Colonel John Bolduc is the Superintendent of Law Enforcement and Public Safety for the Nebraska State Patrol. He leads a massive group of officers and shared six behaviors he has found effective for leading employees.
Michael: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. Any commitment to safety and health in a workplace starts at the top. Changes in company culture, policy, and goals all start with leadership. This episode will focus on behaviors that leaders can do to better enable their employees success, their company’s success, and employee wellbeing.
Colonel Bolduc: Leadership is facilitating the success of others.
Michael: Colonel John Bolduc is the Superintendent of Law Enforcement and Public Safety for the Nebraska State Patrol. Colonel Bolduc has worked in numerous law enforcement organizations at various positions for over 30 years.
Colonel Bolduc: Leaders need to make sure that the folks that they’re leading are succeeding at whatever their mission is, whatever their task is.
Michael: Leaders need to be acutely aware of their employees’ needs, and this requires a high degree of communication. Without it an organization cannot know how they are or are not succeeding, and can’t understand what problems may or may not exist.
Colonel Bolduc: Communication is essential to understanding, and we all have heard the analogy “We have two ears and one mouth. So, let’s use the ears more than the mouth”. To be a good communicator you have to be a good listener. And that’s really important whether you’re leading a small team of several people or several hundred people. The best thing that we can do as leaders is clearly communicate expectations. We do that through policy. We do that through written communication. We do that through management by walking around. We encourage people, especially catch them doing the right things and reinforce it and encourage that.
Michael: Leaders have the ability to mobilize people, funding, and expertise towards organizational values like Total Worker Health. If an organization wants to create a safer culture a leader can commit resources, create multidepartment teams, and reinforce positive employee behaviors.
Colonel Bolduc: So, it doesn’t matter if you’re producing widgets, if you’re providing a service, if you’re an educator, or if you are in health care, your organization is based on a set of values. Some of your values might be customer service, hard work, honesty, diligence, you know all of these virtues that that exist in every organization, right. But if we operate outside of those values, we are not aligning our behaviors and systems.
Michael: Whether it’s listening intently or modifying behaviors, everything a leader does communicates the values of that organization. It is a leader’s job to align themselves and the workplace with those values. Colonel Bolduc singled out 6 behaviors that he thinks leaders need to exhibit in order to do that. The first one being listening to understand.
Colonel Bolduc: Listen to understand. Sometimes you have to find out what is the story behind the story. This takes time. This can be exhausting, right? Listen to understand. Otherwise, it’s just information received. Blah, blah, blah. You’re telling me something. Write it down, great. Next. That’s not empathic listening. OK, you have to really understand what is the issue before we launch into problem solving mode, and men particularly are notorious for this. My wife problem, problem, problem and. OK, well, here’s what you got to do. That’s not what she’s asking. She’s just asking me to listen. Right. She’s not asking me to solve the problem, right. Same thing with our teammates at work. Right. Sometimes it takes a lot of discernment to know the difference. Are you asking me to problem solve or are you asking me to listen? Sometimes I’ll do just that. I’ll go “ok do you want me to help you solve this or you want me to just kind of listen and try to understand what you’re going through”. Sometimes as simple as that, right.
Michael: It is much easier to know what an employee’s needs are through talking with them, then it is to guess at their needs. A leader should know the health and safety risks in their workplace without being in the employee’s shoes. That cannot happen without listening to them. Another behavior leaders must exhibit is empowering their employees to be successful.
Colonel Bolduc: We empower others. A common culture, which I refer to it as somebody who is just a boss, they have to control things. They have to micromanage things. Now, you might have somebody who doesn’t know how to do the job because they’re new or they just got promoted or they’re embarking on a new mission and they don’t know how to do it, right. So, we empower them, and how we do that is we arm them with the right information. Here’s the policy. Here’s the system. And then we train them. And then we let them make mistakes and we let them try and fail and learn from those mistakes. That’s called empowerment. We want to empower people to be successful, not just tell them what to do. Robots can do that. My dog can do that. I teach him fetch he fetches, right. It’s an exchange. But a leader will empower others to succeed on their own, not just direct them. And there’s plenty of people who will be happy to just be directed. “Just tell me what to do, boss, and I’ll just go do it”. Lots of people will do that, right, but that’s not helping them succeed. That’s not helping them grow.
Michael: By empowering others, that leader is communicating trust as well as giving them an expectation. Every employee wants to feel trusted and respected by their workplace, and by empowering them to do the job and make mistakes a leader can communicate trust. The third behavior Colonel Bolduc suggests is encourage employees to know their role.
Colonel Bolduc: Encourage your folks to know their role, which is far different than know your place, right. In an organization like ours, very chain of command, paramilitary. You’ll talk to your sergeant. If that doesn’t work, talk to your Lieutenant, talk to your captain, talk to your major. By the time they get to me, it’s six months old and the problem has just gotten worse, right. So, forget about this know your place business. I mean, yeah, we have a chain of command and it’s there for a reason. It creates some efficiency. But it’s more important to understand the clear roles than to say, well, you can’t do this and you can’t do this. We have all these informal rules that dictate behavior and that goes back to culture. Right. So, we try to be open door. Anybody can come and talk to me if they want. And it’s taken a long time to kind of break down that habit of like nobody talks to the boss. OK, well then how does the boss- how does he or her really know what’s going on in the organization if nobody will talk to them because we have these historical barriers in the way.
Michael: When everyone can communicate with each other that does not mean that workers can make final decisions or that they get constant contact with upper management. Only that when there is something that a leader needs to know about, the employees feel open about approaching them. Leaders need to communicate to employees what their role is and make sure not to close down communication between the top and bottom. Another important behavior leaders must have is ownership of their words and actions.
Colonel Bolduc: Ownership. Really important for you leaders. Every boss has a boss. I say that. That’s one of my phrases. I have a lot of corny phrases, right. Most of them come from Minnesota. Don’t feed the bears. That’s a different one, but. If you’re if you’re just taking the leadership message; the boss makes a decision, and we have to make decisions every day, “we’re going to do X instead of Y”, and you go deliver the message to your team. “Now the idiot in the corner office wants us to do X. I think we should do Y, but they’re the boss”. No, that’s not leadership. That’s actually forfeiting your positional power, right. That’s forfeiting your responsibility. You should be able to have disagreements with the boss, right. And say, I really think we should do y and here’s why. And the boss says we should do X and this is why. And that’s just a difference of philosophy, a difference of opinion. But when you have to go back and deliver that message, you’re forfeiting your leadership authority if you are just the messenger, right. I had this hard conversation with a lot of folks throughout my career is you need to own the message. And if I go and say, you know, that same old thing, “well, I’m just the messenger”, you know, it really undermines the decision that’s been made, the credibility of the person making the decision and even my own credibility. We have to own the challenges, we have to own the messaging, even when it’s not pretty, when we have to fire somebody or heaven forbid, we’ve even had law enforcement officers get indicted and jailed for committing crimes. Who goes and delivers that message? I do. It’s not pretty. Who fires people? I do. I do it face to face. I don’t do it over Skype. I don’t do it over the phone. It’s face to face. Those are hard things. But we have to we have to own those as leaders.
Michael: Leaders need to be able to take responsibility. To a degree the workplace is a reflection of its leader, and that leader needs to take responsibility for themselves, for their employees, and for their workplace. The firth leadership behavior Bolduc points out is the importance of follow up. Relentless follow up.
Colonel Bolduc: Relentless follow up. We have this term I got from my friend who’s in the Marines, he says “you inspect what you expect”, right? That’s relentless follow up. Don’t just assume that things are getting done. And again, is that it’s not the same as micromanaging, but it’s checking up on things, making sure that people have what they need to be successful, right. And the opposite of that would be let the game come to you. Ahhhh it will take care of itself, right. Well, I gave it to Bill. Bill is going to make sure it gets done. Well, maybe Bill’s wife is sick and his attention is divided and he’s not getting it done, right. If I’m just waiting around and things are gonna fall through the cracks, right. So relentless follow up. Let’s make sure that the tasks are getting done.
Michael: There is a fine line between checking in and not trusting the employees to finish tasks. Check-in is about making sure employees are able to complete their tasks. They maintain autonomy and the trust of their supervisor. That supervisor may have resources to support that employee. Or the employee might be struggling with a musculoskeletal problem right now and can’t finish something on time. Follow up communicates direct support and commitment to getting work done. It can be very beneficial as long as it does not lead to micromanaging. Finally, leaders need to do what they say, or as Colonel Bolduc puts it “walk the talk”.
Colonel Bolduc: And, of course, walk the talk. Be here on time. Work hard. Give me an honest day’s effort for an honest day’s pay. And if you don’t walk that, that’s called situational ethics. People will get caught more than what is taught, right. They see from their experience if their bosses are walking the talk, right. Treat everybody with dignity and respect. Be courteous, don’t lose your cool. And if you do, don’t let it show. And if you blow up at somebody for making a mistake, they’re like “well, that doesn’t match up with what they taught” it undermines credibility when you do that. So walk the talk.
Michael: Leaders doing what they say they are going to do. That communicates competence and integrity. Walking the talk along with the other leadership behaviors discussed creates leadership that is not only focused on getting the work done, but on hearing the employees and understanding their needs as well. Of course, leaders should know what is and isn’t being completed, but the even the Colonel of the Nebraska State Troopers is more concerned with the relationships he has with his employees rather than business.
Colonel Bolduc: Leadership is about relationships. You’ve heard it said that people will remember how you made them feel. Right. If the only time I show up I’m there to talk about a problem, then what stigma is gonna be attached to that? You know, “oh oh, somebody’s in trouble.” So, I try to not do that as much as possible, and just try to keep it on a relational level. And if somebody wants to talk about business by all means. I love talking business, but if we talk nuts and bolts of the job every day, they’re going to get worn out by that. So, make it so that a trip to the boss’s office isn’t just when you’re going to get handed your pink slip. It should be really focused on that relational aspect.
Michael: Workplace Matters is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. To listen to more podcasts, view our ongoing video series, or for more information about us visit Healthier Workforce Center (dot) org. Thank you.
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