Police Blue Leadership, with special guest: Jim Colbert

Retired but definitely not out of the game, this is the second video interview and in it I was able to garner some very unique perspective from Jim Colbert, a retired Reno Police Officer who spent thirty years on the force. Let’s just get it out there now, Jim is my father but he’s not the first family member of mine to be interviewed for this blog. Earlier this year I talked to my brother Joel about being a father of four and how leadership plays a role in his household. He and his wife Mandy are very effective project managers, effective managers of tomorrow’s leaders I would dare say. The point is, managers and leaders are all around us and we interact with them daily. We are said managers and leaders and the qualities necessary to effectively get us through life, to successfully launch and build careers, and to manage our hectic lifestyles are very similar, as you’ll see, to those of a retired peace officer.

When I sat down with Jim, we stared talking about how the mantle of leader is thrust upon a police officer, it’s not something they grow into or are promoted to. As soon as that uniform goes on, they are instantly a figure of authority, a leader in the community. Let’s not waste any time and listen in on some of that conversation.

What a very difficult situation to be in. Imagine being a part of a situation where you were brought in to replace an outgoing employee and it was known for a fact that this employee did business unethically. And regardless of the fact that you were the new guy brought in to replace this tarnished individual, everyone you were accountable to considered you unethical also? At least until you could prove to them otherwise? I don’t know how you could even function in a situation like that let alone make a difference. Also, I want to be clear on something, when that uniform went on, that’s exactly who Jim was accountable to, every member of the public. Let’s continue with the thread and the dichotomous relationship that Jim had to deal with in a general public that he was sworn to protect.

Double standards and the fundamental attribution error. Again, what an uphill battle to fight every day if your career. A public that wanted to blame the officer for catching them when they were wrong. Ironic, that’s exactly why we have them in place to begin with. To uphold the law and discipline those who break the law. So, as difficult as that sounds, let’s hear how can this can get even more so.

Wow! So, that’s  it can get worse. Dealing with a public that doesn’t trust you and compounding matters by having a captain that can’t navigate successfully through some very tough waters. What I see though is a chance where a leader to step up and be accountable and be transparent, and how effective those qualities can be in very trying times. As Jim said, a leader that is “in-tune” with the situation and upfront, being accountable. But more than that, communicating what’s going to be done about the current problems and how those problems are going to be prevented in the future. This is such a hot topic item right now with police brutality center stage in so many precincts. But, that’s not what this conversation is about so let’s continue.

Leadership, it’s constantly an uphill battle. As a police officer, and as Jim said: “It’s was a weird role,” one that required him to wear many hats including Vegetable Patrol. As leaders we need to be aware of the many expectations that could at any turn be thrust upon us. As authority figures we may need to respond to one or many awkward and challenging “weird” moments that you can’t prepare for but with practice and perspective, you can have the right tools in place, ready to respond to them

Having the right people for the job matters. Just as Jim was talking about in his line of work, we shouldn’t just plug-and-play people into different roles as we see fit. There needs to be an alignment between their skills and the job in question. There needs to be an alignment between the individual and the tasks that are going to require their attention. Yes, we could just plug anyone in and we might not notice how ineffective it is. But we will defiantly notice when it’s absolutely the wrong person for the job, and so will that individual. There are many that suffer in these instances, the person doing the work, the job itself, and ultimately it reflects back on you the manager or team leader since it was your responsibility to insert appropriately. Again, in Jim’s case the examples are extreme, for the wrong person in those situations can lead to the loss of human life. Regardless, the same principles apply.

Perspective. We in the general public as so quick to make those judgment calls in regards to the police and their actions. But after listening to Jim talk a little bit about it, it really brings into focus a much different perspective. We have to keep that flip-side of the coin readily at our disposal, we have to be able to analyze and consider what our team members and our employees are having to deal with. Because more often than not the results of a situation gone awry is exactly that: results. Results of something that could have been prevented at the beginning of a chain of events. Looking at the whole chain will give you that valuable perspective.

Jim wraps up this portion of the conversation with something that again in his case is extreme when compared to what we’re required to deal with. He’s held accountable in a job that he was hired and trained to do, and that it’s very likely his results could be called into question down the road. I believe he said it earlier: “People remember the bad stuff you do, they hardly ever remember the good stuff.” So, in that light, being accountable is very difficult but if you can stand up take ownership of your actions, especially when it goes bad, it will set you apart as an individual of strong character.

After this we took a short break and so let’s pick up the remainder of conversation in tomorrow’s post. But, what a great conversation so far! For me, what I find intriguing is this man who has been my father for over forty years still has something new to show me about himself, about is experiences, about his views and even about his double standard when it came to eating vegetables. I can’t believe he told some kid he didn’t have to eat his vegetables. Who is this man and where is my father? Haha! Beyond that, he’s given some really extreme examples of when leadership goes wrong and what it takes to keep it right.

Image Credits: Video by Author

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