizes his law enforcement and academic experience, to lead individuals outside of the first responder community, towards reconciling their traumatic experiences and realizing the meaning and growth embedded therein.
Browne, J. E. (2017). Positive Multidirectional Leadership: Ascending, Descending and Horizontal emotional support. Retrieved from http://www.healthebadge.com/hello-world/
Crane, E. (2018). Former Navy Seal: Waterboarding, Sleep Deprivation: Just Another Day at the Office. Retrieved from http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2018/05/12/former-navy-seal-waterboarding-sleep-deprivation-box-confinement-just-another-day-office/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook
Grossman, D. (2006, August-November). Preface: Hunting Wolves. Global Crime, 7, 291-298. Retrieved from http://ehis.ebscohost.com
Reyes, K. S. (2017). You Want the Original Snowflake Test? Here it is. Retrieved from http://newbostonpost.com/blogs/you-want-the-original-snowflake-test-here-it-is/
Schein, E. H. (2010). Deeper Cultural Assumptions: What is Reality and Truth. In Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th ed., pp. 115-124). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Schein, E. H. (2010). The Concept of Organizational Culture: Why Bother? In Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.