|It is not the Power you are given but how you use that Power that makes you a Leader|
|By Gary York|
What is a Frontline Correctional Leader?
A frontline correctional leader must have a tool kit full of experience and education. Being a leader is not walking around with a cup of coffee barking orders or saying “I don’t have time for this right now”. To be a leader you must have an arsenal of knowledge, integrity, loyalty and team management skills readily available. A corrections leader is unique, unlike most jobs a corrections leader deals with supervising not only the correctional staff but the criminal element as well. All day long officers need assistance and inmates have requests that move up through the chain of command. Not to mention upper management calling for answers and I mean now! A good frontline leader has a combination of both cell block experience, a good education and exceptional training experience. Anything less is unacceptable. The question is; are we always promoting this type of leader? Nobody is perfect but I personally would like to know I can count on my leader and he or she can count on me. It is a two way street and leaders rely on line staff as much as line staff rely on their leaders.
What’s in your Leadership Toolkit?
If you are considering being promoted make sure you are ready to accept the challenges. There is nothing to fear about being a leader. You just have to realize many people are relying on you to guide them and assist them throughout their careers. A leader is not a baby sitter and no one should expect that from a leader. A leader is however a trainer, advisor and counselor. A leader has to pick up where mandatory training left off. To do that a leader must have a tool kit with all of the following skills:
Questions you should ask yourself before giving an Order
As a front line supervisor can you make the tough calls and accept the responsibility of your actions. In corrections many emergency calls come in on a regular basis. You will not have time to obtain approval from upper management in many cases. Are you prepared to make the call? As a new supervisor will you be able to separate your friendship from your supervising duties. The days of having all your buddies sitting around with you during work hours are over. It is time to cut the cord and remove any appearance of favoritism. Equal treatment for everyone is imperative to your success. As a leader you must be a good role model and hold yourself accountable before holding your staff accountable. Can you place yourself with your squad and not above your squad? You as a leader are in charge but you are also part of the team. Acting as if you are better than your people is a quick way to your downfall. What I consider one of the most important issues is; can you do what is right? Do not over think yourself by trying to do what you believe upper manage would do. Another issue that will catch up to you is do not try and do what makes you look good. It is not about you and how many awards you can put yourself in for. It is about the team and the people who make you look good. There are hundreds of questions you need to ask yourself before becoming a leader, I have only pointed out a few.
What does the future hold?
Most organizations go to great lengths to find great leaders. Why should corrections be any different? We must work hard to ensure top quality leaders are chosen. In “We Were Soldiers” the Lieutenant Colonel in charge tells all his men going into battle he would be the first one into the war zone and the last one to exit. After several days of bloody battle he lived up to his word and left the battlefield after everyone living and dead were removed from the battlefield. This is leadership by example. The Leader kept his word and fought side by side with his soldiers. The Lieutenant Colonel was a good role model and did not put himself before his troops. I have noticed over the last 28 years in corrections that our correctional leadership has lost this edge in leadership because of a failure to lead by example. Many that are placed in leadership positions today are made supervisors because of higher education, but have a lack of life experience. As I said at the beginning of this article, cell block experience is very important. A mixture of cell block experience and higher education is great but many officers with college degrees are being promoted with only three years’ experience in the prison system. Some of those very young people are scared of the inmates and are now leading older more experienced officers. We must find a balance to ensure the safety and security of the institution.
We must strive for quality correctional supervision. In our politically and money driven agencies (Private Prisons) it is hard to determine if quality leaders can be restored. As for State Prisons we have good people who can do the job we are looking for. It is on the shoulders of upper management to make sure we pick quality leadership.
Many (not all) of today’s leaders are tyrannical and it becomes the followers versus their leadership and the leadership against their followers. Such animosity will destroy the teamwork we are looking for and decrease our awareness and attention to detail on the job, not to mention employee morale.
Promoting for the Right Reasons
No leader is perfect and no leader will always please everyone. This is not the movies and in the real world things are tough. Promoting the right people for the right reason will make life better for everyone. Promoting to early can be harmful and promoting officers who curry favor with the boss and spend too much face-time with the boss can also be a mistake. Promoting the sycophant (yes man) is not the answer. On the other hand just because we really like a young officer does not mean he or she is ready for promotion.
Aim for quality in a person who takes work seriously and has the positive attitude and strength to stand on his or her own two feet with a genuine care for other staff. Before promoting the promotion board should ask themselves if they believe the candidate is a good role model. Will he or she treat their people well and can they hold themselves accountable before holding their staff accountable? Can he or she be counted on to do the right thing?
Gary York is a retired Senior Prison Inspector and is an Ethics and Crisis Intervention Instructor. He is also the author of the books "Corruption Behind Bars" and "Inside the Inner Circle".
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