Just recently I was contacted by a Chief of Police (friend of mine) who asked me to review his five-year strategic plan. This is the eighth one he’s done but he’s not been the Chief for 40 years; instead, he’s done a five-year strategic plan each year for the past eight years. Why, you might ask yourself, would a Chief do a five-year plan every year? The answer is simple: stuff happens.
If I could go back and change ONE thing in my life it would be to add strategic planning into my career decisions starting when I was in the Army. While I had several good mentors giving me advice on how to advance my career, few offered advice on long term planning of the same career. Fewer still (in fact, none) offered words of wisdom about planning for AFTER my law enforcement career. Thankfully I kept driving on, creating and pursuing new goals and I’ve landed in quite a good place. I’ve enjoyed a 30+ career in law enforcement that is still on-going; I’ve met my goals of being both a police instructor and a published author and I’ve done so while making time to enjoy my family as much as possible. Still, much of what I’ve enjoyed was a matter of pure happenstance or sheer luck; very little of what’s occurred in the past 30 years has been planned.
And today, as I prepare to review that Chief’s five-year plan, it occurred to me that some of the younger officers stopping by to visit the site might need to be reminded of the necessity of strategic planning. So let’s talk about it a little bit. Bear in mind that all of the following is MY OPINION and there are certainly plenty of differing opinions. As you begin to build your own strategic plan, consult a mentor or coach that you trust and get their input on how you should best go about building and implementing your plan.
I’m going to start off with what, to me, is the most basic necessity of any strategic plan: building and maintaining yourself. We all tend to take for granted the need to keep ourselves in decent physical condition. It’s simply healthier and increases our officer survival rate as well as lowering job-related health and wellness risks. What a lot of folks don’t tell you, though, is that being physically fit also tends to increase your career advancement potential.
Yes, we’ve all seen the grizzly 25 year veteran sergeant who has more gut than is healthy. How many of you see an equal number of over-weight captains with only ten years of service? Stop to consider this for a moment: when you are applying for that next promotion, is a fitness test part of the process? Even if it isn’t, is your general appearance during an oral interview taken into consideration? I’d be willing to bet that it is and, no matter how you look at it, a physically fit officer in a properly tailored uniform is always going to look more professional than an overweight officer does. So maintaining your fitness levels is not only in your best health interests but also in your long term career interests as well.
Let’s also look at educational “maintenance.” A wise man once told me that if you’re not steadily improving yourself then you’re not just standing still but you’re actually falling behind. Then he asked me, “Why do you think we call it the ‘human RACE’?” Even if the only person you’re competing with is yourself, are you better today than you were yesterday? I’ll add another observation: I’ve heard many folks say that the best instructors are perpetual students. The theme repeats itself.
Many agencies today have a minimum educational requirement that includes a two-year college degree. Some agencies have a four-year degree requirement. Several agencies I know of require a PhD for the position of Chief of Police. Once you attain that level of education though, does that mean you should stop continuing your education? Think of it this way: when you’re in that interview for your next promotion and someone on the board asks what you’ve done to improve yourself since your last promotion, what are you going to say?