Careers in law enforcement continually present challenges for personnel to navigate. Reflecting upon my own experience, I remember many valuable lessons that have helped me along the way. Such simple, impactful bits of advice transcend agencies and positions. I trust that these lessons can benefit any employee entering law enforcement for the first time, moving into a new position, or simply continuing to “hold the line.”
- Set short- and long-term goals. They provide internal direction and something important to work toward, giving you focus and motivation beyond your day-to-day activities. Once you accomplish a goal, set another. Do not settle for the status quo. Never stop dreaming, and always have a plan to pursue your dreams.
- Believe in yourself. Naturally, fear and doubt arise when you face uncertainty and stress. Push through it. The decisions you make create opportunities, as well as challenges, that impact your future. Think them through. Some will lead to success, others to failure. But, how you respond reflects on your character and affects how others perceive you.
- Take responsibility for your actions and own your decisions. You will make both wise and unwise choices, but people can accept your errors if you own them. However, they will not tolerate blame for others or empty excuses.
- Stop fearing mistakes. Although you want to avoid missteps, you can use them as valuable opportunities to learn. Apprehension can prevent you from taking chances, thus limiting your success. In policing, you cannot avoid risks. Assess and mitigate them.
- Strive for your best. You do not have to be the greatest, but always give 110 percent. Someone always will be stronger, faster, or smarter. However, you can control your effort. Compete with yourself, not others. People can understand and accept a lack of skill far better than a lack of will.
- Remain humble. A success handled poorly can cause more damage than a failure handled gracefully. You must show—not tell—people your value. Actions mean more than words. FBI Director Christopher Wray often says, “Are you a plow horse or a show horse?” Which perception do you prefer?
- Do the right thing. You will face temptations to act according to what is popular at the time, but be sure to abide by lasting principles. Do not compromise your integrity and credibility.
- Protect your reputation. It can open or close doors. A person’s perception of you is their reality. My supervisor often says that employees interview for their next position every day. I agree. It does not matter what you put on a resume or say in a 15-minute interview. Rather, your daily words and actions speak loudly. Remember that you never know who is listening or watching.
Ultimately, how you view and carry yourself influences others’ perception of you. When you set goals, believe in yourself, take responsibility for your actions and own your decisions, stop fearing mistakes, strive for your best, remain humble, do the right thing, and protect your reputation, you set a positive image and encourage others to follow your example. Remember that everyone has the ability to succeed.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert J. Botsch of the FBI’s Milwaukee office prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at email@example.com.