Leadership foundations in corrections
Having a good work ethic, a professional appearance and sound job knowledge will build your confidence as a leader and earn you the respect of your officers
Leaders in corrections are responsible for the safety of prison staff; the care, custody and control of inmates; and protecting our citizens. Corrections leaders have a truly unique and challenging job.
A leader’s personal beliefs, technical know-how and motives are very important. Some people are natural leaders; however most have to learn leadership skills through hard work and study.
Before putting in that application to become a sergeant or above ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I ready to set the example for others to follow?
- Am I ready to exceed the standards I expect of my officers?
- Am I ready to demonstrate good conduct on a daily basis?
- Am I ready to provide sound guidance and counseling to my officers?
- Am I willing to praise officers who do a great job?
- Am I willing to counsel and discipline officers I have worked with on the frontline?
- Am I willing to guide and direct officers with personal problems?
- Am I willing to educate and inform officers who are behind in their work skills?
- Am I willing to inform an officer when he or she needs to improve their appearance or personal hygiene?
- Am I willing to work longer hours than my officers, making schedules, setting up training, writing shift reports, staying after shift for administrative meetings and writing performance appraisals?
- Am I willing to back my officers when they are right?
If you answered NO to any of the above questions, you are not ready to become a leader in my opinion.
Know your leadership purpose
Most of us know that leadership is the process of influencing others to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction and motivation. Here are some key steps to achieving this:
- Establish your priorities with your officers and focus them on the task.
- Provide direction and enforce standards based on your priorities.
- Motivate your officers by giving them a challenge from time to time with a special project.
- Teach your officers the meaning of teamwork.
- Keep your officers informed and current with new policies and procedures or activity on the compound.
- Educate your officers through training and sound advice.
Keep your officers informed
Communication is very important for the success of a leader. Officers respond and work best when they know what is going on and why a task needs to be performed.
It is human nature for people to want to understand processes and procedures so that they can make the right decisions. What good does it do for you or your staff if you keep security information from them that may make their job easier or make them aware of certain dangers? Officers expect leaders to keep them informed. Keeping them informed will improve their work habits, teamwork and execution of their daily work schedule.
Be the example
You will have to set the example. If you have a history of using foul and abusive language toward staff and inmates, others will follow your example. If you protect those who abuse inmates, this will explode in your face one day. You must know yourself and seek improvement. Having a good work ethic, a professional appearance and sound job knowledge will not only build your confidence as a leader, but will earn you the respect of your officers. Overcome your weaknesses through self- awareness and study. This will increase your ability to educate and inform as a leader.
As a leader, you are responsible for shaping the values and beliefs of your officers, so your ethics must be sound. Do you as a leader have the four elements of professional ethics?
- Selfless service;
Avoid creating ethical dilemmas for your officers
In most cases, your officers will want to please you by doing a good job or doing what they believe you want them to do. Never ask them to do things that will cause them to behave unethically. If you are doing any of the following, it is time to change your leadership strategy:
- Covering up errors to look good.
- Falsifying reports to make upper management happy or avoid an investigation.
- Telling your staff, “I don’t care how you get it done. Just do it.”
- Saying, “There is no excuse for failure” (leads to staff making mistakes).
- Setting goals that are impossible to reach.
- Having all your loyalty to upper management and not your frontline staff.
We all know right from wrong in our hearts. The question is, do you as a leader have the character and professional values to do the right thing when under pressure?
A good leader must be able to analyze a problem and decide a course of action quickly. A good working knowledge in these areas will help you as a corrections leader make the right decision.
- Know your agency’s standards.
- Know your agency’s core values.
- Know your agency’s policies and procedures.
- Get frontline experience under your belt).
- Learn from your past mistakes.
- Learn from other people’s mistakes.
- Walk the floors and make your rounds.
- Listen to ideas from your frontline officers.
- Think safety first.
- Know your compound layout like it is your home.
- Have some tactical knowledge.
- Know your officers and their capabilities.
- Learn to recognize different problems in corrections.
- Learn how to analyze quickly and select the best solution.
- Know human nature.
- Know the games inmates play.
- Know what resources you have available.
Being a leader is not about walking around with a cup of coffee; it is about dedication and loyalty. Choose the leadership style that works for you and follow the above guidelines. Not every leader is not the same and different strategies work for different people. I strongly urge corrections agencies to provide mandatory leadership development classes for sergeants and above. Training for success is the key!