Implementing Strengths-Based Supervision

Truly knowing and engaging the strengths of your team in supervision style offers myriad benefits. Recognizing and engaging the diverse talents each brings enhances their effectiveness, improves morale, promotes improved teamwork, expands your unit’s...

I was dumbfounded. 

It wasn’t that people disagreed with my strong opposition to what I saw as an appalling, if not unethical and potentially dangerous, idea.  I’m okay with disagreement and I’d better be - I’m as likely to be the dissenting voice in the room as anyone and expect mature, intelligent people to be okay with that – but I wasn’t okay with the form it took.

I was astonished at the anger directed toward me for voicing my concerns, how dismissive so many were of my opinion, and at how easily cowed were others I knew agreed with me in the face of what they were witnessing.  But I was still okay with all that.

What really got to me, and what set the stage for my own (admittedly too sharp and deliberately insolent) response, was the easy dismissal of all my education, all my experience, all my extensive, graduate level academic research on the topic at hand, and all my willingness to work hard toward effective and ethical changes in favor of the rather dubious expediency we were about to adopt.  What really got to me was the condescending dismissal of the considerable strengths I brought to the table.  I was by no means an expert in all things, no doubt and few of us are, but this…          

And then words got ugly, feelings were hurt, egos bruised, and relationships changed.


The whole episode lasted just minutes but the impact was huge and, in some ways, even reverberated for years.  Failing to see or be aware of your subordinates’ unique strengths is a morale breaker.  Having awareness of them and choosing to ignore or discount them is worse, and can have severe repercussions.

In this final installment in our series on Supervising Strengths we will provide the basic framework to begin supervising strengths, and hopefully emphasize how doing so can, despite demanding some really hard work up front, benefit you, the people you supervise, and the department and community you serve.

Get to (really) know your subordinates

This is a no-brainer; of course, you should get to know your subordinates!  That’s just common sense, right?  Okay, on to the next point…

Not so fast.  For something so seemingly commonsense it is also seemingly uncommon, at least in law enforcement.  We hear from a lot of officers, and even some with rank, that a boss actually getting to know the people under them is, in their experience, often a low or nonexistent priority.  Or that it’s commonly believed having a superficial knowledge – maybe the kind you’d pick up from casual “smokin’ & jokin’” breaks or grabbing a beer after work - is sufficient; knowing Joe has three kids, a wife named Cindy, likes Belgian beer and duck hunting, and worships the ground Aaron Rodgers walks on is cool, but does it help you actually bring out his best as his supervisor?  We’re learning that superficiality is nice enough, and maybe well-intentioned, but inadequate.  To be an effective strengths-based supervisor you need to really get to know Joe. 

What is Joe’s favorite aspect of being a cop?  His least?  What kind of calls or cases excite him and makes him feel vital?  On these questions everyone is different; some of your cops will love working directed-enforcement traffic details, while others are bored to drooling by the mere thought.  Others are “rapid response” sorts, living for the hot call and then moving on to the next, while others are more deliberate.  Some love detective work but, even in dedicated investigative divisions, you’ll find different detectives thrive on different aspects of the investigative process.  Still others are gifted communicators and educators, outgoing and eager to work directly with the public, or skilled working with kids.  And while it’s true many large departments have dedicated units where people can find their niche, not everyone will go to those units and can still utilize their gifts and skills wherever they are assigned. 

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