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When Work Ethic and Entitlement Collide

By Bobby Kipper, President, Kipper Group, Newport News, Virginia, and Director, National Center for the Prevention of Community Violence; and Sharon Caughlin, M.B.A., E.F.O., Division Chief, Support Services, Chesapeake Fire Department, Chesapeake, Virginia


Leadership within law enforcement faces the challenge of how to motivate and manage employees throughout organizations. Unfortunately, the leader may be faced with those who perform their tasks with a sense of entitlement while the leadership is seeking performance-driven employees.


The Entitlement Employee

Entitlement translates into individuals who expect a high level of incentives while producing minimal effort. This produces individuals who want to be rewarded while performing at minimum standards.

A key challenge for law enforcement leadership is determining a pathway to identify employees who operate under the “get by” syndrome and those who seek to rise well beyond what is expected. Another key issue for leadership is to motivate all employees toward high performance. While performance-driven thinking is the overall goal, it can be accomplished only by understanding how employees can drift away from this style of thinking and behavior.

The first step in understanding entitlement is recognizing that a sense of entitlement is both individually and culturally driven. Employees who expect a reward without performance are displaying a sign of learned behavior that has been established both by society and the organizations they serve. Within certain elements of society, there is a general pattern of believing that everyone should be rewarded many times without providing a solid level of performance or production.

While many in leadership will be quick to chastise new employees for their “what have you done for me lately” thinking, many times the seasoned employees who should be providing work performance as an example are overlooked. The problem can be even deeper in some organizations where there exists a lack of work performance by mid-line managers.

For some in police leadership, this has led to simply accepting the status quo or a lack of expectations of and performance from certain employees within their organizations. After all, it is easier to simply say, “that’s just the way Officer XXXXX is and there is nothing that can be done about it.” The problem with this style of thinking and lack of leadership vision is that it becomes very contagious to all employees and will quickly identify the department’s culture as one that embraces minimal efforts. The major question is how do you develop a way of embracing performance-driven thinking within the organization? Where does this form of transitional attitude and behavior begin?


Performance-Driven Leadership

The core of performance and the attitude that is associated with it stems directly from the drive and motivation of those that are called to lead. Performance-driven thinking—at its very core—separates the idea of employee management and transforms it to the identification of employee leadership. Simply stated, managers direct the status quo; leaders motivate performance. Managers accept how it is; leaders move to how it needs to be.

In order for a leader to instill performance-driven thinking into their subordinates, they must first understand that performance has to be observed at the top level of leadership before it becomes a core value of the organization. Leaders who fail to interact on a regular basis with all levels of employees will find it very difficult to transcend their organizations from just getting by to performance-driven thinking. An example was recently cited in an eastern Virginia locality when a number of police service leaders were called to different roles and responsibilities within the community. At the same time, there were several department personnel away from the community for various reasons, basically creating a staffing shortage. While calls for service continued at the normal rate during the staff shortage, for many organizations the normal response of leadership is to struggle through with the existing response capacity. However, for this department the chief of police, with more than three decades of service, left the administrative wing and responded to calls with other service personnel. This chief left the production stage and stepped right back into the performance stage, letting everyone around him understand that leadership is not beyond performance, it is at the very core of performance. In simple terms, this translates to all department personnel that the person leading the organization had never forgotten where he came from and the basic mission of the department is the most important mission. This action sent a message to all other managers and leaders within the organization that the same would be expected of them. Performance-driven can be identified as everyone willing to do what is necessary to get the job done and service delivered, regardless of the rank or seniority level within the organization. This same example occurs in police departments every day when senior police officers step up and allow those who have less time in service to observe what true performance and energy can do to get the task accomplished.


Core Values

What separates this chief and these senior police officers from others who routinely will stand out as performing above what is required? What is the definition beyond minimal effort within an organization and what can leaders do to motivate people toward performance-driven thinking? There are five core values of performance-driven leadership:

  1. Know the strengths and weaknesses of everyone in your command;
  2. Design a plan of action for employees to overcome their areas of weakness;
  3. Embrace and reward employee performance beyond the minimal;
  4. Set and lead toward employee expectations beyond minimum standards; and
  5. Raise the bar of performance in even your most productive employees.

The essence of true leadership is the ability of leaders to get the most out of every individual they are called to lead. This means that even when dealing with top performers, be prepared to issue challenges that will take them to an even higher level. When the best employees are not challenged, they quickly fall back into the culture of accepting what is without pursuing what could be. This goes to the very core of the issue of succession management with law enforcement. The movement toward selecting the right individuals to become future leaders in a law enforcement organization is all about leading and driving employees toward performance.


Five Keys of Performance-Driven Thinking

What leader would feel satisfied with promoting a non-performer within the organization? What leader would be satisfied with promoting an employee who had exhibited a sense of entitlement? While many organizations struggle to find successful employees to cultivate for promotion and leadership positions, the basic argument could center on whether an individual was driven to performance or simply performs well enough to get by. To begin this process, consider the five keys of performance-driven thinking in public safety:

  1. Performance-driven thinking begins with the recruitment and hiring process of individuals into the organization;
  2. Training toward performance has to be established by challenging an individual’s critical thinking skills while providing the opportunity to perform toward the organization’s mission;
  3. Traditional methods of evaluation must be changed to hands-on coaching toward performance for all employees;
  4. Organizational promotional processes should be based on a higher degree of performance recognition toward the organization’s mission and not simply during the process itself; and
  5. Performance-driven thinking will be at the core of an organization’s culture when it is applied from the highest ranking officer to the newest recruit.

Understanding the need to move an organization toward performance-driven thinking is to move beyond just dealing with the issue of marginal employees and bringing an organization to the point where individual performance is no longer an option. This new strategy is more than a program. It is a way for all police departments to do business.♦

Please cite as:

Bobby Kipper and Sharon Caughlin, "When Work Ethic and Entitlement Collide," The Police Chief 80 (November 2013): 32–33.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 11, November 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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