5 steps to correctional management success

The best way to motivate staff is to make them want to work hard, which is achieved through strong leadership


Believe me, I haven’t perfected the skill of management. I make mistakes frequently. Management is a constant learning curve. I strive to figure out the best way to manage in each situation. I learn something every day with each employee interaction. I learn how each individual communicates. I learn who they are as people, what the like, what motivates them, what they dislike.

There are five universal things however, I've learned that are important to any correctional leader's success:

1. Communication

Allowing staff to make decisions and do things their way is extremely important. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)
Allowing staff to make decisions and do things their way is extremely important. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Communication up, down and sideways is important. You have to have connections with your peers, superiors and subordinates.

In corrections, I have often felt like I was playing the old tin can telephone game. The message I received wasn’t the message initially given. Communication includes listening, as well as verbalizing. Listen to what your staff are saying (and not saying for that matter).

Have your eyes and ears open when visiting staff on post or in their departments. Communicate effectively – rephrase and repeat back what a staff member might tell you. Provide opportunities for staff to offer their opinions. Provide feedback about a staff member's performance or decision-making even if that may be negative.

Give praise and thanks when warranted. Staff can't improve unless they are aware of your expectations and what they are doing right and wrong.

2. Delegate

The hardest thing I've learned as a manager is to delegate. People who are working corrections and law enforcement are often the types who'd rather "do it themselves."

Allowing staff to make decisions and do things their way is extremely important. It empowers them and prepares them to someday take our place. As a manager, we need to make sure our subordinates know we trust them enough to make decisions.

After all, it doesn’t always have to be done "my way." I had someone tell me early in my management career, "There are many versions of perfect – it doesn’t always have to be yours."

3. Be strong

Anyone can lead in good times, but leading in tough times is difficult. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to provide support when needed.

I spoke to a friend recently who had a tragic death of a staff member at her facility. She was struggling (as anyone would), but I reminded her staff would be looking to her for guidance and support.

This doesn’t mean you can't show feelings. Sometimes it's important for staff to realize leaders are human too and the same things that make them sad impact us as well. They watch our every move, which includes how we act and react to bad situations.

4. Be a role model

Model the behavior you want your staff to mimic. If there's dirty work to be done, roll up your sleeves. I try to never ask staff to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.

Join them for locker searches, demonstrate how to communicate with inmates, work food service – lead them by example and they will follow.

5. Have a sense of humor

This business is so serious. We deal with the worst of the worst it can get depressing. Have a sense of humor – lighten up when appropriate.

Allow staff to lighten up as well. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves and not always take the job so seriously.

Leading and managing personnel is difficult and we need to open to new ideas, new concepts and changes in techniques all the time. The best way to motivate staff is to make them want to work hard and we do that through being a strong leader. 

This article, originally published on 05/01/2015, has been updated.

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