To effectively function in the initial, chaotic stages of a crisis, develop adaptive leaders

“The learning organization overcomes the impediment of centralized responsibility by instilling within the organization’s members a thirst for creativity and hunger for a challenge.” ~Brig. Gen. David A. Fastabend and Robert Simpson, Adapt or Die

Two weeks ago on behalf of the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, I was cordially invited to participate in a workshop for the POST Incident Command Steering Committee. We were to evaluate current training and focus on the performance of first-responders who arrive at a critical incident often characterized as chaotic.

This program of study intent is to improve the Incident Commander’s ability to function within the “golden hour” of critical incidents. This “golden hour” is defined as the chaotic stage of an incident in which the crisis is still fluid, meaningful information is difficult to obtain and situational awareness seemingly impossible to establish. In this initial period, it is difficult to determine how to set multiple people, groups and agencies on a path towards resolution. This program of study will increase a students’ ability to apply intuitive sense making strategies aimed at working through chaos and toward the implementation of productive Operational Incident Command. This seemed to me like the perfect fit for adaptive leadership methodology.

Adaptive Leader Methodology (ALM) offers the first responder a better alternative to the traditional “input-based” or “competency theory” philosophy that currently governs their training programs at all levels. ALM is perhaps best described as “developmental training,” i.e., the development of the individual within the training of a first responder’s or leader’s task. It emphasizes teaching the “why” behind actions through an emphasis on the fundamental principles that should guide future actions and decisions. ALM is best suited to nurture innovation and adaptability, the characteristics that are absolutely essential on today’s complex streets and in handling crisis situations.

The purpose of the Adaptive Leadership Methodology is creating leaders who understand and practice adaptability, while encouraging leaders to nurture this trait in their subordinates. A learner that emerges from any leader-centric course that employs the Adaptive Leadership Methodology is adaptive and can demonstrate the ability in handling a crisis to:

• Rapidly distinguish between information that is useful in making decisions and that which is not pertinent;
• Avoid the natural temptation to delay their decisions until more information makes the situation clearer, at the risk of losing the initiative;
• Avoid the pitfall of thinking that once the mission is underway, more information will clarify the tactical picture; and
• Feel the frontline tempo of crisis, discern patterns among the chaos, and make critically important timely decisions.

The Adaptive Leader Methodology also develops the following traits:

• Strength of character;
• Experience and intuition through repetitive skills (cognitive and physical) training;
• An understanding of the value of self-study; and
• Proper understanding of a command climate that promotes adaptability accepts change and encourages innovation.

The Adaptive Leader Methodology is comprised of three elements that will enable a leader-centric learning organization to achieve the goal of producing leaders that are adaptive. These consist of: (1) a police culture of learning, which includes the chain of command and officers; (2) a curriculum significantly broad to provide the necessary cognitive and creative development to nurture adaptability; and (3) highly qualified teachers. All three must exist in concert in order to effectively enable adaptability in students attending the course.

One of the essential principles of adaptive leadership is the requirement to treat frontline personnel or trainee like an adult. This encourages them to take ownership of their development and training. Not surprisingly, students at all levels from entry level to senior executives respond accordingly. If the expectation is that they cannot be trusted to do anything without micro-management, then students will fail without extensive guidance. However, if from the very beginning the expectation is that they must think on their own and take responsibility for their own training, they will almost always conduct themselves responsibly.

Adapted to law enforcements mission and intent from Don Vandergriff’s great book; Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability To Deal With the Changing Face of War an outstanding resource for trainers, leaders and street cops. We need to make this shift in how we lead and train!

Stay Oriented!

Fred