[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
The Adaptive Leadership Handbook is an unusual book. It is a work about thinking for men and women of action. It is an argument about learning for people whose professional life is governed by their training. Finally, it is a call for dynamic reflection for those accustomed to following proper procedure. The authors have written a guide to reinventing an organization’s institutional epistemology, the “cognitive culture” in which high stakes decisions are made, how challenges are met and the standards by which outcomes are judged. They are well qualified to make their case:
Fred Leland, a police lieutenant, former sheriff’s deputy and Marine “….is the Founder and Principal Trainer of LESC: Law Enforcement & Security Consulting and a certified instructor. He specializes in homeland security exercise and evaluation programs (HSEEP), red teaming, ongoing deadly action (active shootings), handling dynamic and violent encounters, recognizing the signs and signals of danger(body language), police operational art, use of force, and decision making under pressure. He develops leaders with the adaptive leadership methodology. His focus is translating theory to practice and facilitating training workshops to law enforcement, military, public and private, campus and university security professionals, in an effort to continually improve officer safety and effectiveness.”
Don Vandergriff is a retired Army major, military consultant, a nationally regarded trainer on leadership development and adaptive decision game methodology, well-regarded author on military affairs whose works include Raising the Bar (required reading at West Point), The Path to Victory and Manning the Future Legions of the United States. For much of the past year Don has been working in Afghanistan, teaching some of what the book is preaching.
I have also had the pleasure of seeing both authors presenting and conducting exercises at Boyd & Beyond conferences and can recommend them strongly. On to the review….
First of all, who is the intended audience for Adaptive Leadership Handbook? Who would benefit from reading it?
1. Any law enforcement personnel at any level – Federal, State, county or municipal. The book has been written with the perspective and problems of their field in mind.
2. Security professionals, private or public, who provide supplementary or complementary services to law enforcement, public safety, government agencies, corporations or individuals
3. First responders other than law enforcement
4. Military personnel who will be engaged in humanitarian relief deployments or constabulary duties among foreign civilian populations in conflict zones or National Guardsmen who might be assigned to disaster relief or civil disorder operations at home.
5. Academics and journalists who study law enforcement and security issues or MOOTW, FID and COIN
6. Anyone struggling to reconcile ongoing development of a genuinely professional culture within a bureaucratic-political context
As a reviewer, I fall primarily into categories 6 and 5, so in terms of details, as an outsider, reading the book for me was also a window into the world of professional policing and procedure, especially in terms of making good tactical decisions in real life situations. While for a police officer the authors are discussing familiar scenarios that go to the heart of the law enforcement profession’s work on the street, for me these were illuminating vignettes. Police facing uncooperative or indecisive or mentally ill suspects, active shooter scenarios, the traffic stop gone bad, possible suicidal individuals and intoxicated parties to a domestic dispute are among the examples used to illustrate how officers can adapt tactically or suffer the consequences if they fail to do so. Each scenario is analyzed with a view not just to alternative tactics but alternative ways to think differently to respond more effectively.
Drawing on thinkers as diverse as Gary Klein, John Boyd, Clausewitz, John Poole, Sid Heal , Hans von Seeckt, Paul Van Riper, Sun Tzu and Heraclitus, the thrust of Adaptive Leadership Handbook is the authors attempt to bring police officers beyond the culture of ingrained procedure and rote training methods who react to situations into oriented, intuitive decision-makers and learning, thinking, reflective professionals. A shift of tactical mentality from “Go get him” to “Set him up to get him with an adaptive response” A variety of methods are advocated to be used regularly in order to cultivate adaptive leaders – After Action Reviews (AAR), Tactical Decision Games (TDG), Decision Making Critique (DMC) free play exercises, fingerspitzengefuhl, reading body language and pattern recognition. Some examples:
…..A flood of questions will come to mind in the heat of a violent encounter. My point is, the questions will be there but the answers will come in a form of judgment – implicit and intuitive decisions based on your experience and training.
Attention to detail is not the sole answer in the non-linear world of violence. Instead, it’s paying attention to detail that has meaning in the heat of the moment. [p.143]
….Can those of us involved in extreme situations where life and death are at stake actually make decisions without thinking, without analyzing options, intuitively?
The answer is clearly yes.
Dr. Gary Klein in his research of cognitive development talks about making decisions under pressure in what he describes as “Recognition-Primed Decision Making”. What Klein found working with the united States marine Corps, Emergency workers and Businesses across the country was, “It was not that commanders were refusing to compare options. I had become so fixated on what they were not doing that I had missed the real finding: that the commanders could come up with a good course of action from the start. That is what the stories were telling us. Even when faced with a complex situation, the commanders could see it as familiar and know how to react. [….] the commanders secret was that their experience let them see a situation, even a non-routine one, as an example of a prototype, so they knew the typical course of action right away. Their experience let them identify a reasonable reaction as the first one they considered, so they did not bother thinking of others. They were not being perverse. They were being skillful.” [p. 89]
With an adversary who says NO and takes action to thwart our efforts we will always have to be prepared to use our awareness, insight imagination and initiative applying the science and art of tactics, operationally, while striving ouselves to overcome the effects of friction, while interacting with an adversary. We must attempt at the same time to raise our adversary’s friction to a level that weakens his ability to fight. This interplay is necessary in an effort to shape and reshape the climate of a situation and win without fighting if possible.
Leland and Vandergriff are aiming at reshaping police organizations cognitive culture to permit decentralized decision-making as close to the problem on the street as possible, with officers confident and capable of taking the initiative and exercising good judgment in the context of circumstances. This entails a reframing of procedures from rules to tools, from being directions to being a map or template for independent decision making. A shift on the spectrum from training toward learning to make each officer more effective and more adaptive.