I Am Spartacus…No I Am Spartacus: Is Your Police Organization United?

Does your Organization Live and Breathe a Shared Vision?

I have been furiously reading the book written by Peter Senge back in 1990, but I am finding it is still, very relevant today. I have pages upon pages, highlighted in both paperback and kindle editions. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization has more than a million copies in print. I recommend you grab yourself a copy because it is an outstanding resource to have on hand. It is packed full of great information and if you heed and put into practice the information contained within, it will help you and your organization become more effective. I read this book several years ago but its message did not grab my attention like it has this time around.

In chapter 10, of The Fifth Discipline titled, Shared Vision, Senge, talks about a common caring that is necessary for organizations to work together in harmony. An excerpt from the book references the movie Spartacus to illustrate what a shared vision is:

“You may remember the movie Spartacus, an adaptation of the story of a roman Gladiator/slave who led an army of slaves in an uprising in 71 B.C. They defeated the Roman Legions twice, but were finally conquered by the general Marcus Crassus after a long siege and battle. In the movie, Crassus tells the thousand survivors in Spartacus’s army, ‘You have been slaves. You will be slaves again. But you will be spared your rightful punishment of crucifixion by the mercy of the roman legions. All you need to do is turn over to me the slave Spartacus, because we do not know him by sight.’

After a long pause, Spartacus (played by Kurt Douglas) stands up and says, ‘I am Spartacus.’ Then next man stands up and also says, ‘No, I am Spartacus.’ Within a minute, everyone in the army is on his feet.”

Peter Senge goes on to explain, “It does not matter whether this story is apocryphal or not; it demonstrates a deep truth. Each man, by standing up, chose death. But the loyalty of Spartacus’s army was not to Spartacus the man. Their loyalty was to a shared vision which Spartacus had inspired the idea that they could be free men. This vision was so compelling that no man could bear to give it up and return to slavery.”

Noble Profession, Great People But Have We Lost Our Esprit de corps?

Policing is a noble profession and most of the cops I have met along the way are great people who strive day in and day out to serve others in meaningful and lasting ways. However I find in today’s policing culture there does not seem to be too much working together. People are more focused on their own objectives and goals and their own personal vision of where they as individuals want to be. This “ME, INSTEAD OF, WE” has been one of the main disappointments I have experienced in policing during my 28 years. Although there are exceptions, I do not believe this ME focus is out of bad intentions, although as mentioned there are exceptions. I do believe we have developed a culture where competing to be number one has created unintended consequences, one big unintended consequence is individual effort and success trumps group effort and success. When the group suffers at the hands of the individual, discord and distrust is sowed. This is problematic, especially in policing, because individual visions, without concern for the group, breeds a numbers culture and an unhealthy competition between officers to be number 1 becomes the focus of effort verses public service. This has a detrimental outcome on organizational morale and fair and impartial policing in the community, while a shared vision appreciates individuals and their attributes as they relate to working together and benefit the whole. This inspires harmony and trust.

A Shared Vision and Working Together

Gung Ho, literally translated means “Working together.” The term ‘gung ho’ has been described as the United States Marine Corps most progressive tradition. The ironic thing is many people mistakenly refer to the term as they describe individual effort. I bring this up because the Marine Corps have been around for almost 239 years and they understand that making individuals excel so they can work together and they have proven it works over and over again. 2500 years ago Sun Tzu saw the value in keeping troops united through a shared vision when he said; “To command and get the most of proud people, you must study adversity. People work together when they are in the same boat during a storm. In this situation, one rescues the other just as the right hand helps the left.” Sun Tzu teaches us, unity and focus come from our core values, a common caring which creates and nurtures an atmosphere of mutual trust and integrity based loyalty up and down the chain of command and gives an organization its strength.

Over the past several years in my own organization, we spent a lot of time developing mission and vision statements, as well as identifying core values. We involved the whole organization in the process in an effort to make sure all would believe in what we were doing and where we wanted the department to go. We asked everyone, “What type of police department do we want to create?” Everyone jumped on board and over a laboring process we succeeded in getting the words on paper and most were happy with the outcome. So it seemed. Not too long after the process we noticed not all were living and breathing the departments, mission-vision and values. Our idea that this process would develop better leaders, adaptability, autonomy and people taking a joy in responsibility, seemed to have fallen short. People would do the necessary tasks and then fall off after a period of time, until reminded again. We had seemed to generate only compliance to the mission, vision and values but not the commitment we sought. We continued to ask why?

Vision is much more than an idea. It’s a common caring.

Shared vision is not an idea. Senge says, “It is not even an important idea such as freedom. It is, rather, a force in people’s hearts, a force of impressive power. It may be inspired by an idea, but once it goes further if it is compelling enough to acquire the support of more than one person, then it’s no longer an abstraction. It is palpable. People begin to see it as if it exists. Few if any, forces in human affairs are as powerful as shared vision.”

At its simplest level, a shared vision is the answer to the question, “What do we want to create?” We nailed that question according to Senge, so what more do we need to do for all to work together as one? As I read on Senge explained:

“Just as personal visions are pictures or images people carry in their heads and hearts, so too are shared visions pictures that people throughout an organization carry. They create a sense of commonality that permeates the organization and gives coherence to diverse activities.

 

A vision is truly shared when you and I have a similar picture and are committed to one another having it, not just to each of us, individually, having it. When people truly share a vision they are connected, bound together by a common aspiration. Personal visions derive their power from an individual deep caring for the vision. Shared visions derive their power from a common caring. In fact, we have to come to believe that one of the reasons people seek to build shared visions is their desire to be connected in an important undertaking.

 

Shared vision is vital for the learning organization because it provides the focus and energy for learning. While adaptive learning is possible without vision, generative learning occurs only when people are striving to accomplish something that matters deeply to them. In fact, the whole idea of generative learning, expanding your ability to create, will seem abstract and meaningless until people become excited about a vision they truly want to accomplish.”

To be committed as an organization, like Spartacus’s army, developing a common vision is only the start. To live and breathe the vision we must penetrate people’s beliefs, in a positive way if commitment to a common vision and being part of a larger purpose, is to take hold by all.

Would leaders of today with everything on the line, like Spartacus, stand up and utter the words “I am Spartacus”? If so, would a 21st century police leaders, people follow with “No, I am Spartacus”? Do you have a shared vision? Do you and your people believe in it so much you live and breathe it daily? I have work to do, how about you?

Stay Oriented!

Fred