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Practical Perspective: Character
By Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, Jail Administrator, Scott County Sheriff's Office
Published: 10/03/2011

County jail A very wise man once advised me about a phrase in the West Point Cadet Prayer that goes… "Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won." Those words sometimes echo in my mind when I face temptation to take the easy way out or to "spin" events so they look better than what is truly the case (York, 2011).

You’ve seen the leadership decision, or lack of leadership in the decision, when a leader is presented with challenge and instead of rising to the occasion and demonstrating within a solution path “the hard right” is being taken because the choice is the right thing to do. No, instead “the easy left” is taken by the leader. The jail administrator’s easy left leadership choice often leaves the organization no better off than not taking action at all, and likely will actually worsening the organization’s condition.

Our practical perspective topic this month is Character. Character influences the nature and quality of leadership. It is the summative features, qualities, and traits that form one's nature and reputation (York, 2011). We must be leaders and people of character to build trust throughout the communities we serve to provide a safe and secure custody operation.

Answers to the following question can help you as a leader self assess your character. If well thought-out in advance, in this instance leaders are more likely to execute “the hard right”, and thereby illustrating what followers long for… Character in the decision’s their leaders make and influences they have on the organization in the process.

What values should guide my actions as a leader?
  • How do I articulate a vision of the future when things are so unpredictable?
  • How do I best set an example for others?
  • How do I improve my ability to inspire others toward a common purpose?
  • How do I create an environment that promotes innovation and risk?
  • How do I build a cohesive and spirited team?
  • How do I share power and information and still maintain accountability?
  • How do I put more joy and celebration into our efforts?
  • What is the source of self-confidence required to lead others?
  • How do I go about improving my leadership abilities?

The key here is to translate your answers to these questions into action.

We must protect our integrity and reputation at all costs – we only get one chance with our reputation (York, 2011). When considering the importance of our mission and its influence on the citizen of our communities we serve they deserve our professional best. We cannot afford to give any less then excellence, if we are truly committed to advancing our organizations as leaders. Key to future planning is moving reflection into action, and envisioning the future.

As you know, there are many things a leader within corrections is challenged with throughout the career that present opportunity to make a difference, to challenge the leader’s influence in the process that would call for and easy of hard decision… a decision illustrating character. Jail administration challenges tough decision in numerous areas such personnel administration, programming, day in and day our security, and the training our staff to perform in accordance with adopted standards. Yes, standards, which our profession has many of them that calls for our best.

At this point to reinforce the concept it might help to illustrate a point and advance a leader’s decision that illustrates character… We cannot afford to cheat on training by taking shortcuts. I myself have been confronted with the fabricating practice of “pencil whipping the records” before the state’s annual certifying inspection. In this instance, how we train in to accomplish our many missions within the jail is reflected in how we perform day in and day out. In this case, faced with a decision to allow the practice and receive the expected inspection accolades, or take it on the chin so to say and be advised improvement is needed.

Do you have someone who can help you do your best, to hold you informally professionally accountable? I do, and it makes a tremendous difference for me when I can discussion and use him as a sounding board. My mentor has reminded me from time to time that we cannot afford to lie lest we lose the trust of those with whom we serve. We cannot afford to steal the time and resources of others lest they lose confidence in us and determine that we are self-centered.

The key to becoming strong jail administrator with great character is to establish and protect accountability. This past week I had occasion to ask assistant jail administrator Captain Handy Mann to watch my back as I was in a situation that could have been compromising.

Often, as the jail administrator, I ask our legal counsel and/or risk manager for his or her advice to ensure what I am doing is legally correct. I need people to hold me accountable and so do you! Find someone you can trust who has your best interest at heart and at all costs protect your character!

York, Daniel. (2011). From our Commanding General; HHC 86th Training Division Newsletter – September 2011 Issue.

Editors note: Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, of the Scott County Iowa Sheriff's Office. Mr. Tebbitt is a Jail Administrator and a PhD candidate. The series includes: contemporary issues with jail/corrections administration. The series uses the fictitious County name of Acme County.

Other articles by Tebbitt:


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