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Legendary Leaders

September 28th, 2010

Over the years correctional workers have shared with me examples of leaders—supervisors and executive staff—who impacted them positively. Here are some of these examples. As you read this article, think about areas where you, as a leader, can put similar behaviors to practice. Proactively make “deposits” in your “bank account” with staff to have “funds” to draw upon during challenging times.

First and foremost, legendary leaders care about their staff as individuals, and they prove their caring with their actions.

Legendary leaders want to know, truly know, how their staff is doing and what kinds of working conditions they deal with. They take time to frequently walk the yard and the housing units of their institutions to talk to staff and inmates.

Legendary leaders ask questions about the various facility operations and take time to listen, expecting real answers from their subordinates, not politically correct, “I’m telling you what I believe you want to hear” talk. If someone responds with empty platitudes, they confront that and ask again pointedly what is going on and how they are doing.

Because they take time to find out how their employees are doing, legendary leaders know when their staff is going through hard times. And they act on that knowledge by calling their staff at home when they are out on sick leave. When concerned about their welfare, they have been known to even stop by employees’ houses to see how they are doing.

Legendary leaders are truly concerned and try their best to find effective solutions when an employee confides in them that they are struggling emotionally.

Legendary leaders pay attention and remember details about their staff and their families. One such leader told me that he used to manage his large metro jail by the “toilet paper square” method. He said that at the time there were rolls of toilet paper instead of tissues at staff posts. The paper was glossy and hard. When he made his rounds, he would ask staff how they were doing. A CO might say that his daughter was graduating next week. The jail administrator would cut out a toilet paper square and write that piece of information on it. Upon returning to his office, he would transfer that information onto his calendar. When he made rounds again a week later, he would stop by that employee’s post and ask how the daughter’s graduation went. Invariably, people would be amazed that he remembered the event and cared enough to ask. The resulting morale boost was automatic.

Legendary leaders invite staff input and try to incorporate others’ ideas into their decision making.

Legendary leaders allow staff to vent frustrations, but expect them to be respectful in the process.

Legendary leaders periodically get involved in the day to day operations, such as patting down inmates or operating the metal detectors. In times of crisis they may join with their troops in conducting key operations.

Legendary leaders stand main line during chow together with their executive staff to be available to any inmates who have questions to ask or grievances to air.

Legendary leaders create opportunities for staff to unwind, have fun and laugh together.

Legendary leaders protect and stand by their staff and make it their Number One priority that their workers go home safely at the end of their shift.

Such leaders know how to motivate and earn the trust of their subordinates. They genuinely care for their employees, and aim to support them so they can continue overcoming adversities and enjoy a lengthy and distinguished corrections career.

So ask yourself. What kind of a leader do YOU want to be? How can YOU, through your day to day actions, help elevate the noble profession of corrections to a higher level?

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  1. Rudy
    July 26th, 2011 at 21:10 | #1

    I have been very fortunate and blessed in my almost 17 years of working in corrections, to have had leaders who genuinely care about their staff and take the time to talk “to” instead of “at” staff.

    The job of a CO is unlike most jobs, in that we face the worst of society on a daily basis, and having someone who is looking out for you makes your job easier and less stressful.

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