Walk with Me
Certainly, leadership is about action. It is about making interventions and strong decisions. It is about influencing from the front, establishing a vision, and showing people the way. Yet, sometimes leadership is quiet. Sometimes it is simply just being there for our people: a subtle helping hand, a supportive shoulder, someone who will listen. An old proverb offers, “To listen well is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well and is as essential to all true conversation.”
In the spring of 1992, I learned a very important leadership lesson that I have turned to many times over the years in my various leadership roles. I was struggling with whether to stay in vice and narcotics or go through the promotional process for sergeant. Being a narcotics detective was the perfect job, but I was ambitious, too. I also had questions as to just how competitive I would be against so many great candidates. Did I really stand a chance? How strong would the support from my chain of command be? Was I really ready to be a sergeant?
I guess my lieutenant had a sixth sense (or very good leadership skills). One evening, he saw me in the parking lot at the station. He came over to my car and very casually said, “Walk with me.” I remember just a couple of minutes of small talk before he asked, “Jeff, where do you want to be in this department, and what can I do to get you there?” For nearly an hour, we walked. For the most part, I talked, and he listened. That was one of the best conversations I have ever had with a boss. It was personal and sincere. The timing was impeccable. And, most important, besides his offering a little sage advice from time to time, that conversation showed that he valued me.
Each of us recognizes the need for active listening in our professional lives. We know how important it is for our people to provide their ideas and feedback about daily happenings at work. However, what we do not do quite as well is let our people talk about themselves. The law enforcement community has the daunting charge of preventing, mitigating, and responding to increasing demands and threats on a daily basis. In this high-stakes culture, our mission-driven ethos can overlook that how we lead is just as important as the results we achieve. In the long term, the latter cannot occur without effective leadership. Exceptional results are not sustainable in a climate where people feel undervalued and unappreciated. One of the simplest, most effective ways to show our people we value them is to offer one-on-one time where we ask a couple of good questions and then sit back and listen.
If you have a few minutes this week, consider asking one of your employees to go for a walk (figuratively or literally). The questions you ask will change from person to person, but the message will remain constant and clear: I value you as an employee; I value you as a person.
Dr. Jeff Green, chief of the FBI Leadership Development Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.