Negative Attitudes Destroy Them with True Leadership…and Mutual Trust | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

Submitted by Fred on Thu, 03/22/2007 – 9:05pm.

Law Enforcement & Security Consulting Inc

Negative Attitudes

Destroy them with True Leadership and Mutual Trust

By Fred Leland and Maria Gonzalez

Plan an advantage by listening. Adjust to the situation. Get assistance from the outside. Influence events. Then planning can find opportunities and give you control.

~ Sun Tzu The Art Of War

We protection professional’s cops, security officers, and  those that do diplomatic and executive protection, as well as the military, have an important role in protecting and serving the citizens of this country. Doing this and keeping a healthy attitude can be at times tough, I have seen the negative attitude rear its ugliness throughout our professions to what I call epidemic proportions. Cooperation amongst ourselves at all levels of the organization is influenced by the attitude we individually and collectively possess.  It has come to my attention, rather slowly, but very obviously that this negative attitude, can greatly affect our decisions we make in critical situations. Officer safety which is preached by just about every professional in our fields is jeopardized or enhanced by the attitudes we keep. We all want good results in life personally and professionally. It is what helps us feel good about ourselves and gives us the drive to keep moving forward to reach our daily life goals.

In this article I will discuss what Earl Nightingale called the magic word; Attitude this is the one word that is instrumental in creating the results of our actions. In our fields we heard the word attitude described as mindset, morale, or the winning mind. What real role does attitude play to our decision making, our success and our safety in the protection professional fields of law enforcement, security and the military? 

Attitude is defined as the position or bearing advocating our actions or moods. A healthy attitude is what it takes to get results in the protection professional fields. Yet as time and experience go on in our professions negative attitudes become prevalent and impact the results of our work, our professional standards and in our safety on the street.

I am lucky enough to teach about 1,000 veteran police officers during in-service training and I train security professional in the private sector. I have conducted an informal and unscientific survey on attitude in law enforcement and security. I simply ask veteran officers in class are the attitudes in your organization more positive or more negative? The answer I receive each week is a unanimous negative. I have not had any officer participating in my class ever respond the organizational attitude is positive. I was not surprised that the answer of negative was prevalent, but unanimous, did take me by surprise.

The questions that I have been musing over with, is: Why is it that we do not see the positive side of what we do?  And if we do, How come we do not have a positive attitude that is more prevalent in our organization?    I am writing about this topic and how attitude relates to our professions as a whole or organizational climate and understand that the difference in individual attitudes, varies throughout. I am also keeping the topic as it relates to protection professionals and understand fully that this issue may be prevalent in other professions as well.

Description of the Problem

The attitude we are about to discuss here shows itself in several ways. Here is a list of a few obvious signs the climate in your organization is negative taken from the book “Leadership When the Heat Is On” by Danny Cox.

Uncooperative Attitudes

  • Detectable the moment you approach team member.
  • Something is wrong even if you cannot put finger on it immediately
  • Reluctance or being imposed on obvious indicator

Lack of Enthusiasm

  • Pervasive sense of Boredom

Absence of Commitment

  • Absence of commitment about what the organization is supposed to be doing, chances are good the same opinions reflected in organizations leadership!
  • Host of problems if leadership not committed.
    • Incorrect assignment matching

Fault Finding

  • People not happy tend to find fault in anything, everything and everybody.
  • High morale organization, even mistakes are not dwelled upon.
    • Low morale organization, even great victories are picked apart

Increasing Complaints

  • Complaining seems to be a favorite activity, you can hear that folks in the organization are not having a good time.
  • (CHALLENGE) Show me a happy complainer!
  • Usually takes place quietly out of the leader’s earshot. By the time it’s noticed by less than alert leader it can be serious.

Growing tardiness and absenteeism

  • Blatant tardiness and absenteeism are generally grounds for termination and at least an overt disciplinary problem requiring immediate attention.
  • However if tardiness and absenteeism appear to the leader to be on the increase could be a subtle sign or indication morale is slipping.

Deterioration in the appearance of the work area

  • Some very creative and productive people don’t keep their work space very neat.
  • How is a leader supposed to know when change in the appearance of the work area indicates erosion of morale?
  • Leader must know his/her people!

Breakdown in discipline

  • The key word again is CHANGE when discipline breaks down.
  • Normal range of fluctuation in all things, and the effective leader will have a sense of how an organization operates on its best and worst days.
    • If leader sees breakdown in discipline. START CHECKING for reasons WHY?

Long Faces

    • Physical discomfort due to illness
    • Emotional discomfort due to family tension

Leaders concern should be limited primarily to how individual’s attitude affects his/her performance and the performance of others. Good leaders have relationships established with each team member. This goes a long way toward diagnosing when change in attitude requires attention.

When low morale becomes a rallying point

  • When people in organization begin to talk about how lousy it is to work there and reach a general consensus on the topic!

Obviously interrupting these signs is critical. You will probably never encounter just one sign of low morale or negative attitudes. When morale is strained and the negative attitudes prevalent there will probably be a combination of indicators. We must become very good at interrupting the signs of low morale. It comes from experience and what you know about individuals in your organization will give you a head start.


Detecting the warning signs is only the beginning. To fully address the morale issue, an effective leader must understand what causes morale to start taking a dive. Why is it the negative attitude so prevalent in our profession? The answers I receive are; the job and what we see and deal with creates the negativity. Others say its not the job itself but what we do to ourselves that gets you; the internal bickering, politics, lack of support and complaints filed over seemingly insignificant issues and being treated as guilty till proven innocent that sets the mood for miss-trust and negative attitudes.

These are the most talked about issues in class and sadly I have to say although disturbed by the realization, I understand the feelings and why the attitudes of so many of us turn negative. I feel this is a serious problem because attitude greatly affects our wellbeing mentally, physically at home and on the street. Here is a more detailed list of causes of low morale and poor attitudes;

  • When people don’t understand their jobs

  • Unrealistic or constantly changing goals
  • Poor Communications which can take the form of:
    • Inaccessible or absentee management
    • Erratic or inconsistent discipline
  • Being thought of as a number
  • A manager’s lack of growth as a leader
  • Over inflated organizational structure and overstaffing
  • Poor psychological work environment
  • When management isn’t people oriented
  • When training isn’t adequate
  • Lack of Leadership

    “You must control your soldiers with esprit de corps.

    You must bring them together by winning victories.

    You must get them to believe in you.” ~Sun Tzu

    The Art of War

    It is apparent to me from researching this problem that the responsibility or at least a big part of negative attitudes in the protection professional fields falls squarely on the shoulders of today’s leaders. Yes individual attitude and self pride is a critical aspect of personal motivation and dedication to our profession and I understand that there are the 20% who no matter what efforts in the art of leadership to inspire are made will not go along with the program. Them I do not want to discuss basically they are not worth our time in this article. What I do want to discuss are those who do care, do have pride and came into this job with a willingness to help others and somehow are burnt not by the outside stresses of dealing with violence and the bad guys so much as, the internal lack of support from those in charge. What effects does it have on surviving street encounters we face where proper attitude and alertness is critical to dealing with today’s threats and winning.

    I have just read an outstanding article by Chuck Remsberg published in Police magazine titled: “Are We Breeding a Police Culture of Additional Victims” because we feel as though we are not going to be supported from above. In the article he discusses an officer’s unwillingness to use force when it’s necessary and sites some examples: A plainclothes officer is being slashed in the face and neck during a ground fight with a knife wielding suspect. Under a life threatening attack, he hands his gun to another officer because “he is afraid he’ll discharge the weapon accidentally” during the struggle. He gets praised by the media for “showing restraint.’

    From the same article a second example: Another officer responds to a man with a gun call at a food mart, sees the suspect with a gun in hand but stays in her patrol car. The suspect grabs a citizen whom he forces to the ground at gunpoint. The officer fails to intervene. The suspect murders the captive by shooting him in the head, while no action is taking by the officer who is “officially observing” Responding back up finally arrives and kills the offender.

    Question; are we breeding this type of culture as discussed in this article? If so why are we? My opinion is yes we are indeed breeding this culture in our professions and the number one reason in my view is lack of leadership. I do not apologize for my beliefs which are based on working the street and working with cops for 20 years. Chuck Remsberg talks of life and death situations which cannot be a more critical time where support and trust, or better yet mutual trust need to be established beforehand so critical intuitive decisions can be made.

    I see an even deeper problem where professionals are afraid to do there jobs because of fear of losing them, or fear of being sued or reprimanded handling basic calls or investigations. Street cops are expected to take verbal and physical abuse with no tactical response other than yes sir, no sir, have a nice day sir response. I think we have gone to far in dealing with complaints from those we protect. Do not get me wrong here. I am not saying we do nothing about a legitimate complaint where someone in our ranks has gone over the top in his/her response and has violated or abused the position they hold, but what I am taking about is we need to understand that when your duty is to protect and serve, there will be legitimate disputes between those we serve and those of us looking to protect. Innocent people will be encountered because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time and questions will be asked as to who, what, where when and why they are there? Because its part of what we do to get results in a job where lives may be at stake. Most of these people will cooperate because they understand what it is we do. Some will respond negatively and become verbally abusive and we will respond strategically and tactically to gain control and take the initiative. Leaders in our professions must understand this dynamic and stand up for those doing a tough job, even when the heat is on.

    However and all to common when a verbal altercation takes place, which is part of dealing with difficult people on the street, a full fledged internal investigation on the incident will take place. When it could be simply settled by asking the officer involved describing the incident, and why the officer had to take the initiative as he did due to the circumstances.  Also questions are asked of the person complaining and based on all information obtained a resolution or understanding is come to. Not every disagreement warrants a complaint investigation and disciplinary action is the point. 

    This type of administrative response to insignificant verbal exchanges on the street has an affect on the overall attitudes of individual officers which in turn affect the overall organizational climate. Which in the end reflects on the organization in the community or with the clients you are to protect? It breeds a climate where those charged with certain duties will only do what they are asked or ordered to do, and take no initiative to do more, do a better job, which in my view is a poor climate for those of us where critical decisions and initiative are critical to protecting and serving.


    “People reflect back the attitude we present” Earl Nightingale stated in his book titled lead the field. There is a cause and effect to how we handle people and their circumstances. This affect takes place both inside the walls of your organization and those we serve outside. If you are a leader this does apply to your men and woman.  

    Let’s look at a couple of examples:

  1. You are an officer called into your internal affairs office over a complaint filed on you. You walk in and are ordered to write a report on the contact you had the other night in which you had a verbal altercation with the subject. You ask; what is the complaint about? The internal investigator responds “just write the report then we will talk”.
  2. You are an officer called into you internal affairs office over a complaint filed on you. You walk in and the internal investigator tells you to grab a seat. And then he made the following statement “Look I have received a complaint in regards to the stop you had the other night.  The complaint says you called him “this and that” is that true?. You respond by telling him what happened and he then tells you based on what you have stated whether or not the investigation will continue and what the potential outcome could be. He then tells you to file a report.

These are two simple examples I use but they are examples handled differently and based on how they are handled by an administration can be extremely critical to not only the moral of the officer involved but to department wide morale.

In example one, the investigator gives the impression that you are on the hot seat or in trouble. He gives you nothing and wants everything from you. He looks at you not as a cop who may have had a disagreement and words with someone on the street (that does not happen in police work, does it?) He gives the impression he does not trust you, does not believe you have the integrity to own up to or to tell him straight it did or did not happen. Your left feeling, I have to write a report, and do not even know the issue of what the complaint against me is. This type of action by administrations or those acting on administrations behalf are detrimental to the attitude in the department or organization.

In the second short scenario you are given the benefit of the doubt by the investigator and given information on the complaint filed. You can simply tell the investigator what happened based on an informed decision from information he gave you. If you did nothing wrong you say so. If you got firm and had to use language and demeanor to control the circumstances you say so. If you got hot under the collar unjustifiably you stand up and say so. You take the hit and move on.

Most officers can accept remedial training or punishment if the circumstances clearly warrant it. They can accept secrecy or deception if there is a serious investigation, and the officer is accused of a more serious offense such as criminal investigation on an individual or group of officers. What they cannot and will not tolerate positively is the feeling real or perceived that they are being treated differently and unfairly by an administration for less than honorable reasons. (i.e. political gain, no courage to take a stand) Leaders must lead, are needed to lead when the “heat is on” if not your not leading at all but in a position taking up space which would be better suited for someone else. Protection professionals have a tough job and to paraphrase Col. John Boyd you can “Be something or Do something” something to make a difference in those we serve and those that provide the service. The choice is yours.

So it is critical to developing and maintaining a positive organizationally attitude based on these two scenarios those administrations or those acting on their behalf as internal investigation units handle investigation s fairly based on the circumstances. It is my belief that actions such as those described above will increase a positive attitude in the work, once started it will spread quickly throughout.

Let’s look at another example;

  1. You handle a domestic call for services that turns violent upon your arrival a large gentleman charges you with a large knife in his hand. As you back away, while shouting “drop the knife, Drop the knife” you are drawing your firearm, the subject does not stop and you can back no further, you fire and the subject goes down. The threat is stopped. You call for back up, render aid and officer respond to assist. Responding officer makes the comment “What did you do? Back at the station over the next few weeks and months gossip and rumors on how the officer handle the situation correctly or incorrectly were argued over and over. By officers who were not there at the time the shot was fired. Even after an independent review by the District Attorney’s office cleared the officer the next day. The officer involved in this real life scenario has had difficulty dealing with going back to work not because of administration, but because of fellow officers being critical in a time when they should have been supportive.  Constructive criticism in the form of a debrief or after action review is easily understood and even instrumental in an officers mental attitude, but rumors and outright gossip should not be tolerated by any officer or administrator.

How does this affect the attitude of the officer involved in this situation and the organization? It affects their attitude greatly and in this scenario the results were very negative.  Year’s later the department is divided and morale is low.

Let’s look at a more positive result of an officer involved shooting in this next example.

  1. You respond as part of a team to an armed barricaded subject call. You are the sniper on this call and set up to make observations and take the shot if necessary. The negotiators are on scene and attempt to negotiate with the subject. Within a short period of time the subject begins to make threats and eventually you see him come to a door with rifle in his hands. The subject takes a solid shooting stance, puts the rifle to his cheek, removes the safety, and turns it towards fellow team members, placing them in jeopardy. You shoot, subject is down. You announce shot fired subject down. The arrest team moves in and control is gained and maintained.

In this scenario the officer involved was brought to a secure area and treated with the attitude and sensitivity needed for the officer to win the mental battles to come. He was highly trained and understands all aspects of conflict the mental, moral and physical. His team from those in charge to those fellow team members is also highly trained and also understands how to handle this type of situation even though it was their first team shooting. There was debrief of officers involved individually and a few days later, an after action review and group debrief was conducted. The way this was handled contrast greatly to the example above and I believe it has had great impact on the team and the individual officer who has had nothing but support from his team members.

Critical Results Based on Attitude

Does attitude affect decision making in the field? Obviously the answer is yes. If you are in a positive frame of mind and are presented a set of circumstances you make clear observations that tell you something, this good, bad, or unknown? Based on this you make clear decisions and take action based on an informed decision because you are mentally attuned to your situation.

On the other hand if you possess a negative attitude, you will not be focused on the tasks at hand. Some will say that you just turn on the proper attitude when the time comes to act? This will be the wrong answer. It is my opinion that you need to be in a “relaxed” state of awareness whether on or off duty coupled with a positive mind set to win. Otherwise you will get caught off guard and will fail to respond appropriately. 


“Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare to attack a lion.  Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely.” ~ 19th century French colonel Ardant du Picq

Leadership is a critical component of a solution to this problem of negative attitudes we must develop mutual trust in our organizations if we are to handle the threats we are faced with. One way to begin is simply standing up for your men and woman with a fair response to circumstances that take place on the street. When the heat is on it is time to exercise our leadership in way that is fair and demonstrates a sincere look into both sides of the circumstances. Not only what the political aspects of the circumstances are but what is right based on what it is we do. Most people we deal with cooperate, some are difficult yet after a discussion and an officer seeking tactical advantage they cooperate, a small percentage will use deception and seek advantage in an attempt to harm officers unprepared due to lack of trust in their administrations. Let’s fix this attitude by having the moral courage as leaders to do what is right to take the steps of developing our people so they are prepared mentally, morally and physically to handle the duties they are charged with carrying out. The least we can do is fairly back them up by speaking the truth about how we handle encounters.

On the other side of the discussion we must trust our men and woman to do their jobs to the fullest of there capabilities and we must provide them with the proper training and support so that intuitive decisions are made with little supervision and foster initiative . Trusting one another is what is needed in our professions. Jonathan Shay in his study on unit cohesion stated “Trust more importantly Mutual Trust is critical to surviving and coping with the environment.” With dynamics of conflict that are time competitive, full of uncertainty, unknowns and friction, Mutual trust is critical to assuring success.

William James the founder of psychology stated that; “Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude in mind.” It starts with the individual so lets think about changing something in ourselves no matter what your position is in your organization recognize that your attitude not only affects you, it affects those around you. We owe it to ourselves and to those we serve and remember in the field of protection failure to have a positive attitude can be very costly so “failure is not an option.”

“He whose ranks are united in purpose will be victorious.” ~ Sun Tzu The Art of War


In addition to the references bellow I would like to mention the names in the training realm that have influenced my career and methods of training. Anything written here is influenced in some way by these organizations and people, some I have met personally some I have never had the pleasure of meeting but they all have had great influence on leadership and survival in the protection professional fields.

The Strategy and Tactics of Col. John Boyd USAF &

Sun Tzu the Art of War, Gary Gagliardi translations &

The United States Serviceman their dedication and sacrifices to this great country and others around the world has always inspired and influenced my life.

Law Enforcement and Security officers who have dedicated their lives to protecting and serving the citizens of the
United States of America

United States Marine Corps “SEMPER FIDELIS”

International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors

Massachusetts Police Training Committee

Federal Bureau of
Investigation National Academy

National Tactical Officers Association 

LT. COL. DAVE GROSSMAN, U.S. Army (Ret.) Director, Killology Research Group,  

Poole, John The Last Hundred Yards – The NCOs Contribution to Warfare   

Bruce Siddle, Sharpening the Warriors Edge

Gabe Suarez, Suarez International  

Chet Richards, Defense and National Interest (  web-site dedicated to Boyd)

Robert Taubert IACSP Tactical Advisor

Smith and Wesson Academy


American Society of Industrial Security


Danny Cox with John
Hoover Leadership When the Heat is on, McGraw-Hill Inc 2002

Gary (2004) Sun Tzu’s The Art of War plus the Warrior Class Clearbridge Publishing

Are We Breeding A Police Culture of Additional Victims, Remsberg, Chuck Police Marksman magazine volume XXXII January/February 2007

Trust Study Dr. Jonathan Shay

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