We talked with Dr. Michael Roberto, a Professor of Management and Leadership at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI. He joined the tenured faculty at Bryant after serving on the faculty at Harvard Business School.
Professor Roberto published Unlocking Creativity and wrote two previous books: Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes For An Answer and Know What You Don’t Know. Dr. Professor Roberto also has created three audio/video lecture series for The Great Courses: The Art of Critical Decision Making, Transformational Leadership, and Critical Business Skills: Strategy.
Professor Roberto has taught in the leadership development programs and consulted at a number of firms including Mars, Deloitte, Google, Target, Apple, FedEx, Disney, Morgan Stanley, IBM, and Wal-Mart. He’s also presented at numerous government organizations including the FBI, NASA, Joint Special Operations Command, the Air War College, and West Point.
We talk about policing, leadership and mission. This was a great chat with a dynamic facilitator.
#MikeRoberto #BryantUniversity #leadership #police #TheCopDocPodcast #SteveMorrele #WorcesterStateUniversity
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If you'd like to arrange for facilitated training, or consulting, or talk about steps you might take to improve your leadership and help in your quest for promotion, contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org
[00:00:20.320] - Intro
Welcome to The CopDoc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The CopDoc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing communities, academia, and other government agencies. And now please join Dr. Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The CopDoc Podcast.
[00:00:49.150] - Steve Morreale
Well, hello, everybody. This is Steve Morreale. Welcome back to The CopDoc Podcast. I'm coming to you from outside of Boston, and I have a colleague in Rhode Island, Mike Roberto. Dr. Mike Roberto from Bryant University. Good morning, Mike.
[00:01:01.590] - Mike Roberto
Morning, Steve. Great to be with you.
[00:01:03.230] - Steve Morreale
It is great to have you. You are a thought leader in my mind, and that's the reason I reached out for you. You've been teaching for an awfully long time at Harvard and at Bryant University down in Rhode Island. And you're the author of a couple of books. And I know we'll talk about them, but there are books that I use an awful lot when I'm teaching sergeants and lieutenants and captains and executive development work that I do. One of them is Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes For An Answer: Managing for conflict and consensus. And the other is Know What You Don't Know: How great leaders prevent problems before they happen. We're going to talk about those two things. But I also want to say, I just ordered, and you're costing me money, Michael, but I just ordered your newest book, which is not so new but is Unlocking Creativity. So please tell the audience about yourself, how you got involved in this and what your focus is when it talks about leadership and decision making and strategic management.
[00:01:59.790] - Mike Roberto
Sure, Steve. I'm a professor at Bryant, and I've been a faculty member here and earlier at Harvard Business School for more than 20 years now. I came to the academia from the private sector. I worked at General Dynamics in the nuclear submarine business, and then I worked at Staples in its early days as it was growing like a rocket chip really fast when Tom Stenberg, the founder, was CEO. But now my work focuses over the last two decades on how leaders make high stakes decisions and why well intentioned, very capable, experienced leaders and their teams make flawed decisions at times. And so I've come to study a lot of pretty serious failures, both in the public and the private sector realm, as well as in some other pretty interesting fields outside of business and the public sector. And the idea is to look at what can we do as leaders? What are some of the things we can do to become better equipped to make those tough decisions when there's ambiguous information, when the environment is changing around us pretty quickly, and when there's a lot of risk involved?
[00:03:04.090] - Steve Morreale
Well, so we talk about risk. Risk is a daily event and occurrence for police agencies. And that's the focus here. And I think I find it pretty fascinating that police departments are reluctant to change in a lot of ways. We like doing the way we've done things before. And yet the old saying, if we keep on doing what we've done before, we get the same results, it's insanity what the saying is. But I think when you think about Covid and what happened both in the business world and certainly in policing, that required some flexibility and some nimbleness and agility. And so those are case studies unto themselves. I would say, Mike, in terms of how companies and agencies had to react, what do you look at when you're seeing those kinds of things that people calling you to say? What the hell do we do here?
[00:03:58.370] - Mike Roberto
Yeah, I think it's kind of interesting. I think a lot of organizations that were incredibly slow to change actually were forced to change because of Covid and pretty impressively adapted, whether it's police or whether it's businesses or universities who are the slowest of all organizations. We know that.
[00:04:15.550] - Steve Morreale
We know that.
[00:04:16.110] - Mike Roberto
Yes. And they were forced to adapt. Right. There was a great interview that was done with Corey Barry. She's the CEO of Best Buy, the big electronics retailer, and she talks about how when Covid hit, they had to shut every store across the United States. And then within 48 hours, they rolled out curbside pickup. And she said there's no way prep Pandemic we would have ever done that. We would have planned and we would have debated and deliberated and we would have had this slow roll out and we just turned on a dime. And it wasn't perfect, but we were willing to not be perfect and then just learn from our associates in the field quickly and then get better very quickly. So I think a lot of organizations did learn something during the Pandemic. Let's hope we don't regress back to our old ways once the Pandemic subsides. Right. That we keep a little bit of that nimble adaptable nature that we were forced to embrace during the pendant.
[00:05:11.880] - Mike Roberto
Well, think about that in terms of Best Buy. And certainly when we apply it to policing, police shut down their stations, don't come in, call us from outside. And more and more, that's what we saw. It was happening. And it wasn't just Best Buy, but it was so many other places that had curbside pickup. And two years later, we're still doing it. You go to Target, you can drive up, you go to your well, I suppose stop and shop allowed that to happen. Come on up. Curbside. It was a little bit early, but there are so many things we have learned. Talk about Zoom just meeting. I know meeting and how that broke down the need to travel to meetings. Although we're zoomed out, we have Zoom fatigue. I'm sure you do at times, but I think that we did gain some things. I like what you said, though, and I think that policing has a tendency to do exactly that. We tried something. We don't have to do it anymore. We'll revert back to the old way. How do you overcome that natural tendency that let's just go back to the way it was.
[00:06:12.830] - Mike Roberto
What I've been talking to organizations about is identifying. Let's take Zoom, for example. Let's take some of the things that we've been doing. Okay. So you want to go back to in person. I understand that. I want to teach in person. Right. I'm glad to be doing that again. But what are the elements that we want to keep instead of reverting back completely to where we were before? Let's think carefully about in what circumstances do some of the new ways of collaborating virtually still work? So as an example, as a teacher bringing in a CEO from halfway around the world to my class, I can't do that by asking them to fly to Smithfield, Rhode Island. But now with Zoom, my students are blown away by the guests that I can bring into class because it's so easy to do now. Right. So finding those opportunities to say, wait, some of the things that we did we should keep because there are things we could never have done before. Right. So don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Right. Think carefully about what you do want to use because there's some new added value from these very whether it's technology or new procedures we put in place.
[00:07:17.620] - Mike Roberto
Hey, some of those might actually be really useful to us.
[00:07:20.800] - Steve Morreale
It's interesting. Many years ago when I was starting to act or work on behalf of University of Limerick and Garda College, I actually did a presentation to the Garda College by Zoom. And it was the first introduction. They wanted to do it by Skype. And I found that no offense to Skype, but I found it a bit clunky and we were having some problems. They could hear me. I couldn't hear them, and vice versa. Zoom seemed to have a little bit more reliability, and we did that, and it brought the students behind me. And it was the very first time. And since then, I make the comment in faculty meetings that you don't have to bring people on campus and it will broaden your range, as you just said, from all over the world, just like this podcast, I'm talking to people from all over the world. So you've done some work at the FBI, you've done some work at other public institutions. Let's talk about leadership. And let me ask you directly, as a professor of leadership and management, are leaders born or are they made?
[00:08:25.310] - Mike Roberto
Well, as a professor of leadership, I sure hope they're made because I'm in trouble if they're just born and we can't change people. Look, some people have more natural leadership abilities. Let's not fool ourselves. Right. But we can enhance those. Right. And there's this mindset many people have heard about pioneering work by Carol Dewack at Stanford, the idea of a growth mindset. I'm a big believer in this, which says you don't have a fixed level of ability at birth that you can't change, but instead anyone can change and improve their ability. Yes, we have different innate levels that we are born with, but we can improve it. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, he kind of has coined his own way of thinking about that. He said the best leaders are learn it all, not know it alls.
[00:09:12.390] - Mike Roberto
Right. They're learning about everything about technology, but also about how to lead, how to make better decisions. So I think we can help do that as professors, as consultants, whatever it might be. But most importantly, people can help themselves. Right. There's a self-improvement. I'm always learning kind of mentality that I think the best leaders embrace in any field, public or private sector.
[00:09:36.690] - Steve Morreale
Yeah, I think you're right. I think one of the things that we have to try to help people recognize is the value of lifelong learning. And that's so helpful, Mike. I also want to say and by the way, we're talking to Mike Roberto. Dr. Mike Roberto, he is a professor of leadership and management at Bryant University. In terms of the applicability of leadership studies from the private sector to the public sector, in my estimation, we should not in policing, for example, we shouldn't be focusing only on people who are in policing because there are so many lessons you can learn from the insurance industry, from the medical industry, from business. And I'd like you to speak about that. Where's the value how do you interpret and adapt ideas from one sector to the other?
[00:10:29.610] - Mike Roberto
I think it's so important that we not restrict ourselves to only learning from the people in our own field. Right. And there's actually some really great research that shows that people learn more and better if they reach outside their own field.
[00:10:43.600] - Speaker 1
[00:10:43.870] - Mike Roberto
Because you're getting away from the conventional wisdom and you're looking and saying, wait, what can I learn from them? The key to that is that you have to recognize there are differences. Right. So you can't embrace the exact same techniques that you see at Google and then take it to your police Department. But what you can do is say, okay, wait, what are some principles there that I can learn from the way Google is doing things that I could adapt, transform, apply. So don't try to take something whole cloth from a totally different field but learn from it and figure out what piece of that might I embrace. That's what I try to get people to do. And I'll give you a great example of this. Right. So in health care, I've spent a lot of time looking at healthcare leadership. They have embraced a very cool set of practices from the aviation industry, military and civilian aviation, around a process called and a set of training called crew resource management, or CRM. And this was developed in aviation way back in the late Seventies, early 80s as a way to get pilots to behave differently and to work together and collaborate better to prevent accidents.
[00:11:47.160] - Mike Roberto
And this is how most people in aviation credit this was an incredible improvement in aviation safety. And what's happened in health care is they realize, wait, doctors in the operating room have a lot of the same challenges that pilots in the cockpit do and also some of the same problems that aviation had. Right. There's only one person closer to God on Earth than the captain on an airplane, and that's a cardiac surgeon. Right. And no one shall challenge either of those people. But that's not right. Yeah, there's problems. Right. Planes came down because people knew things were wrong and were afraid to tell the captain they were wrong. And the same was going on in surgery. And so now you go out to hospitals and they're not using CRM exactly the way it is in aviation, but they've created their own version of it, and it's having incredible positive benefits in reducing medical accidents and saving lives as a result.
[00:12:36.930] - Steve Morreale
That's interesting because unfortunately, with policing, you see, and I'm sure on the outside, you see that there are so many people who are willing to paint an entire industry with what I call a toxic brush, the same brush. And you don't see that in medical field, you don't see that somebody made a mistake and somebody killed somebody or somebody died as a result of a mistake that was made in the operating room. But you don't see us turning on doctors. We still need doctors. And that's unfortunate. But I begin to wonder, again, the transferability of those lessons. So let me take you back to a point where you're sitting in a classroom and you're trying to explain to people what the basic elements of leadership are, help talk the audience through those things. What should a prospective or current leader be thinking about as their responsibility as a leader?
[00:13:33.630] - Mike Roberto
I think first and foremost, a leader has to think about who is there. In business, we say, who's your customer? Right. In policing, it would be who's your constituent, right.
[00:13:46.510] - Steve Morreale
Mike, I'm going to interrupt you. I am trying to push the customer on the police field, because if not, then who are we talking about? You call, you need service, we're your customer. Sometimes the customer is going to end up in handcuffs. That's a very unusual circumstance. But I understand constituent who are the taxpayers, but who pays you? Who relies on you? So I'll agree with that.
[00:14:11.860] - Mike Roberto
Exactly. Who are you trying to serve? Right. And so it starts with that. A leader starts with who are you trying to serve? And then what kind of an organization, and what kind of people do I need in order to provide that service? And what am I going to do to make sure I lay out a very clear set of goals for our people and then I can align them? I think that alignment is so key. Right. How do I align them? So everyone in the organization is working in concert to achieve those goals and serve those folks. And then we don't become insular where we're worried about, like, adhering to our own internal bureaucratic procedures and ignoring weight. But there's people we're trying to serve. Ultimately, that's the goal, not adherence to our own bureaucracy. It's serving our customer. Right. And so that leader's ability to align and motivate people behind that set of goals. We might call it vision, but some people don't like that word. Let's just call it goals. Right. That's a big part of it. And then what I focus a lot on is that ability. Then when a key decision has to be made, where it's not at all clear what the right course of action is.
[00:15:18.480] - Mike Roberto
Leadership is about being able to I call it marshal the collective intellect of your team. Who knows what I don't know that I can get information from that will help me make a better decision. I still have to make the tough call but let me acknowledge I might not know everything and let me figure out what I need to know in order to make that tough call.
[00:15:36.220] - Steve Morreale
Well, that's interesting, because one of the things that I have experienced as a leader, if I might, but even in faculty meetings is you have an idea and you bring the idea up and you bring other people on board, and invariably someone's going to have a different point of view, someone's going to add to it. And if the leader is stuck on this is what I want. And when other feedback comes that they're not willing to move in that direction, what I find is it's planting the seed. And that's what I have preferred to do. Let me plant a seed and see where this goes. Let's talk to other people, let's talk to students, let's talk to our constituents, and then see where it goes. And almost always there's such a richer outcome than I originally anticipated because I involved other intellect and other curiosity and other creativity to enter into the process. So I see you shaking your head. I have the advantage of seeing you. You seem to agree. How so?
[00:16:35.970] - Mike Roberto
Well, I think not only do you get better ideas, you get buy in if you give people voice. Right. Again, that doesn't mean you always have to agree with them. Right. Just because I ask your opinion, Steve, doesn't mean I'm going to do what you tell me to do. As the leader, I may choose to do something differently, but if I show I'm really listening to you and I really value your input. Even when I choose to go in a different direction, you're more likely to go. I'm willing to follow Mike. Right? I'm willing to buy in because I know next time Mike is going to listen and maybe next time I'll win that argument or debate or maybe I will persuade him or her. So that buy in is so key. Right. The best leaders are the ones who aren't just a very famous if I can tell a quick story, Steve, there's a very famous story that Richard Newstack, the great presidential historian, tells of Harry Truman as he's leaving the presidency. He says something like, poor Ike talking about the white Eisenhower. He'll be so frustrated because he'll say, do this and do that and nothing will happen.
[00:17:36.150] - Mike Roberto
And actually, Truman was wrong because he had a misconception about Eisenhower. He thought in the military you could just order people to do something and they would do it. But remember who Eisenhower was and you're holding up my book because I wrote about this. And remember who Eisenhower was. He's leading this coalition in World War II. He's got de Gaulle and Churchill and Montgomery. He's got a bunch of crazies. He's got to get on the same page. Steve, you can't just order those people to do things he has to go figure out. Right. How am I going to get them to buy in? And he was masterful at it. Right. Eisenhower wasn't the greatest strategist in the world. People used to mock him as a strategist and as a fighter. He's amazing to be able to get everybody on the same page and make the tough call when people disagree. So anyway, that I think, is a big part of what leadership is about. And you want to talk about motivating people, if they're already bought in, you don't need to worry about motivating them. They're bought in.
[00:18:29.570] - Steve Morreale
Well, it's about helping to point them in a direction. And one of the things that I'm starting to pay attention to is purpose. What's our purpose? Mission is another word, using social media. Police have been a little bit reluctant, although they're getting better at it using surveys. A lot of people do not want surveys because they were afraid of the negativity that will come from surveys. And yet I think it's the only way to say talk to us, listen, how can we improve? And so many people retract. I got this information. It's negative. No. I say to people, no, that's the greatest time to say thank you. We've heard. And here are some of the things we're going to do as a result. So talk about the value of surveying customers and showing feedback and showing, in essence, that you're listening to what's being said.
[00:19:18.690] - Mike Roberto
I think it's really important. And I would go beyond surveys even. I think the one thing that can happen when we have to be a little careful with surveys, we're over surveyed at times. Right. And so there are some problems sometimes who's responding to those surveys? Do we have a representative group? There's biases. So I think in addition to those kind of more mathematical or quantitative things, I think just getting out talking to people is really important. Right. And getting out on the street and watching what people are doing. Right. And watch how they're interacting with the crossing guard at school, watch how they're interacting with the police officer who is trying to deal with a motor vehicle accident or a medical emergency. And I think you learn a lot from getting out there. And so it's so important that leaders not stay in their office but get out there just like a CEO who stays in the corner office. Well, that's not the way to lead. I always laugh at the show. Undercover Boss.
[00:20:17.740] - Steve Morreale
[00:20:18.640] - Mike Roberto
If you know the premise for the listeners who don't know the premise of the show, these CEOs go in disguise and they spend like, I don't know, a few days a week out in the warehouse or the factory or whatever in disguise, and they're out there with the workers. And CBS created a show about it. And I always laugh and say, if you, as a CEO, can go undercover and not get recognized for a week, well, that tells you a lot about the problem you have as a leader. Right. That's pretty bad.
[00:20:43.850] - Steve Morreale
If nobody knows who you are. Right? No, you're right. I think in terms of what you were just talking about, is the qualitative having focus groups or inviting people in and getting their point of view and explaining what you're trying to do and getting that feedback before you make a decision. And also with decisions. I do an awful lot like you with decision-makers. I had interviewed a number of major city Chiefs to find out what was the template of making decisions, and did they gather other information and where did they get it and when is enough? Because data is something that police have a lot of, but they don't always use it. I think we're moving in that direction. But I like what you said earlier, this growth mindset. How do we espouse the idea of having a growth mindset in a police agency, for example, especially when you're under fire, you're being barraged. You and I live in Massachusetts, and we don't hear a lot of police Chiefs saying, hey, what happened in Minneapolis is not necessarily anything reflective of what we do here. And here is why. And I think we missed that opportunity if we don't speak out against it, but also lay the fears of our own customers that this is not what the X police Department does. And we work very hard that that doesn't happen to us.
[00:22:13.270] - Mike Roberto
I think one of the things that and this true in any organization, but I think right now it's probably especially important in policing is this idea of making sure that you create an environment where the small mistakes are not swept under the rug. This is a real problem in businesses. Right. People are fearful of acknowledging a mistake on the front lines. And so the small mistakes get hidden. And then, of course, they mushroom and grow. And then this famous incident decade at General Motors, where Mary Barra becomes CEO, I don't know, close to a decade ago now, and she was a long-time insider. And yet when she became CEO, she finds out that there's this massive problem with ignition switches on the vehicles. And it's been known about for years, and people are dying. And yet senior people didn't know about it to believe them because people were right, were afraid to share the bad news. General Colin Powell famous quote, bad news is not like fine wine. It doesn't age well. And so I think the big thing is to get your people to be willing to talk about the minor mistakes and errors and not shoot the messenger when they talk about them and view them as opportunities to get better.
[00:23:27.490] - Mike Roberto
And I think if you can do that, that's so key, because that's how you prevent the big public relations disaster, is that you're every day getting better and you're working those small errors and mistakes. And if you can get people to understand that you as a leader are not going to just berate the person who made the tiny air every time, but instead say, no, we're getting better every day. Right. We're focuses on fixing those problems, not blaming people for those problems.
[00:23:53.690] - Steve Morreale
Wow. I love that, especially in policing, because I think we're very quick to slap mistakes as opposed to and I think we begin to realize it should begin to realize that many mistakes are made, not from the heart, from the head, or vice versa. In other words, let's figure out why this happened and how we can fix it. You start to bring me in an area where I think about predictable surprise and the work of basement and the work that you have done with know what, you don't know how great leaders prevent problems before they happen. And one of the things that I get from you, we don't need more problem solvers what we need, and we need to encourage our problem. Identifiers. Okay, we're talking to Mike Roberto. Dr. Mike Roberto. He is a professor of leadership at Bryant University, formerly of Harvard, and does an awful lot of work and author and does lots of speeches all over the world having to do with decision making and leadership and such. And you've written case studies, Mike, some of which I've used and didn't realize that you had written that. But we were talking a little bit ago about Bazerman and Predictable Surprise.
[00:24:59.590] - Steve Morreale
Let me ask you to talk about that and your take on what Bazerman was saying and how it leads into your book - Know what you don't know.
[00:25:07.410] - Mike Roberto
Yeah. I had years ago. It was the spring of 2005, and I was teaching at Harvard at the time, and I used to teach this comparison that I had written about between the way Kennedy handled the Bay of Pigs and the way he handled the Cuban missile crisis. And with a colleague of mine, we came up with this crazy idea. We wrote to Robert McNamara, who was Kennedy's Secretary of defense, a controversial leader for his role in Vietnam. He was 89 years old at the time, but he had been a professor at a very young age at Harvard Business School. So he had some connection to the school, but he hadn't been back in decades. Crazy. He's 89. We'll write to him and see if he wants to come back. So we did, and he came. I couldn't believe it. He spent a day with us and he was sharp as attack at 89. But before he got to talking to the students and stuff, we were sitting down, having coffee, and he said to me, Mike, in my career, what I think I discovered much later than I should have was that problem solving wasn't the real challenge.
[00:25:57.390] - Mike Roberto
Problem finding was that I didn't know about issues until far too late, that people were afraid to bring them forward and that I wasn't doing necessarily the right kinds of things to uncover where the problems were early enough. And that's a skill we need to be teaching young people. It's a skill that would have served me well if I'd gotten better at it much sooner in my career. It's a profound insight that I really took to heart that day.
[00:26:17.820] - Steve Morreale
That's interesting that you should say. And I think as the leader, since this is really the focus of leadership and innovation and trying new things and moving an organization forward, it seems to me that it's the leaders responsibility, just like you said with McNamara, to set things up in meetings and to allow for feedback loops to say, if you see something, the old think about this. It came from 911. See something, say something. And it's the same idea. That's an interesting perspective that just popped into my head, that we tell people, if you see something, say something to the police Department so that we can go and investigate. But we don't normally say to our people, if you see something, say something to us, if you see something that we're going to make a mistake in or something that needs to be fixed, we are ready, willing and able to hear that. So talk about that. Your insight just brought a little insight to me.
[00:27:06.230] - Mike Roberto
There's a great story I love. Alan Malally took over at Ford Motor Company just before the global financial crisis of 2008. Mallaly was an outsider. He never worked in the auto industry. It's kind of a controversial hire at the time. You might recall, it was the only automaker that did not get a taxpayer bailout and did not file Chapter eleven four advantage to navigate their way successfully through the crisis. And Malawi tells a story about how he had this scheme every week where he wanted people to report progress on the turnaround plan by coding these charts in the Thunderbird Room at Ford headquarters. Red, yellow or green? He said he comes there in the first few weeks they're doing this process and all the charts are green. And he stops me at one point. He goes, you know, we're losing $17 billion. Kind of curious. There are no problems here for it. Everybody kind of gets real quiet and he doesn't really chastise them. He just kind of says it with this kind of folksy Midwestern kind of humor, and he moves on. And then a few weeks later, someone is brave enough to put up a red chart, and he applauds in the meeting, and he said, that did it.
[00:27:59.360] - Mike Roberto
People thought the door was going to open, someone's coming in, and that guy was disappearing because that was the way things were before. But then what he did after he applauded and he said, you could hear a pin drop weren't sure what he was going to say. And he said, Is there anything we can do to help? Which is a really interesting question, right? And he says, Suddenly people are offering ideas on helping to figure out how to solve that particular problem. And within a few weeks, we got that thing from red to yellow and yellow to green. He goes, but the best thing was that about three weeks later, I went into the morning meeting and I looked at the walls with the charts where we began, and there was a rainbow. Because suddenly now people realize, okay, it's okay to actually admit things aren't perfect here, because the boss knows things aren't perfect. Like he knows we're lying. Come on now, let's all be. But he knew, and he had this phrase. You tell them over and over again. He goes, you're not red, Steve. Your project is red. You're only read if you either hide the truth for me or you repeat the same errors over and over again. Now we got a problem, right?
[00:28:50.970] - Steve Morreale
For me, it's about setting the stage. And as I said to you before we started, so many in policing were raised with autocratic leaders. You would come into a meeting. It was very tactical. We're going to do this. Our operation is going to do this. Going to do that, going to any questions. It's almost like I'm an advocate of active learning in the classroom, and I can only presume you are too. But you know that you and I learned from passive learning by professors who would espouse or pontificate what they know and make us Puke it back and almost always avoid the question because they ran out of time, they were too busy reading off of their slides, and they had to finish their slide, they could not deviate from that plan. I think what I'm hoping new leaders can get from both you and I and others that are deemed good leaders, that the best thing you can do is to hold a meeting and to break down the barrier and to allow people to talk about the issues and the problems and work on those things together. Which talks about your book, How Great Leaders.
[00:29:50.710] - Steve Morreale
Actually, both books say exactly the same thing in much different ways. Managing for Conflict and Consensus is about making sure that you're saying to people, I don't want to be agreed with if I'm wrong, I want to know. Right. And then also please help us identify problems before they get out of hand. And that means let's drive that through the organization so that we don't thwart people from coming forward with potential mistakes that can damage our organization.
[00:30:17.650] - Mike Roberto
I think the issue is that it's not just that people are autocratic. I think there's a lot of leaders who are well meaning and actually they're not trying to be tyrant. What happens, though, Steve, is that, say you've been in the job for ten years, 15 years, and you've been really successful. You're a really accomplished leader. What naturally starts to happen, people go, Steve's been right so many times. He's so good at this. Who am I to say differently here? So I think we have to remember pretty naturally that people are going to be reluctant sometimes to tell you what they think, not necessarily because you're this bad leader, this autocrat, but just because sometimes you've been at that job for quite a while, you're good at it. Or I think the other thing is the whole team has been together for a long time. You grow like-minded. Right. And so some new blood there can be helpful at times, because if it's the same group of people working in the same city, the same constituents for a long time without any new blood, it's hard to think differently. Not impossible, but it gets harder over time.
[00:31:09.050] - Steve Morreale
I love that. And I think we see that in the classroom. And I'm sure you feel the same way that I do. That I learned from my students. And I'll say to my students, I don't know at all. And I think a leader has to admit that I don't know at all. I can't know it all. I'm constantly growing. I'm constantly learning. So talk about your newer book, Unlocking Creativity and how important that might be.
[00:31:26.400] - Mike Roberto
What I wrote the book about, there was this idea that there is, unfortunately, a lot of barriers to creative or original thinking in organization. And I tried to outline what some of those barriers are. And why is it that we say we want, quote, out of the box thinkers, but in reality, we really don't much like and there's some research on this about teachers at the young ages in the elementary schools, in the middle schools who say they want their kids to think creatively and originally really what they want is compliance and control. Do what I say when I say it because I said so. Their actions don't back up their words. And I think the same is true of managers and organizations. They claim they want people who think outside the box, who have fresh ideas. But at the end of the day, we kind of penalize those people who have these new ideas, unfortunately. And so the book is about what is it? What's getting in the way? And I'll just give you one example. I think that gets in the way. I think this definitely applies. Policing certainly applies in business is that we have what I call a linear mindset.
[00:32:16.660] - Mike Roberto
We've all been trained to do a bunch of analysis, do a bunch of research, come up with a plan, meticulously detail out that plan, then go execute that plan. Right. Remember Mike Tyson, the notorious boxer, once said, “everybody has a plan until I punch him in the mouth.” Good luck with that. In a world that's changing so fast. That the notion that your plan is going to be perfect on paper and then you go execute it.
[00:32:38.390] - Mike Roberto
It's unlikely because the premise there is you can predict the future. And we all know we're not very good at predicting the future. So the Contra to the linear mindset is a mindset says, actually what I need to do is I need to do some research. I need to have a plan. Then I've got to iterate quickly. I got to be willing to figure out what's not working and change it.
[00:32:53.700] - Mike Roberto
That's how you get to great new ideas. You don't get to them just by the Bolt of lightning that hits you. And it all comes out beautifully on a piece of paper. And you go out and execute this cool new procedure or policy. More likely that you put something down and it's not going to be quite right through that process of iteration that you actually come up with a really cool new idea. And a lot of our most famous inventions have gone through that kind of process. They weren't a Bolt of lightning that in an instant led to a brand-new idea, if you will.
[00:33:18.080] - Mike Roberto
That's our myth. Looking back, we make it seem like that's the case in business. I mean, most of the great businesses we know, we're not born from a business plan that then got executed to perfection. In fact, we'd laugh when we go back and look at some of the original business plans and look at where the business is today.
[00:33:32.910] - Steve Morreale
Well, and lots of failures and lots of missed steps and lots of twists and turns. And if you don't think forward and if you don't listen to your customers, then you're doomed. I think we need more learning organizations, I think, and that's an important element. Let me ask you this. If you were to walk into a police Department as a consultant, much like you would as a business, what are the first things you would look for? What are the questions you would ask to try to understand what they're doing and what they're trying to do and what they could do? In other words, where they are, where they were and where they can be? What are some of the questions you would do as an outsider?
[00:34:07.190] - Mike Roberto
I'm a data person. So the first thing I would say is how do you know your success? What measures do you have to show you're successful? How are you measuring success? What are your criteria? Is it arrests and convictions? Is it the crime rate in the city? You tell me. And are those the right measure? I think that's where I would start, because that tells me a lot about what's driving behavior in the organization. I think that's almost always where I start, Steve, certainly not where I am, but I think that I don't know what you think of that. That's where I would start.
[00:34:31.300] - Steve Morreale
I agree. It seems to me pieces that I like. It is written by Marquardt was Leading with Questions, having a conversation. Mike, I'd like your opinion of this. One of the things that I talk about is when you're having a meeting, you drive the agenda. What is it that you'd like to improve? Is it communication? Is it follow through? Is it follow up and place that on your agenda? Just those simple words, customer satisfaction, and let it linger there for a little while and let's start talking about it. And when you introduce something like that, it can't be one and done. I think you would agree with that. It sets the table for future thought and think about this and we'll talk about it later. But how do you feel about leading with questions as a leader.
[00:35:10.950] - Mike Roberto
Just like as a professor, if you go in and lecture at people, they're not going to learn much. If you go in and you engage them in a dialogue or you actually have to do some things and then reflect on it, they're going to learn a lot more. You learn by doing right. The old adage, how do you learn to walk? You don't listen to a lecture on how to walk. When you're a little kid. You take some steps, you fall, you figure out how to do it right. So not to say that parental coaching isn't helpful, right. But you're not listening to a lecture, you're not watching a video on how to walk. So I think that's really important. One of the things you can do to really help your people when it comes to having those meetings is I'm a big believer in giving people a chance to digest some information before they come to the meeting, not asking people to react on the spot to something. It's hard to do, and you're not likely to have a very informative discussion. So if you've got something you want them to think about and give you some input on, tell them about it. Give them a heads up. Yeah, I'm a big believer in that. And I'm not talking about PowerPoint. It doesn't have to be that probably shouldn't be that at Amazon they do something really interesting. Steve, Jeff Bezos is kind of quirky guy when it comes to leadership, but he banned PowerPoint in his senior management meet. But what he did instead is fascinating. He says if you have a proposal where you want me to invest a bunch of money in a new project at Amazon, you come with a narrative, four to six pages written up what you want to do, what resources you need and why you need them, and what kind of a return on investment they're making.
[00:36:23.160] - Mike Roberto
And then they sit around the table. It's the most awkward thing in the world. And they read it in silence together. And then they have a discussion. And you know what it does? It takes all the personality and emotion out of the thing. And it means people are all on the same page. They don't do it in advance. I would think, why not do it in advance? And the answer is they don't want people politicking before the meeting, so they actually do it inside. So I'm not advocating that necessarily for police. But the notion of saying we want to inform people so we're not just spouting off opinions without rooted in any information or data, and we give people a chance to prepare before they have that discussion.
[00:36:53.270] - Steve Morreale
It's really important talking to Mike Roberto from Bryant University. Dr. Mike Roberto, and we're talking about using and adapting leadership processes and decision-making processes and policing. Mike, what's your view of policing as a whole in America, given what you saw with George Floyd and both the protests and suing riots, your reliance on your police department, if there's a problem that you run into both at school or at home, what's your view?
[00:37:20.780] - Mike Roberto
My own belief is that there are a lot of good people doing a lot of good work under very trying circumstances, particularly in high crime areas around the country. And so I want to be really careful about with a broad brush, pointing fingers at an entire profession. Now, I'm not denying that there are systemic problems that need to be addressed. I mean, we just talked at length about the importance of being a learning organization, always trying to improve. I do worry that we're going to drive great talent away if we start painting with a broad brush and we'll have good people not want to serve. If that's what happens, that does worry me a lot. I will say I live in a small town, but my last situation, I had a case of someone filing unemployment under my name, too.
[00:38:01.530] - Steve Morreale
I did too. Welcome to the club.
[00:38:03.250] - Mike Roberto
Local police Department was wonderful. Helping me, walked me through in detail, spent like an hour with me on who I needed to call and how I need to fix. I didn't know what to do. Just patient, wonderful, gave me all the best advice and helped me fix the problem. So I'm so grateful for people who serve, and we ought to be focused on getting better every day, looking ahead as best we can, and we're never going to be perfect. That's not perfect but we can get better. That's my own view. Maybe I'm naive, but I like to be a glasshouse full person. Right?
[00:38:29.750] - Steve Morreale
I know that's Okay. So, as we wind down, what do you think is a possibility for police Chiefs and other leaders in policing to reward good work, understanding that this is public, not private?
[00:38:43.240] - Mike Roberto
Well, what we know, we've learned a lot about rewards and punishments in the private sector. And people think, oh, it's different in the public sector because in the private sector you're going to offer monetary bonuses and like, actually learn that those not as effective necessarily as you think in getting people. They often work in the short term, but not in the long term. But the real negative is they create a lot of bad behavior. We've all learned through a variety of corporate scandals. Let's just take the Wells Fargo monetary incentive system that created people generating fake customer accounts to earn bonuses. Right. And like, that's a pretty extreme case. But what do we know? What have we learned? We learned that the best kind of leaders actually create what we call intrinsic motivation, where people are motivated internally to want to do a great job. And what we've learned about that is a lot of that is about creating the right condition. It's not about putting the carrot necessarily in front of them with a big monetary prize. It is about recognizing good performance and thanking people for good performance and encouraging them. But it's also about giving them some autonomy, giving them some say in what they do that's really important to people.
[00:39:41.330] - Mike Roberto
So there's a variety of these things we can do that make people want to get up in the morning and go do a great job and not do it just because they're going to get necessarily some monetary prize at the end. And we've learned that in the private sector, but the hard way, unfortunately, because I think for a long time we thought we could get it all solved by a promotion or a bonus. I'm not against giving people some. Obviously, you have to give people, especially in an era of inflation, you have to give people raises. They have to live. So let's not say money doesn't matter. That's bogus. Money matters a lot, but there's a whole lot of other levers we can use that we just haven't used enough to drive motivation, if that makes any sense.
[00:40:12.020] - Steve Morreale
It does. Let me ask you a final question. If you could speak to anybody that are alive that you feel or inspirational or could offer you some insight, might that be? I know you get to talk to lots of people who've been out of reach better alive.
[00:40:25.950] - Mike Roberto
I'm going to say,
[00:40:26.900] - Steve Morreale
[00:40:27.410] - Mike Roberto
Not because he was perfect. He was far from perfect. Right. Churchill had lots of flaws, but the flaws make him so interesting and fascinating. I've read so many books about them because I love the fact that there's a guy who rose to the occasion to this incredible job and was the right person at the right moment to help defeat Hitler. But man, did he have some colossal failures in his career and did he have some personality flaws that reared their ugly head? But that's what makes him so fascinating. And it shows that what's the average none of us is as good as our best day, and none of us is as bad as our worst day. And so that's why I just think he's fascinating.
[00:41:01.550] - Steve Morreale
Well, I want to thank you for your time and your energy. I know how busy you are and the big wig that you are. And I say that tongue in cheek, but it's so important. You've got the last word. If people are listening and have hung on this long and they could call you a leader to ask you, what do I do, Mike? What are the things that a leader should begin to think about to improve the way they interact with others and they move the organization forward, what few things might you say to them?
[00:41:28.260] - Mike Roberto
One of the things that I learned from a man named Harry Kramer, he teaches out in Northwestern. He's a retired CEO. Listen, I don't do this every day. He's incredibly distant. He does this every day. He sits down for 15 minutes before he goes to bed, and he reflects on his day. The business says, if I had to do it over again, what would I do differently? I think it's really cool, and I think it's a great place to start as leadership. What would I do differently if I had to replay that day again? So that's one. I think being able to reflect on what you learned is really important. That's why the military does the after-action review after every minute. Right. I think the second thing is to say to yourself, okay, do I feel like people who have a problem in the organization, are they willing to tell me about it, or do I think people are afraid to come to me? And so what am I going to do to break down that barrier? If that's the case, acknowledge that even in the best organizations, the best leaders, people are afraid to come forward.
[00:42:12.710] - Mike Roberto
It's just natural human instinct that says, I don't know, I might get blamed for this. So that's natural. That's the second thing. And then I think the third thing is to get out there. And what I'd say is put your finger on the pulse of the organization. Go out to the front lines, go out to the constituents, and just in an informal way, not some dog and pony show inspection tour or town hall meeting. None of that gets you any kind of good feedback. You need to go out informally, buy somebody a cup of coffee or walk around and just ask some questions, watch what's going on. Thank people, Pat them on the back, and then say, how can we help you do your job better? Boy, that goes a long way. Not only do you get some great ideas, you get a lot more respect that way than you do by holding the town hall meeting where you give some presentation and leave room for a few questions. I'm not saying you shouldn't do that, but that's not the way you build a relationship with your people. You build it one by one, handshake by handshake, coffee cup by coffee cup.
[00:43:03.880] - Mike Roberto
I'm a huge believer. And, oh, by the way, a written thank you note, not an email or text, goes an incredibly long way in this world. Doug Connor, who used to run Campbell's Soup, was known for writing hundreds of thank you notes a day. And he said once that he would walk around the office and he would notice that people had them all tacked up on their cubicle walls like, Holy cow, people keep these. He's like, It took me 2 seconds to say thanks, and I didn't think anything of it. And then he realized, I should write a lot of these because look at that. People are keeping this. I know that sounds like I'm a real old fart. The written banking note, it really matters.
[00:43:33.390] - Steve Morreale
No, I understand. This is great. And that's great advice as you talk about how can you relate better? The old adage that if you're leading, you look behind and nobody's following you, you ain't leading. And you have to get that relationship that care, that concern, that compassion, that empathy, that becomes pretty important. And sometimes we lose sight of that because we become so busy with our day-to-day operations. But, if we don't pay attention to the people doing the work, then sometimes they're going to alter. We've been talking to Mike Roberto, a professor at Bryant University, today. Thank you so much for all your time today, Mike.
[00:44:05.570] - Mike Roberto
Thanks, Steve. Great to be with you today.
[00:44:07.230] - Steve Morreale
I appreciate it. So that's the end of another podcast, another episode. Thank you for listening. We continue to grow all over the world. Thank you to those of you in New Zealand and Australia, in the UK, in Canada, certainly in the US and in Ireland for listening. Your feedback is very, very important. Reach out to me at email@example.com if you'd like to email me. Thanks. See you on the next episode.
[00:44:32.170] - Outro
Thanks for listening to The CopDoc Podcast with Dr. Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into The CopDoc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.