|Respectable Leadership and the Future of Corrections|
|By Billy S. Humphrey|
I was in a subordinate capacity as a first line supervisor to a quiet, older gentleman who had worked in Corrections for many years. Shortly after my assignment to his unit, I was faced with a personal situation resulting in me having to request leave for a day. I was reluctant to ask since I was newly assigned as a member of his staff. I verbally presented my request for leave to him after much deliberation because it was important that I be excused from duty on the date in question. It was not until I had spent many more years in supervisory positions that I realized how enlightened this man was and how much he had influenced me simply by the way he responded to my request. He approved my request and stated, “One of the many ways in which I can demonstrate to my staff that I truly appreciate them is by allowing them to take leave whenever possible.” This man had not been exposed to a tremendous amount of literature which offered insight into the dynamics of contemporary leadership systems and practices, but he was nevertheless a very successful leader indeed. His accomplishments were not merely a result of his leave management practices. He was successful simply because he was respectable. This man was technically competent, accountable, a role model for others and was always civil to people without exception. It was this which resulted in him being consistently held in high regard by his peers. This respect inevitably fostered his success in the field of Corrections. Leadership that is not respectable is not really leadership at all.
Respectable leadership must first and foremost be competent in the eyes of their superiors and their subordinate staff. It is expected that these men and women possess the necessary experience and required technical skills to perform effectively in a Correctional environment. Members of the supervisory component who are assigned and/or promoted for reasons other than their skills and abilities are typically not respected by other staff members.
Respectable leadership is also accountable. People do not appreciate an assignment within a secure Correctional institution where there is no accountability. The “country club” approach to management results in an increased level of organizational stress and inevitable risks as a result of poor, ineffective supervision. The culture is unhealthy and the professional staff will typically become uninvolved oftentimes choosing to pursue alternative employment opportunities. Correctional workers appreciate supervision that is willing to establish and maintain professional expectations in the workplace and ensure that these expectations are met daily by each person under their supervision.
Respectable leadership also consists of men and women that willingly and wholeheartedly embrace their duty to be role models for other people. They advocate publicly for the truth rather than deceit and dishonesty. They prevent and resolve issues through reasoning skills as opposed to verbal and/or physical abuse. They maintain their composure even in stressful situations which allows them to respond appropriately as opposed to reacting emotionally. These men and women are examples for all people within our prison communities.
Finally, respectable leaders are civil to every individual they encounter. This is true regardless of whether they are involved in a challenging situation with a staff member or even a disruptive offender. They are able to successfully achieve their desired results even under difficult circumstances simply because they choose not to be rude and disrespectful towards others. Respectable leaders are civil and decent to all people, without exception. Basic respect is reciprocal in nature. All people are deserving of it and it must be given before it can be received. This is especially true of those who find themselves in key leadership positions.
Webster defines respect as a relation or reference causing one to be admired and held in high regard. Competent, accountable and civil leaders who willingly serve as role models for others are both esteemed and respected by their colleagues. It is virtually impossible for any man or woman to be successful without the respect of those they intend to lead.
Correctional professionals not only deserve effective, respectable superiors within our facilities, they also deserve professional respect and support from their elected officials. In order for us to effectively stabilize Correctional departments in states like Louisiana, New Mexico, Mississippi and Texas, political leaders must commit to the financial investment necessary to achieve labor quality and long term success. Our historical failure to approve such investments for our state Correctional departments results in inadequate salaries, high attrition rates and the selection of unsuitable people for employment in our state Correctional institutions. Over time the employment of under qualified staff results in increased litigation, severe corruption, high arrest rates, poor performance and additional disciplinary/administrative challenges for our facility managers.
Lengthy studies have been conducted in Law Enforcement illustrating the long term benefits of physical agility testing, psychological screening, extensive background investigations and polygraphs for all applicants prior to them being offered employment. This data is slow to reach many Correctional organizations, but early studies are beginning to produce the same empirical results in what many have oftentimes referred to as our invisible component of the Criminal Justice system.
The best executives and the most highly respected supervisors cannot pursue true professionalism without political support from those who control the public purse. Public safety as well as our sincere desire to rehabilitate incarcerated individuals will require a genuine commitment in the future to our state Correctional departments. Until this commitment is made, we will continue to receive negative outcomes which are a direct result of inadequate inputs. Otherwise stated, we simply continue to get what we pay for. In the future we must recruit and select the most suitable candidates for employment in the field of Corrections. We then must provide them with a competitive salary in the interest of retention, labor quality, prevention of negative outcomes and long term organizational stability. It then becomes imperative that we have respectable leadership at all levels of these organizations to provide for the daily needs of those men and women who choose such a challenging career.
Editors Note:Corrections.com author, Billy S. Humphrey, began his career in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 1989. He has served as Warden and Director of Training / Staff Development in Adult Corrections, and as Deputy Director of Juvenile Corrections. He is currently a Parole Commissioner for the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole.
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