Webinar presenter Ray Nash answered a number of your questions after his presentation, "E5 Leadership." Here are some of his responses.
Audience Question: You talked about character is being willing to do the right thing regardless of the cost. How do we hire for character and how could we modify existing hiring practices to accomplish this?
Ray Nash: It's hard to assess because our typical assessment procedures aren't really oriented around that. We do interviews, polygraphs, psychological assessments, and criminal histories and stuff like that because we're trying to weed out the bad apples and that's an honorable effort and goal. How do we evaluate someone's character because you can't see it? Character is on the inside. This is a new person and you didn't have the opportunity to monitor their character and decision over a period of time because they're new. They're just going through the selection and hiring process. How do you evaluate them?
Some agencies have come up with some very creative ways doing it that's been successful. One way is to create some questions during the interview that are scenario based. You're going to ask, "Suppose you're in this particular situation, how would you handle it?" And you try to craft it in such a way that you don't give away the answer that you're looking for and you give them the opportunity to grapple with the ethical considerations attached to that particular question. That's one way.
Another way that's been found to be very effective is to give them a list of character qualities or virtues like dependability, or initiative or loyalty. Then ask, "How would you define this particular virtue?". Some agencies even put them in a room and give them a list of 10 virtues, write down your own definition, give me three or four sentences or examples for each one. You will then have something to go back and say, "Does this person really have the depth of understanding of what character really is?" Or are they giving you behavior-based types of surface-oriented answers to the question showing lack of understanding of what it's all about?
You can get a lot of insight allowing to do it on an open-ended free-form type of a process. Some agencies are very creative and do assessment centers. It's very time-consuming and manpower-intensive and if done right, can be very effective.
So, I think, doing something simple, like give them a list, how would you define these particular virtues and either ask them that during an interview board or have them write it on a piece of paper and evaluate their answer to give out insights. If we had a machine that we can hook them up to a polygraph and assess their character, wouldn't it be great? But it doesn't work like that in the law enforcement.
Audience Question: The goal is to always get things right. How can you regain trust when you have made a bad decision despite years of making good ones?
Ray Nash: People tend to remember the failures but going back to my metaphor of pumping fuel into the gas tank. Everytime that you have a failure or somebody in your agency does, you're siphoning some of the fuel, some of the trust out of the gas tank. So we need to be putting back trust in the gas tank. How do you do that? You show good character. You do what you say you're going to do. You fulfill your obligations. You act respectful in the face of disrespect, pass your character test. Every time you do that, you're pumping some fuel back into the relationship. You need to be very intentional about it and what I tell people when they've had an ethical failure or maybe a series of ethical failures – do the next right thing. Whatever the next right thing is, that's what you need to be doing. The next after that and the next after that — and over time, you begin to recover. But it is difficult, as with human nature, you got to re-earn that trust. If the tank has been dry for a while, you got some work to do. I will start by doing the next right thing — to pump more fuel into the gas tank.
And make sure people know about it. A lot of times in our profession, we do the right things on regular basis and nobody knows about it. It doesn't get reported. The media certainly isn't helping us with that, so we need to be our own cheerleader when it comes to getting the word out.
Audience Question: How do we justify leniency for a previously "model officer" in light of all public attention on our work?
Ray Nash: The spotlight, the scrutiny is on us and have gotten ourselves under a microscope right now. If we're challenged on it, we say, "Look, we're not condoning bad behavior — this officer made a failure and these are the range of options that are available to use on a disciplinary perspective", and we're going to give the officer the benefit of the doubt because they've had an unblemished record up until this point in time.
It's the same thing that judges do. Think of it from a judge's perspective. A judge even their sentencing guidelines — a judge has a minimum sentence and a maximum sentence per offense. They make a discretionary call about what the punishment is going to be within that range of options based on the character of the individual — they base it on their criminal history, reputation, whatever assessments, character witnesses that might come before the court. The judge is trying to get an idea, "Is this somebody that's made a lifetime of bad choices? Or is this a reasonably good person that made a bad choice in a moment of weakness, in a moment of high pressure".
These are the types of question that we must answer, and while the public isn't always on our side, we must stand-by our guidelines that if you made these decisions based on good character on a consistent basis. You're going to have your naysayers, objectors — you just got to weather that storm like countless other storms in our profession. I hate to see these officers affected by political scrutiny on the profession. It's not really an honorable way to treat them.
Audience Question: We realized that there's a gap in our standards and that we're not clear on what our agencies' standards are. How do we begin this conversation with the leadership team to clearly set the standards?
Ray Nash: Whatever level of responsibility you have within your agency, whatever influence that you have within your sphere of responsibility — you try to focus there first. In terms of getting the boss on board, whatever you can do to encourage them that there's another paradigm out there. We've been doing things the same way forever in our profession, everything is behavior or performance-based. Why don't we think of bringing in this character-based stuff? There are trainings available, get some resources. If you'll email me afterward, I'll send you some resources and links. Go to your chief or sheriff and say, "If I get five minutes of your time, would you watch this video with me?", and then begin the conversation to talk about it. Maybe it will strike a chord and you'll be the one that sparks a raging fire in your agency that's making good changes based upon the principles of the character.
Click here to watch a recording of "E5 Leadership."