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 with Sergeants and officers of the Baltimore Police department presenting my “Deciding Under Pressure and Fast” workshop. The workshop teaches these leaders how to use the Adaptive Leadership Methodology (ALM) as it applies to law enforcement. This approach is currently spreading among several courses inside the U.S. Army under the new emerging training doctrine called Outcomes Based Training and Education (OBT&E). I must thank my good friend Lieutenant Fred Leland of the Walpo Police Department and Law Enforcement and Security Consulting (LESC.net) for his input on the law enforcement side, and for allowing me to teach a great workshop with him in March 2009 in his neck of the woods outside Boston, MA to numerous law enforcement representatives from throughout the northeast. I am also indebted to Mr. Adam Walinski and Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld III for his leadership in giving me this great opportunity to assist department in their evolution to deal with the complexity in law enforcement.
The 40-50 Baltimore police sergeants and officers, representing a diverse number of departments from traffic, homocide and SWAT, quickly assimilated into the focus of the workshop, how to develop subordinates to better handle complex situations without having to actually having to experience them for real. Although the term ‘adaptive leadership’ was new to them, they practice it daily on the streets of Baltimore. The Sergeants at the workshop are self starters who not only understand the meaning of initiative and adaptability; they practice it n the field. But, they soon discovered, as many attested, a new and effective, yet cheap way using tactical decision games and the art of facilitation on how to better develop their subordinates and themselves.
Interacting with this detachment of Sergeants 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. The workshop emphasized effective decision-making and adaptability through experiential learning. Experimentation comes first through the execution of Tactical Decision-Making Exercises (TDEs) followed by the officers briefing their decisions, plans or orders. After the officer explained him or herself and responded to criticism from their peers and me, the group executed an intense instructor-facilitated after-action review (AARs). The “teaching” was accomplished through AARs as the officers discovered for themselves the concepts and principles included in workshop’s outcomes.
The course consisted of two days. Day one was me facilitating the officers through a series of games so they can experience different techniques to develop adaptability while learning how to facilitate learning instead of lecturing. Day two consisted of the officers coming back and presenting their own TDEs to fellow officers while employing the various techniques they observed on day 1. This day was an overwhelming success as officers conducted TDEs on situations several in the audience said that they had never experienced in the field before.
The main tool used during the workshop is the Tactical Decision-Making Exercise. Each TDE consisted of a scenario summary and a map with graphics. I either handed out a printed copy of the scenario or issued it verbally to the officers, requiring them to listen closely and take notes. The TDEs were two types (1) immediate decision exercises that gave the officers only 30 seconds or a few minutes to make a decision and (2) planning exercises that are longer in duration and culminate in the briefing of orders. In either case, the officers were given limited time and limited information to make their decisions and to complete their plans. This induced stress and allowed them to discover for themselves that delaying decisions until one has “perfect intelligence” or to wait for “permission” is both unrealistic and ineffective.
As occurs on the street, ever-changing situations are the norm as use changing situations that required the officers to make new decisions. Several officers remarked that this approach to teaching inspired anxiety in the minds of those who have grown comfortable with their past methods of instruction. A common question remains “when do you teach the basics?” My response, as it has been with several Army Soldiers, particularly Sergeants Majors and First Sergeants when they ask the same thing is “Define the basics?” I always get twenty different answers, and I lecture on average of once per week, somewhere in the United States. My answer to them, and this has now been validated by the learning science of Dr. Robert Bjork of UCLA, that problem solving is the basic we should focus on with students.
When teaching a task, facilitate or guide the student the task in the context of problem solving.
In contrast, the vast majority of our learning is focused on task competency, which has short term benefits but discourages long term learning.
With ALM, law enforcement officers learned through immersion in several scenarios on day 1, and then on day 2, did a remarkable job presenting their own scenarios using the ALM method. Executing a TDE required them to deal with situations many had thought of, but never tried to solve, while also experiencing other assets. Conducting a security check or traffic stop, an officer will learn not only the principles behind doing his daily task, but they also learn about a vast array of other assets at their disposal in case they may have to use them. Without a single PowerPoint slide or lecture, the Baltimore police learned several complex tactical solutions from the vast amount of experience in the room of 40-50 officers. The immersion in the scenario kept the officers mentally engaged in the class, and invariably resulted in higher levels of enthusiasm and better learning; which now, they can use with their peers and subordinates.