Lessons Learned: The Boyd Cycle Workshop and Adaptive Leadership Methodology Brief with the Alaska State Police | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

“The essence of winning and losing is in learning how to shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic towards our success.” ~Col. John Boyd

I recently spent two outstanding days in Girdwood Alaska just outside of Anchorage, presenting the Boyd Cycle Threat Assessment and Management Workshop and presenting a brief I developed with Maj. Don Vandergriff on Adaptive Leadership Methodology (ALM) as it applies to law enforcement.

The Alaskan State Troopers present in the workshop were a rare breed of cops who practice ALM. Although the term ‘adaptive leadership’ was new to them, they practice it daily in the last frontier. The troopers at the workshop are self starters who not only understand the meaning of initiative and adaptability; they practice it well in the field.

Interacting with this detachment of troopers over the course of two days taught me numerous lessons. I’d go so far as to say that they taught me as much as I taught them while presenting the workshop.

Most of the troopers present not only apply the concepts learned in most police academies, they also serve as pilots, divers, search and rescue experts, etc. They work in one of the most remote and tough environments in the world.

Most in attendance work in small outposts with a small number of officers and often handle dangerous calls and investigations alone. Yes, single officer responses to domestic disturbances, dangerous assaults, sexual assaults, drug and alcohol related crimes, murders, etc.

They respond to calls for service in small villages spread out over thousands of square miles and must have a fine tuned awareness when doing so. This awareness and fact that they work alone requires them to adapt to changing conditions in their tactical responses once they arrive on scene. They adapt by gaining knowledge in many things and then develop the skills to apply that knowledge where it fits. They also adapt by getting to know and understand the villagers and their culture so relationships and mutual trust are formed. This is a powerful tool, as it allows them to gather knowledge about what may be going on in a given set of circumstances before they arrive, and enables them to gather more resources and implement an adaptable plan.

Sometimes community trust is jeopardized by long response times due to distance, weather and other extremes only encountered in a place like Alaska. On occasion the combination of long response times and a perceived violated trust by villagers causes an uproar in the town. A trooper then has to adapt and tactically retreat to gather more troopers or ”village public safety officers” to de-escalate the situation before they can carry out an arrest or investigation.

These are powerful lessons for those of us in law enforcement. Why? Because all to often when we here in the lower 48 states are working in urban areas with plenty of help around, we fail to adapt to conditions. At times this causes an escalation of the situation; the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve. It can cost lives, for both law enforcement and those we protect and serve. To reduce loss of life, we must learn, unlearn, and relearn. We must use a strategic and tactical mindset when dealing with conflict and violence as opposed to emotional reactions relating to ego, habit and a false sense of urgency.

The Alaska troopers were an impressive group of individuals who not only work well independently but perform as a team in circumstances where they do not even see one another and where assisting one another may take hours. Yet these troopers are doing it and doing it well.

I also had the opportunity to sit in on one of their staff meetings and observed they had a leadership and frontline relationship that allowed open and candid dialog between subordinates and leadership. This dynamic allowed free flowing knowledge of the goings on in different districts including weaknesses and strengths openly discussed, as well as lessons learned and accountability. No shouting; no “ do this or else”. Just plain “this is what’s expected and when will it be done”. It was adaptive leadership at work.

What type of attributes do these officers possess that allow them to enthusiastically do the job in the environment and climate they do it in? How can we tap into that knowledge to better ourselves as a profession and take on our responsibilities with the same strategic and tactical mindset of these officers?

You do not have to be in Alaska to create and nurture this attitude and way of thinking, yet we can learn from that “5% mindset” and develop it through the attributes displayed by those fine Troopers in Alaska. The individual mindset that lured them to the last frontier and to do law enforcement work, combined with the environment and climate they work in has driven their ability to adapt and use their decision making abilities based on the ever-changing conditions they find themselves in. I thank them for the lessons they taught me as I was presenting material to improve on exactly what they are doing.

Below is a list of attributes I believe lead to adaptability and to desired outcomes in law enforcement. They can also help to create and nurture the 5% mindset. These attributes combined with skill development equals readiness and the ability to apply knowledge this is not an exhaustive list, rather the first that come to mind.

Add the attributes you feel are most important in the comments section below.

  • Strength of character
  • Decision maker
  • Self-reliant
  • Creative/innovator
  • Initiative driven
  • Accountability
  • Culturally aware
  • Adaptable
  • Honor
  • Integrity
  • Self sacrifice
  • Judgment
  • Craves knowledge
  • Teacher
  • Communicator

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