Breaking Down the Stranglehold of Formality


"Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts." ~Henry David Thoreau

I found an interesting post “The End of Formality” which hit a sweet spot in me. I have long felt that we in policing focus way too much on formalities and too little time on getting things done. Now before you lose it completely and harp about command presence and the powerful effect our appearance has on others and reflects us as individuals. I say I agree, BUT mere appearance also sends out false messages as to our capabilities. And the narrow-minded thought process of he looks good therefore he must be good is hogwash. I ask how many spit and polished dress to the nines police officers, police instructors, and bad guys in court have you met that look good but aren’t any good? I rest my case.

Command presence is much more than your appearance and dressing for success. Command presence is how you conduct and carry yourself verbally and non-verbally. It’s your knowledge and ability to translate that knowledge to the jobs we police are to perform. It’s how we communicate up, down and across the chain of command. When weed out un-necessary formalities and break that fixed mindset we begin to grow in our thinking and doing.

Formality is like a virus that infects the productive tissue of an organization. The symptoms are stiffness, stuffiness, and inflexibility – its origin never with those who do but with those that don’t.
Formality is more than a dress code, of course. It infects how people talk, write, and interact. It eats through all the edges and the individuality, leaving only the square behind. In other words, it’s all about posture, not productivity.
And once you place being proper above getting great work done, it’s unlikely that you’ll attract the best and most creative minds to work for you. (Though you’ll surely have no trouble filling the ranks with folks who can fit the existing molds.)
Formality is so ingrained in much of our working culture that even though people intuitively understand its harm, as in the colloquial “it’s just a formality, but we have to…” it lives on.

I still have reverence for our traditions and do believe there is a time and place for formalities, including formal dress and formal conversation, hell even formal procedures. When and where you ask? At wakes and funerals, ceremonies, and court proceedings. I am sure I am missing a few other times formalities are important. But I truly believe lightening up a little in our day to day operations will instill better communications, internally and externally throughout the community. There will be less stifling of individual initiative. Better team effort and more effective responses to crisis situations.

What do you say?

Stay Oriented!
Fred