By Dr. Obed Magny
Last week I was on the Clubhouse app and I was in a room where the conversation was centered on policing reform. It was a great conversation had by many where we covered various topics. One of the topics discussed is the absence of coaching in the policing profession. In particular, the development of interpersonal skills when it comes to professional development and increasing communication skills when interacting with others. Police officers are under much scrutiny and stress. The frequency of stories in the media about officer misconduct and other issues around race and the use of force are front and center everywhere. This increased level of scrutiny has contributed to a substantial number of police officers leaving the profession altogether. This stress has led to other officers becoming isolated in some respects, and many others taking more drastic approaches like suicide.
Mental health and wellness services have improved in many areas, but overall still underutilized. I recently gave a presentation during a webinar and conducted a poll asking about Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) in their respective agencies. With the roughly 700 people polled, most said that their department was not providing and/or not doing enough to promote mental health services to their employees. This is unacceptable and we have to make sure we find solutions that are not a one size fits all type of approach. With morale in many agencies in jeopardy, there must be a deliberate and evidence-based approach to improving job satisfaction. The good news is there’s already an effective and evidence-based approach known to help employees manage stress while thriving in their jobs and careers. The method is coaching.
So what is a coach anyway? A coach is, “ A trusted role model, adviser, wise person, friend, Mensch, steward, or guide -- a person who works with emerging human and organizational forces to tap new energy and purposes, to shape new visions and plans, and to generate desired results. A coach is someone trained and devoted to guiding others into increased competence, commitment, and confidence (Hudson, 1999).” According to researchers such as Daniel Goleman (1998) and Jeff Auerbach (2005), coaching may be the most effective way to solve the issue of helping employees manage stress and navigate through these challenging times. In the case of policing, I couldn’t think of a better time. Coaching could be utilized to help in various areas such as improving one’s emotional intelligence, professional growth, professional development, and achieving other types of goals. Across many industries, many CEOs, business owners, mid-level managers, and other employees use professional coaching to assist them in their career development.
The return on investment (ROI) in incorporating coaching has huge potential. Manchester (www.manchesterUS.com) is a global purveyor of executive coaching services. They conducted an ROI study on coaching. The respondents were executives from FORTUNE 1,000 companies who had participated in executive coaching for 6-12 months. About 60% of the executives were 40 to 49 years old. Half held positions of vice president or higher, and a third earned $200,000 or more per year. When asked for a conservative estimate of the monetary payoff from their coaching, these managers described an average return of more than $100,000, or about six times what the coaching had cost their companies (Fisher, 2001). Although policing is not in the business of making money, the ROI of having coaches in the profession could lead to higher job
satisfaction, better retention, increased trust with community members, and increase officer safety (to name a few).
In policing, the concept of coaching is foreign and seldom (if ever) used. Too many frontline supervisors don’t have formal training, knowledge, or quality time with their officers to give them that opportunity for growth. Administrative work and regular duties requiring them to be in the field make it that more challenging.
A Gallup poll showed public confidence in the police is at a near 30-year low (Ortiz, 2020). One of the criticisms of policing is the lack of empathy and compassion from law enforcement officials across the country. There is some training out there (such as procedural justice) that attempts to increase trust with the public. Unfortunately, too many of these courses are not evidence-based or rooted in any type of research. There are many pieces of training rooted in research but are rarely taught in most police academies, let alone in law enforcement agencies. For example, emotional intelligence is an evidence-based training known to increase empathy, compassion, reduce stress, and increase communication skills. Although this training has been beneficial in many industries, it’s virtually non-existent in policing. Having a coach to help law enforcement employees work on their interpersonal skills could reduce stress and improve soft skills could reduce negative interactions and improve community-police relations. If we are to heal moving forward, utilizing a research-based approach is paramount. Coaching helps develop the building blocks of a positive relationship for employees and their stakeholders in building trust.
If an officer doesn’t know they lack self-awareness, how could they ever improve it? Better yet, what resources are available to them in their organizations to address the issue in the first place? The overwhelming majority of an officer’s job is customer service where they’re interacting with people likely having a bad day. If an officer is lacking this fundamental skill and never develops it, the consequences can lead to a poor experience with members of the public and decrease trust with their communities. Achieving a level of self-awareness is not something that happens overnight, or by just reading a book and writing a paper on the subject. Using a research-based approach is the best way to develop our law enforcement employees today. Here are other benefits of coaching:
● Accurately identifying and developing the future leaders in your organization.
● Leading positive change to create a high-performing, results-driven organization.
● Developing frontline supervisors in ensuring them to be effective leaders to their employees.
● Creating and sustaining an organizational environment valuing trust, legitimacy, and continuous development.
This evidence-based approach is successful across many industries, and it’s time now for coaching to be introduced to the world of policing. I’d love to see a randomized control trial (RCT) looking at the benefits of those utilizing coaching compared to those who don’t.
Auerbach, J. E. (2005). Seeing the Light: What Organizations Need to Know About Executive Coaching. Executive College Press: Pismo Beach, CA.
Fisher, A., (2001, February 19). Executive Coaching--With Returns a CFO Could Love. CNN Money. https://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2001/02/19/296856/index.htm
Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam.
Hudson, F.M. (1999) The Handbook of Coaching: A Comprehensive Resource Guide for Managers, Consultants, and Human Resource Professionals. Jossy bass, San Francisco
Ortiz, A. (2020, August 12). Confidence in Police Is at Record Low, Gallup Survey Finds. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/12/us/gallup-poll-police.html
Dr. Magny is an executive board member and co-founder of the ASEBP. He has 17 years of law enforcement experience. He can be reached at Obed@americansebp.org