Killing Your Agency With Suck Ups?
Some things never change — or maybe they do. Let’s talk about promotions, and for those so inclined to promote, how to go about it the right way. The promotional process can vary by agency and by the rank aspired. There probably is not a “typical” path or process to follow for those seeking higher rank. There is, however, one component of sewing on the stripes or pinning on the bar, which is relatively common and that’s the promotability of the candidate. How is it determined? Depending on the department, it may involve a review of past performance evaluations or command personnel actually ranking applicants based upon their impressions and opinions as to how the aspirant would perform if selected for the position.
While I believe the assessment of the promotability component is valid and important, it’s all too often an invitation for inappropriate behavior on the part of candidates. Knowing that at least a part of the process could involve subjective or even favorite treatment, some (thankfully not all) applicants engage in behavior which is detrimental to the organization and, in particular, morale and good working relationships. In blunt terms, some candidates in order to gain favor with their superiors engage in a whole lot more butt kissing than productive work. They go to extremes to make good impressions, take credit for the work of others, and will throw coworkers under the bus in a heartbeat.
Frankly, any candidate for any rank who plays politics, kisses butt, puts down others or is more show than go doesn’t deserve promotional consideration. If below-the-belt tactics prove successful and if, indeed, they are promoted it’s a clear invitation for the Peter Principle to manifest itself. “Success by suck up” is guaranteed to result in a deterioration of morale as good, hard working, fair playing competitors see little benefit in doing it the right way.
We’ve all seen it. The guy or gal whose work is designed to impress rather than to serve; the “it’s all about me” showboat who has no concept of what teamwork is and no desire to be a teammate; the one who will never offer constructive criticism even when it’s invited, but is always first to be a “yes man” even when yes is the wrong answer.
Who’s to blame for the successes some suckups seem to enjoy? Those above them in rank who let such cops get away with it, who never call them on it, and who let their egos be flattered by the insincere attention suckups pay to anyone they think can help their career aspirations.
Being The Best
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a legitimate place for ambitious, play-by-the-rules cops to seek out mentors. The seeking, though, should be for the purpose of learning — not for gaining favor. I’ve had some outstanding mentors throughout my career. Some I sought out and some on their own initiative took me under their wing, probably to keep me from making a big mistake.
The mentoring I was fortunate to receive was never offered for any purpose other than making me the best I could be, at whatever rank I might have held at the moment. There was not nor should there have been, any link to any present or future promotional process.
Good cops are good judges of human nature, and are very adept at distinguishing the real from the phony. As a chief, I’ve always thought my role in selecting those to be promoted involved choosing only those with legitimate credentials. For any top cop to select a suckup for promotion above those who are the real meal deal is to do the organization a huge disservice. For anyone in the command structure to allow the phony ladder-climber any measure of success at all is to stab the organization in the back.
So, for those seeking to promote who want to have a sense of pride rather than shame if the promotional effort is successful, take this bit of advice from an old timer. Work hard, study hard, find good role models and mentors, and let your actions — not your mouth — speak for you. If you work for a good organization, that approach (not the butt kissing approach) will serve you well. If you’re successful in achieving the rank to which you aspire, you’ll have the respect of those you lead. And, there’s no better feeling than that.
Questions, comments and suggestions for future columns can be sent to Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org