Surviving Inside and Out: A Strategy for Helping Officers Cope

Denver Police Chief Robert White is seeking to take action on officers’ abuse of alcohol after a string of incidents that have cast the Department in a negative light.  We applaud Chief White for this step.

Denver police chief orders review of alcohol abuse reports in ranks
By Noelle Phillips
The Denver Post, 6/12/14,

We also encourage him and other law enforcement executives to take a longer-term, comprehensive look at the ways in which personnel try to manage their reactions to the experience of sustained hypervigilance in the workplace.

We at Public Safety Leadership have developed a new approach that we call Surviving Inside and Out©.  SIO integrates education, organizational diagnostics and collective and individual action to help officers manage in a healthy way the effects of the law enforcement jobs on those who practice it.

Please take a look.

Surviving Inside and Out©

An Effective Program in Wellness Education

and Action for Law Enforcement Professionals


Introduction: Why SIO?

Every LE professional experiences the physical, emotional and psychological effects of stress. Officers at all ranks must operate in a physical state known as hypervigilance in order to be safe and effective in their work.[i] Hypervigilance is a physiological response to risk in the work environment.

The law enforcement profession generally does not help personnel manage this reality successfully. The tradition of self-reliance combined with a scarcity of time and other resources have made it difficult for thoughtful leaders and managers to develop long-term, comprehensive answers to the effect of hypervigilance.

Many jobs are risky. Logging is the most lethal job in the US.[ii] Lumberjacks face the constant risk of death and injury from falling timber and from operating dangerous machinery in rough terrain. Yet those risks are well known to all. It is a world in which the worker can calculate reasonably well the probability of risk in any given task.

Corrections and police professionals work in a world of possibility. Danger could come from anywhere in the environment.   Like police work, the corrections profession is distinctive because practitioners must work in an environment of constant unknown risk. Since any situation could produce danger, one must be vigilant constantly. They must deal with constant unknown risk. They do so because they work with the most unpredictable force in nature: human behavior.

The hypervigilance response on the job is normal. Indeed everyone’s safety depends on it. Hypervigilance is what the medical community calls an autonomic response, meaning roughly that it is automatic. We do not control it. The ways in which personnel manage these effects off the job are within an individual’s control. But only of he or she knows what he or she is experiencing and has tools to manage the experience.

The LE job changes people. Research and experience teach us that the work can make people feel anger, cynicism and a sense of isolation. Certainly everyone experiences these emotions at various points in life. But as in other law enforcement fields, the stress that creates the conditions is endemic and constant in the corrections job. The fundamental problem, which Surviving Inside and Out© is custom designed to address, is managing this reality and maintaining a professional career and an overall happy, productive life.

Traditionally most organizations do very little to help their personnel manage these effects. It is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one acknowledges. Former corrections executive Carl ToersBijns writes,

“… stress is a silent killer because correctional officers are typically reluctant to share their feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, or inadequacy with anyone for fear of appearing weak, incompetent, or too indecisive to do the job.”[iii]

The same findings have emerged in the ongoing studies of Connecticut corrections officers conducted by research by the UMass-Lowell Center of the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace.

Dr. John Violanti of the University of Buffalo found in a study of effects on stress on police[iv] that long-term unmanaged exposure to the unique occupational stress of law enforcement work puts personnel at significantly increased risk for a host of diseases and disorders.

SIO proposes to face squarely the reality of the effects of police work on humans.  Historically we’ve ignored it. It’s absent from our recruit and in-service training regimens.  Research is slim.  Dr. Kevin Gilmartin’s 2000 book is still the best current training text.  You can’t find human maintenance in the Policies and Procedures.  Bosses have no expressed responsibility for the maintenance of the human beings.  (Read your department’s P&P on vehicles and you’ll see spelled out lots of supervisory responsibility for cars). As often as not accepting help is experienced as vaguely punitive.  People get “sent” to the “stress unit.”  The onus is on the individual. The signals come from everywhere, from the locker room to the TV screen.  Instead of everyone getting regularly scheduled preventive tune-ups of the emotional, psychological and physical systems, we wait for the crisis.  And when all is said and done the crisis is seen as the individual’s failure and responsibility.

Gilmartin and others have demonstrated plainly that physiological hypervigilance affects EVERYONE who puts on a badge.   Law enforcement professionals must maintain a state of hypervigilance because if the ever-present unknown risks that define policing.  Many professions are more lethal than corrections and policing.  But the risks are known.  In law enforcement the risks can and do come from anywhere.  No one escapes the effects.  The brain automatically shifts to a hypervigilant state when the human pins the badge on his or her chest and goes to work.  That’s because the brain has been trained by evolution over many millennia to get you home after the shift.

Officers if given the right setting will talk about the emotional damage they incur from a sense of helplessness in the face of human suffering.  The experience of hypervgilinace and engagement with human suffering wears down the physical, emotional and spiritual/psychological systems of our personnel.  The effects accumulate.  It strikes hardest at the veteran in his or her 30′s with 10+ years on.  Remember, it’s with this young veterans cohort that we see the greatest concentration of suicides, in a profession whose suicide rate is very significantly above the national average. Cops commit suicide almost at what everyone acknowledges is the hideously high rate of suicide among military service personnel. Some studies have found that the rate among corrections professionals greatly exceeds the rate among military personnel.

Gilmartin found that while suicide is on the upswing, fewer officers are getting killed in the line of duty now than in the 1950′s.  Over time, police leaders saw a crisis and trained personnel how to make safe car stops.  We changed the norm.  No officers would approach a car by slapping his two hands on the roof and presenting his stomach to the driver.  Similarly, no officer would leave the station house without a portable radio, which their forebears resisted mightily in the 1970′s.

Your Human “Fleet”

In recent years law enforcement departments have thoroughly modernized their preventive maintenance and repair programs for the motorized fleet.  We can apply the same principles to maintain and care properly for the fleet of humans who drive the cars and do this uniquely complex work.

We know that the miles on the law enforcement odometer represent much more punishment to the vehicle than the same number of miles on a civilian vehicle.  (Only the cheap or the desperate buy used police vehicles at auction.)  The same is true for the humans.

The new program in “human fleet maintenance” could be the most far-reaching strategic intervention that a leader can make in comprehensive organization health .  By effectively addressing what Gilmartin calls the “emotional survival” of our personnel we might improve health; support emotional and spiritual well-being;  and boost productivity.  We can reduce labor mistrust of management; reduce sick leave abuses; and address emerging problems before they spiral out of control.  We can improve espirit de corps and that elusive concept, morale.

When a vehicle is damaged in the course of a shift, we assess the problem and decide when to get it fixed.  The onus in not on the vehicle.  No one judges the car as individually deficient because when the perp’s car smashed into it, the front end sustained damage.

Only the most backward — or wealthiest — would expect our vehicles to go 10,000 miles with no preventive maintenance and to forego repairs when trauma strikes.  We would never say.  ”The job is tough.  Our vehicles are just gonna have to absorb the damage and keep going.”  We would not wait until our vehicles break down under extreme conditions of cold, heat or operation at high speed.

Absent institutional acknowledgement and assistance, personnel see it as their individual responsibility to “man up,” “suck it up,” etc. The inability to manage is seen as a personal failing, as Warden ToersBijns suggests. On their own individuals cope with the effects of hypervigilance across a range of behavior.

At one extreme are the small number of especially resilient people who understand what they are experiencing and take the appropriate actions to be successful law enforcement professionals and happy mothers, fathers, sons, husbands, wives, etc. They have fulfilling lives outside the job. On the opposite extreme are the individuals who cope through addiction to alcohol and drugs, other self-destructive behavior and suicide.

In the vast middle people suffer on their own. Sleep disorders, cardio-pulmonary problems, habitual use of nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, steroids, dietary sugar and fats. Here we see and hear the burnout. We see heavy sick time use, absenteeism and a lack of motivation at work; we see and hear the effects of cynicism. We see conflicts emerge in the individual’s relationships. We hear, “us versus them.”   As a career progresses the “us” gets smaller and the “them” gets larger. “Them” at first might be the inmates. Soon, though, the “them” are the administration and the supervisors. After a few years it’s the public, too. Finally, “them” can come to include the loved ones who are bewildered by the person who comes home, or fails to come home, after his or her shift. “Us” becomes a tiny unit that might include others on the shift or just the corrections officer, an individual feeling isolated and vulnerable.

Staff’s unaddressed negative responses to hypervigilance take over much of administrators’ daily agendas, often starting with phone calls on the drive to work.


The SIO Program

Surviving Inside and Out© is a practical and affordable solution for your organization. We are three former criminal justice professionals who bring our personal experiences, training and professional educations to bear to provide your personnel a comprehensive set of survival services.


Our Mission Statement

We have created Surviving Inside and Out to serve the men and women who dedicate their lives to serving as corrections professionals. Our purpose is to provide, through our experience, education and commitment, practical and effective solutions to the problems of stress management within the corrections environment and that confront every corrections professional every day. The outcome we seek is a corps of corrections professionals who survive –and thrive — inside and out: within the institutions and outside in their personal lives; in their hearts and minds and in the attitudes they present to the wider world every day.

We look forward to working with senior executives to customize the Program for the distinctive needs and circumstances of your organization.


The Services

vOrganizational and cultural diagnostics

We diagnose organizational practices and structures, looking for ways to reduce workplace stress. We will present you with a plan for eliminating and mitigating these effects. When diagnosed and addressed effectively the points of organizational conflict or disconnection can serve as leverage points for improved productivity and morale. The model we use derives from a model of cultural diagnostics employed by William J. Bratton when he served his first term as commissioner of the NYPD.

Where is there conflict in the organization and what can senior management do to correct it? What steps can management take to mitigate and eliminate the points of conflict that evolve in every organization over time?

The diagnosis will

  • Develop strategies for reducing and preventing sources of organizational conflict
  • Create resources for emotional, physical and psychological needs of the staff
  • Identify and develop appropriate venues and programs for intervention
  • Revise policy and procedures on employee wellness and assistance



vClassroom education

The SIO Workshop© is 1½-day training program that provides participants the facts about the stress inherent in corrections profession. It empowers personnel to think about their own strategies for surviving and thriving; for developing a practical, individualized program for living healthy and happy professional and personal lives.

We will do follow-up focus groups to assess progress.

We would offer the class once every week over the course of 50 weeks to reach every employee in the organization.

The Supervisory Leadership Program© is a two-day course that provides sergeants and lieutenants the opportunity to learn from their own experiences to develop into the best leaders they can be. They will learn new competencies and skills in leadership methods decision-making, creating ownership and accountability, communications, group dynamics and other areas.


vExpanding access to resources

We serve as intermediaries to a strong network, that we organized for this purpose, of culturally competent, credible professionals. We guarantee the most assistance for your personnel, guided by the values of respect for individuals and airtight confidentiality.


Service Network

Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse Counseling

Detox Placement

Residential Treatment Placement

In-patient/Out-patient Hospital Treatment


Family support

Family counseling


Individual Counseling

Identity counseling

Critical incident debriefing

Separate module for suicide prevention in accordance with the CMRs



Legal counseling



Financial counseling


Physical Health

Personal training





vThe Facilitators

Patrick Bradley in his 32-plus years in corrections and private security has served asthe Massachusetts Undersecretary of Public Safety and Security; Superintendent of the Norfolk and Suffolk County Houses of Correction; as Special Sheriff in Suffolk and Director of Security for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Pat is in recovery and has been doing outreach work to alcoholics for over 20 years.

Pat’s law enforcement managerial and leadership experience includes fiscal management; human resources management; collective bargaining; legislative affairs; interagency coordination policy development; disorder management; strategic public safety design and implementation. He is a successful manager of structural and cultural change in all these areas.

Jim Jordan has taught about stress management and emotional survival in law enforcement for four years, through a course he created, “The Sergeants’ Leadership Program,” with Liz O’Connor. He is a management consultant and educator in law enforcement.

Jim served as the founder and first Director of the Boston Police Department’s Office of Strategic Planning and Resource Development, where he facilitated the creation of a number of strategic partnerships with a wide variety of stakeholder groups.

He is in recovery has been involved in outreach work to alcoholics since 2007.

Jim has taught policing courses at Northeastern University and UMass-Lowell in addition to leadership courses he developed. Jim is certified as trainer in Facilitative Leadership. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


Liz O’Connor is a trainer, facilitator, and curriculum designer specializing in working with police/criminal justice organizations and in adult learning theory. Her experience in these areas includes designing and teaching online and face-to-face courses at the State University of New York at New Paltz, UMass/Boston and Northeastern University.

At the Boston Police Department Liz worked with senior police commanders to design, fund, and implement new initiatives supporting innovative practices and community-based policing.

Liz founded Strategy Matters in 2000, Inc. (SMI), a consulting organization that works with public and private agencies in public safety/criminal justice, workforce development, education, and human/social services.

Liz holds an MA in Philosophy from University of Washington and a B.A. in Philosophy and Politics from Mount Holyoke College.


vOutcomes and Measurements

We measure what we do on a regular basis. E want to identify course corrects and incorporate lessons as we go. Products will include the following.

  • Written evaluations by participants on the two classes.
  • Quarterly reports on the effectiveness of the Workshop, using pre- and post-program questionnaires to assess how participants are using the tools.
  • Confidential report on organizational diagnostics.






[i] “The narrowing of the social support systems and the over-identification with work that is currently affecting all workers leaves the law enforcement officer seeing the world only as through the eyes of a law enforcement officer. The perceptual set of hypervigilance and consequently perceived hyper-vulnerability has the officer narrowing his/her social circles. And also narrowing his/her comfort zone of where she/he is able to interact without feelings of vulnerability and reactiveness. This “pseudo-paranoia” leads to the adolescent-like importance of peer pressure in the law enforcement culture. The distrust of any one other than those within the law enforcement culture. Absolute trust is reserved for only those within the immediate peer group. This also generates management difficulties of directing policies to a group of workers who have a hair trigger of autonomic reactiveness which leads to second guessing and potentially misinterpreting any management directive, an almost adolescent-like rebelliousness towards authority.

If one chooses to follow the natural bio-behavioral consequences of a hypervigilant perceptual set away from the police role and into the family situation other predictions can be generated. The officer, who has not been oriented through stress training or has not been victimized yet by learning better, can suffer significant family disruption by the phenomena currently being discussed. The hypervigilant perceptual role and its reticular activating system consequences cause the officer to spend his/her workday in the sympathetic autonomic nervous system branch. The feeling of energy, wit, and camaraderie will be correlated with the work place. As the officer arrives home, the hypervigilant perceptual set is held in abeyance in the safety of his/her own home. However, the pendulum of homeostasis swings into a parasympathetic state of tiredness, numbness, and an almost detached exhaustion when interacting with the less threatening and more mundane tasks of after work home-life. The hypervigilance and consequent “street-high” of the work place leads to the “off-duty depression” of the parasympathetic swing in an attempt to homeostatically revitalize the body.” From“Hypervigilance: A Learned Perceptual Set and its Consequences on Police Stress,”

By Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D.

Published in 
Psychological Services to Law Enforcement
U.S. Dept. of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation
Edited by Reese and Goldstein
Washington, D.C. 1986

[ii] Los Angeles Time, August 7, 2013

[iii] “Stress, the Correctional Officer’s Silent Killer,” Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence, AZ, December 17, 2012., University of Cincinnati.

[iv] “Police Officer Stress Creates Significant Health Risks Compared to General Population, Study Finds
Landmark study of police officers in Buffalo, N.Y., reveals increased incidence of chronic disease, finds suicides higher among those still working.” University of Buffalo, July 9, 2012. Study by Dr. John Violanti, published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health.









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Corridor Conversations Has a New Home

We’re Moving Down the Corridor.
Corridor Conversations is moving down the corridor to our new home at This is also the new home of The Sergeants’ Leadership Program. We’ve broadened our offerings in professional development and organizational consulting so we’ve created a new group, Public Safety Leadership, and the new site,

We will continue to bring you thought-provoking posts on a variety of police and criminal justice-related questions. We will continue to feature thoughts and research on leadership, officer emotional survival and crime prevention strategy.

If you should encounter any difficulty viewing future posts at our new location, simply contact us or visit and click on “blog” and re-subscribe!

Thank you for following Corridor Conversations!

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Cognitive bias, gender and leadership: The Necessity of Managing Our Brains

“It’s a mistake to assume that gender bias is only or mainly about misogynists,” said Susan Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton University and the editor of the hurricane study. “Much gender bias is more automatic, ambiguous and ambivalent than people typically assume.”

This op-ed in the NYT is,  I believe, a good example of a cognitive bias at work.  We certainly learn sexism in our cultures.  But women have been subjugated in societies since we started walking upright.  To paraphrase W.B. Yeats, so long a sacrifice makes a stone of the brain; our tendency to perceive women as less competent appears to have become automatic, apparently for most women as well as men.  This presents special challenges for leaders and followers.

Current research suggests that humans tend to follow leaders who are approachable and competent.  This is a theme we have developed over many posts in this blog, including June 11, May 4, March 17, 2014 and June 3, 2012.  If our brains have become hard-wired to view women as less competent than men, we need to work on managing this bias to eliminate its influence on our conscious judgments.  If we cannot control our first thought, we CAN control our second thought and our first action.

I would suggest that command schools for law enforcement and criminal justice address this bias head-on.  Such clear talk might make people uncomfortable at first.  But the discomfort will the very bias at work!  We need to help leaders and followers to understand how this cognitive bias works and how to manage it.  We need to learn better how to manage our brains.  Too much is at stake to do otherwise.  This learning should not be limited to women in command, though some focused work with such women is in order.  Everyone has to learn together.  We should consult with the leading researchers in this field, people like Amy Cuddy at the Harvard Business School, and develop curriculum that helps women commanders to create strategies for achieving approachability and competence in their practices as leaders.

Cuddy has done ground-breaking meta studies and found that the human brain fits leaders into one of four quadrants on a matrix.

Upper Right: Approachable and Competent

Lower Right: Cold and Competent

Upper Left: Approachable and Incompetent

Lower Left: Cold and Incompetent

Cuddy concludes that the ideal place for a leader to put herself is in the Approachable and Competent quadrant.  For fans of Jim Collins, this upper right quadrant is where the “humble but driven” leader lives.  This conclusion is underscored by the work of two of her colleagues at HBS.

 “Research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman drives this point home: In a study of 51,836 leaders, only 27 of them were rated in the bottom quartile in terms of likability and in the top quartile in terms of overall leadership effectiveness—in other words, the chances that a manager who is strongly disliked will be considered a good leader are only about one in 2,000.”
– Amy J.C. Cuddy and others from the Harvard Business Review, July-August, 2013

In the piece, below, the  psychologist and professor Susan Fiske says, “‘Gender bias is not mostly about ‘I hate them, I hate them,’ ” she added. “A lot of it is about ‘I cherish them because they are nice, even if incompetent and needing protection.’”  Thus, our primitive cognitive bias pushes us to perceive women wrongly.

We can only liberate everyone from this debilitating situation by liberating women from the prison of perceived incompetence at the level of cognitive bias.  We can all think of cases in which we see a woman “acting like a man.”  She may default to “toughness” to achieve  respect but she only succeeds in moving perceptions to the lower left quadrant: Cold and Incompetent, the worst place for a leader to find herself.

We have a lot at stake here. Let’s start thinking and learning together.

She Gets No Respect, Sexism Persists, Even Among the Enlightened                                  JUNE 11, 2014, NY Times

Nicholas Kristof

Here’s a riddle: Why would a Hurricane Alexandra be deadlier than an identical Hurricane Alexander?

Because females don’t get respect. Not even 100 mile-per-hour typhoons, if they’re dubbed with female names.

Researchers find that female-named hurricanes kill about twice as many people as similar male-named hurricanes because some people underestimate them. Americans expect male hurricanes to be violent and deadly, but they mistake female hurricanes as dainty or wimpish and don’t take adequate precautions.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, underscored how unconscious biases shape our behavior — even when we’re unaware of them.

Researchers examined the most damaging hurricanes between 1950 and 2012, excluding a couple of outliers like Katrina in 2005. They found that female-named storms killed an average of 45 people, while similar hurricanes with male names killed about half as many.

The authors of the study, Kiju Jung and others at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University, also conducted experiments asking people to predict the intensity and riskiness of a hurricane. When asked about a male hurricane, like Alexander, people predicted a more violent storm than when asked about a female hurricane, like Alexandra.

Likewise, research subjects were more willing to evacuate to avoid Hurricane Victor than when it was Hurricane Victoria. The more masculine the name, the more respect the hurricane drew. The researchers estimated that changing the name of a hurricane from Charley to Eloise could nearly triple the death toll.

Women were as likely as men to disrespect female hurricanes.

We often assume that racism or sexism is primarily about in-your-face bigots or misogynists, but research in the last couple of decades — capped by this hurricane study — shows that the larger problem is unconscious bias even among well-meaning, enlightened people who embrace principles of equality.

This affects the candidates we vote for, the employees we hire, the people we do business with. I suspect unconscious bias has been far more of a factor for President Obama than overt racism and will also be a challenge for Hillary Rodham Clinton if she runs for president again.

“It’s a mistake to assume that gender bias is only or mainly about misogynists,” said Susan Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton University and the editor of the hurricane study. “Much gender bias is more automatic, ambiguous and ambivalent than people typically assume.

“Gender bias is not mostly about ‘I hate them, I hate them,’ ” she added. “A lot of it is about ‘I cherish them because they are nice, even if incompetent and needing protection.’”

Yale researchers contacted science professors at major research universities and asked them to evaluate an application from a (mythical) recent graduate for a laboratory position. The professors received a one-page summary of the candidate, who in some versions was John and in others Jennifer.

On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 the highest, the professors rated John an average of 4, and Jennifer a 3.3. On average, the professors suggested a salary for Jennifer of $26,508, and $30,328 for John. Professors were more willing to mentor John than Jennifer.

The professors’ assessments were unrelated to their own age or gender.

Other studies have reached similar conclusions, often by sending out identical résumés for job applicants — some with a female name and some with a male name. The male versions do better.

For example, evaluators assess the C.V. of “Brian Miller” as stronger than that of an identical “Karen Miller.” Stanford Business School students who read about “Heidi” rate her more power-hungry and self-promoting than those who read about an otherwise identical “Howard.”

While virtually all voters say today that they would vote for a qualified woman for president (only 30 percent said so in 1930), experiments by Cecilia Hyunjong Mo of Vanderbilt University suggest that in practice people favor male candidates because they associate men with leadership.

Professor Mo found that people, when asked to make pairs of images, have no trouble doing so with male names and words like “president” or “governor.” But some struggle to do so quickly with female names, and those people are more likely to vote for male candidates.

“There appears to be a gulf between our conscious ideals of equality and our unconscious tendency to discriminate at the ballot box,” Mo writes.

I suspect that unconscious biases shape everything from salary discrimination to the lackadaisical way many universities handle rape cases. They also help explain why only 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s and 18.5 percent of members of Congress are women.

This deep bias is as elusive as it is pernicious, but a start is to confront and discuss it. Perhaps hurricanes, by catching us out, can help us face our own chauvinism.



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Harvard: Coaching Matters!

Amy Cuddy, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman at Harvard Business School are leaders in applying new research in neuroscience to the business of organizational leadership.  The evidence that Zenger and Folkman summarize in the blog post below reinforces Cuddy’s finding, discussed in a May 4 post on this blog, that subordinates value most highly those leaders who are both approachable and competent.  Competency in teaching and coaching is fundamental to effective leadership.

We, Public Safety Leadership, teach teaching and coaching in all our leadership development programs.  I find that coaching still feels a little squishy to these leaders in law enforcement and criminal justice.  Yet there are few fields in which these practices can do more good, given the consequential nature of the judgments required of line personnel. (Medicine is another).

Finding the Balance Between Coaching and Managing
by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman |  June 4, 2014, Harvard Business Review

Our own empirical evidence echoes myriad studies in finding that effective coaching raises employee commitment and engagement, productivity, retention rates, customer loyalty, and subordinates’ perception of the strength of upper-level leadership.

Ask 100 people if they have good common sense, and more than 95% will tell you they do. Ask them if they are good coaches, and almost as many will say yes. Executives we talk to assume that if they’re good managers, then being a good coach is like your shadow on a sunny day. It just naturally follows.

This would be good news, if it were so, since more and more top executives are expecting managers to coach their subordinates. In fact one at Wells Fargo announced that he expects the bank’s managers to dedicate fully two-thirds of their time to coaching subordinates.

What’s more, employee surveys we’ve conducted over the past decade show that subordinates want coaching.

Our own empirical evidence echoes myriad studies in finding that effective coaching raises employee commitment and engagement, productivity, retention rates, customer loyalty, and subordinates’ perception of the strength of upper-level leadership.

Responses we’ve collected over the 10 years from some half-million individual contributors worldwide, evaluating about 50,000 of their managers in 360 reviews, show just about a perfect correlation between the leaders’ effectiveness in developing others and the level of their subordinates’ engagement and discretionary effort.


Unfortunately, our long experience helping executives find and develop their strengths has taught us that coaching is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Nor is it a skill that is automatically acquired in the course of learning to manage. And done poorly, it can cause a lot of harm.

What’s more, before they can be taught coaching skills, leaders need to possess some fundamental attributes, many of which are not common managerial strengths. Indeed, some run counter to the behaviors and attributes that get people promoted to managerial positions in the first place. Here are a few of the attributes we have recently begun to measure in an effort to determine what might predict who would make the most effective coaches. You’ll quickly see the conflict between traditional management practices and good coaching traits:

Being directive versus being collaborative. Good managers give direction to the groups they manage, of course, and the willingness to exert leadership is often why they get promoted. But the most effective managers who are also effective coaches learn to be selective about giving direction. Rather than use their conversations as an opportunity to exert a strong influence, make recommendations, and provide unambiguous direction, they take a step back, and try to draw out the views of their talented, experienced staff.

A desire to give advice or to aid in discovery. Subordinates frequently ask managers questions about how they should handle various issues or resolve specific problems. And managers are often promoted to their positions because they are exceptionally good at solving problems. So no one should be surprised to find that many are quick to give advice, rather than taking time to help colleagues or subordinates discover the best solution from within themselves. The best coaches do a little of both.

An inclination to act as the expert or as an equal. We’ve all seen instances when the person with the most technical expertise has been promoted to a supervisory or managerial position. Organizations want leaders to understand their technology. So, naturally, when coaching others, some managers behave as if they possess far greater wisdom than the person being coached. But in assuming the role of guru, the well-meaning manager may treat the person being coached as a novice, or even a child. Still, the excellent coach does not behave as a complete equal, with no special role, valued perspective, or responsibility in the conversation.

How effective is your approach to coaching? We invite you take a coaching evaluation to see where you stand in comparison to outstanding business coaches. It will measure the how strongly you prefer to behave collaboratively or dictatorially, how prone you are to giving advice or enabling other people to discover answers for themselves, and how apt you are to exert your expertise or treat everyone as equals. While certainly the best coaches adjust their style to the particular person and situation at hand, we have found that there are ideal ranges on the scores for all six of these dimensions.

Neuroscience is consistently reminding us that the brain is remarkably plastic. So even though we’ve found a strong correlation between certain traits you may not already possess and the ability to be an effective coach, we have found that people can learn to acquire them — if they are willing to work at it. What that takes is a willingness to step outside your comfort zone and behave in ways that may not be familiar. It’s just like learning to play golf or tennis. What feels awkward at first begins to be more comfortable in time.

Leaders can learn to be more collaborative as opposed to always being directive. They can learn the skill of helping people to discover solutions rather than always first offering advice. They can learn how satisfying it is to treat others with consummate respect and to recognize that in today’s workforce, it is not unusual to have subordinates who are more comfortable with the latest technology than their leaders are.


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New Crime Stats Program is on the Horizon

Prof. Gary Cordner called this to our attention via his blog, “Modern Policing.”  The prestigious National Research Council is tackling the question of establishing more integrated and meaningful programs of crime data gathering, analysis  and reporting.

For MA folks, you’ll see that long-time MA crime data administrator Dan Bibel is on the panel.

The panel asks that those who want to attend their meetings to send a message to Daniel Cork, or Michael Siri, The first meeting is this Thursday. The group will have another similar session on July 24.
Blue-Ribbon National Panel To Tackle Crime-Stats Issues
June 9, 2014
By Ted Gest, The Crime Report

Help is on the way for the nation’s long-criticized system of collecting and analyzing data on crime and justice.

A new panel on Modernizing the Nation’s Crime Statistics, organized by the National Academies of Science’s National Research Council, will hold its first public workshop-style session this Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The effort is sponsored jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)—two Justice Department agencies that for many years have put out separate data on crime that sometimes have seemed out of sync.

At different times each year, the FBI and BJS issue major reports on crime, but the FBI’s is a compilation of incidents reported to local police departments and BJS’s National Victimization Survey is based on interviews with a representative sample of Americans on whether they have been victimized in the past year.

The two reports most often show consistent trends, but the public may be confused when they do not.

Many of the issues involved in measuring crime were explored by The Crime Report this spring. A leading one is that much key crime information is out of date. The story noted that Attorney General Eric Holder gave a major address this year about the nation’s heroin problem that relied on data several years old.

The panel is chaired by Jeffrey Sedgwick, who was BJS director during the George W. Bush administration. Other members include Daniel Bibel of the Massachusetts State Police; Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon University; Kim English of the Colorado Department of Public Safety; Robert Goerge of the University of Chicago; and Nola Joyce of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Also on the panel were: Janet Lauritsen of the University of Missouri-St. Louis; David McDowall of the University of Albany; Jennifer Madans of the National Center for Health Statistics; Michael Maltz of Ohio State University; Michael Miller of the Coral Gables, Fl., Police Department; James Nolan of West Virginia University; Amy O’Hara of the U.S. Census Bureau; John Pepper of the University of Virginia; and Alex Piquero of the University of Texas at Dallas.

The committee’s mandate is to “assess and make recommendations for the development of a modern set of crime measures in the United States and the best means for obtaining them.”

‘Better Information Needed’

Its charge declares that “better information is needed on certain crime types such as (crimes} against businesses or organizations and personal identity theft; also needed is greater ability to associate attributes such as firearms or drug involvement to crime types, and more complete adoption of electronic reporting, data capture, and system interoperability.”

Other issues being considered include “gaps in knowledge of contemporary crime,” the development of international crime classification frameworks so that crime can be compared among nations, and “capabilities for flexibly identifying and measuring new and emerging crime types going forward.”

Whatever recommendations the panel may make will face budgetary realities in Washington, where the federal government has allocated only a tiny amount of money for crime statistics.

The panel said it “may consider cost-effectiveness and budgetary issues, such as priority uses for additional funding that may be obtained through budget initiatives or reallocation of resources among units of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The committee’s description doesn’t mention it specifically; but one question may be whether the BJS and FBI should be operating separate statistical units that look at similar questions.

In 2016, the panel says it will suggest “ways to ensure that the nation has an integrated, complete, and contemporary set of indicators of the full range of crime (including the best means for disseminating data and findings) and document the joint role of FBI and BJS in producing those indicators.”

This Thursday’s session will not include formal speeches; rather, participants will meet with members of the panel to discuss specific issues.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.


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How Are Your Filters Doing?

Time to clean our listening filters?  Take a look at this think piece from by Peter Vajda.

Try this visualization exercise. Imagine going through your day with large coffee-maker filters over your ears. Imagine that in each conversation you experience, the other person’s words travel through the filters covering your ears before actually entering your ears and reaching your brain.

But this isn’t an exercise. It happens every time you engage in a conversation with another human being, although for the most part, it is unconscious. The point here is to become aware of the (unconscious) listening filters each of us develops early in life and carries with us into adulthood.

I’m bad: For example, if you grew up with a highly critical parent or caregiver, you may have created a self-image filter that now translates as: “I’m bad. I’ve done something wrong”. This then becomes a listening filter that taints many of the communications you hear, because you’re unconsciously listening out for the other person to make a critical judgment of you.

So, for example, if your boss, a colleague or your partner says to you “I’m feeling upset right now,” you immediately look at yourself and begin to search for what you’ve done or not done to cause this person to be upset with you rather tha just accepting what they said and taking it in objectively without any self-accusation.

I need to fix you: Another habit that you may have picked up in childhood is the “listening to fix” filter. When this filter is active, you might respond to your boss’ or partner’s comment by saying, “Why don’t you sit down and relax for a few minutes,” because you feel you need to prescribe to, or “fix” someone.

I need to judge you: If you’ve grown up with the belief that you have to be a judge of others’ actions, your listening filter might lead you to respond, for example, with “You’ve had such an easy morning, what do you have to be upset about?”

Look what just happened to me! : If you have been raised as one who constantly compares yourself to others, you might respond with “You think you’re upset, let me tell you about how upset I am!”. This grows out of a need to hijack another’s experience and make it your own; the conversation then morphs into a conversation that is “all about me”.

Other popular filters include: listening for approval, listening to control (or avoid being controlled), listening to minimize, listening to prove or disprove something.

Listening but not hearing
When we listen through a filter, we are “listening”, but we’re not “hearing.” When our filters are engaged, we miss what is being said and when we miss the meaning, the energy underneath the words and the emotional content of the message, we’re likely to react unconsciously rather than respond meaningfully.
The trouble is that when we simply react, we tend to distort the message and its meaning, and direct our conversation and attention to the distortion rather than to what was actually said. And that leaves us unable to connect with another’s actual words and experience and unable to respond in a conscious, creative, or supportive way.

Learning to listen
As in all change, awareness is the first step. So the first step toward becoming free of your listening filters is to become aware of them. Most of us have a few primary listening filters and several secondary ones. It may also be that you engage specific listening filters with certain people or in certain situations. For example, you might listen to “fix” with your spouse or partner, and listen “for approval” with your boss, or vice-versa.
The moment you become aware that you’re listening through a filter during a conversation, your awareness expands beyond them. It’s like consciously removing the things that are covering your ears. Suddenly you can hear what other people are actually saying and you start to engage with another on a higher level with real connectivity. So, for example, you might even start to hear someone at work as a real persona rather than a “function”.

As your awareness expands beyond your listening filters, you can also make new communication choices. For example, you might respond to “I’m feeling upset right now” with: “I hear that you’re feeling upset. How are you experiencing that right now?” Or “What’s that like for you?” or “Can you say more about that?” These kinds of filter-free communications can meet the other person’s experience and open the door for a conversation to evolve in more constructive ways.

So, be gentle with yourself and give yourself plenty of time to uncover your unique assortment of listening filters. Often as one disappears, another is revealed. Make it a game to notice your filters, love yourself for having them and see how many other ways you can invent to shift out of them. If you’re like me, when you do this, you may experience real “hearing” for the first time.

Some questions for self-reflection
Would your closest friends say you’re a good listener?
Can you think of a recent conversation where your filters were engaged? What was that like?
Do you know anyone who listens to you without filters? What is that like?
Can you remember some of your earliest filters growing up?
Did your parents or primary caregivers listen to you with filters? Which ones?

Identifying your filters
Consider the following filters. Do you use one or more of them in your conversations? If you do, there is no way you can be truly and sincerely “present” with the other person.

advising: “I think you should…” “How come you didn’t?”

one-upping: “That’s nothing; let me tell you what I did…” (also “hijacking”)

educating: “This could work out very well for you if you…”
consoling: “Don’t blame yourself; you did the best you could…”

story-telling: “That reminds me of the time…” (also hijacking”)

shutting down: “Don’t worry about it; cheer up!”

sympathizing: “Oh, poor you….”

interrogating: “Well, why did you…”

explaining: “What I would have done is…” (also “hijacking”)

correcting: “That’s not what happened…”


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Hypervigilance at work?

Did extended exposure to untreated effects of hypervigilance play a role in the situation in which Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl lived and acted?  Take a look at this background piece in today’s New York Times about the Sgt. Bergdahl case.

It seems we put a small contingent of soldiers in an untenable location over an extended period and got what you get when you do that.  They lived in constant risk.  The possibility of death from any number of sources was their normal state.  The breakdowns in organizational health are predictable in these circumstances.

It’s not the Army’s fault that our country goes to war in the 21st century without facing the true costs of the commitment.  It’s not the fault of the commanders whose units get isolated in the highest-risk areas.  It’s the fault of Republic and Democratic governments alike and of we as a nation that we squeeze the costs out of the mental health and life prospects of young soldiers.  And the Army has to be smarter about how such hair-thin stretching of troop strength affects the stretched troops.

Even without such barely tolerable risk and isolation, organizational health breaks down under the conditions of open-ended deployments.  An analog to this was found by the organizational diagnostician John Linder when he examined the Boston Police Department for then-Superintendent-in-Chief Bill Bratton in the 1990’s.  Stranding squads of officers together over extended tours during the school desegregation — busing — crisis of the mid-70’s caused the command structure to collapse.  Bosses and officers began cutting deals with one another for much-needed time to sleep, be with families, etc.  It’s hard for the boss to behave like a leader when he’s begging his troops’ permission to break the basic rules.  Linder found that this dragged-out deployment had nearly the negative effect on organizational well-being as did the mass firing that proceeded the short Police Strike of 1919.  He saw the busing-era breakdown still affecting leadership practices in the 90’s.

I certainly don’t know whether Sgt. Bergdahl is a traitor.  The process will, one hopes, sort that out.  Untreated effects hypervgilance do not excuse treason.  That said, we all need to think about how working conditions that we control are affecting the people for whom we bear responsibility.

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