What's become more clear since last we met? Instructor, Joe Willis at ILEETA Emerson Hour

At #ILEETA2017, one of our instructors, Joe Willis was the opening speaker at the conference’s Emerson Hour.  The Emerson hour is in it’s sixth year and more than 150 conference attendees show up to hear what the speakers have to say.  Each year the event requires six speakers to present a 9-minute talk that answers the question from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What’s become more clear since last we met?”

There are only a few rules:

  1. Speakers must keep it a secret that they are presenting
  2. No slides, no flip charts, no videos – just a TED style talk
  3. Exactly 9-minutes

The speakers are sworn to secrecy and although many of them knew each other none of them even knew the others would be there.  What follow’s is the transcript from Joe’s talk (8:43).


What’s become more clear since last we met?

Team One Network Instructor Joe Willis at the 2017 ILEETA Emerson HourIt’s been a while since we’ve seen each other.  For me, since last year’s conference, I retired from the Army, spent the summer as a stay at home dad – a lifelong dream.  I became the Training Coordinator for Team One Network – if you know John Meyer and the guys at Team One you know exactly why I love my job.  You also probably think I’m crazy 🙂 Hell, we just got back from training a rapid response workshop in Germany.  I’ve read a lot.  18-books in all this year and countless articles and blogs.  And holy crap we have some great writers in ILEETA.


One topic that comes up often is, “developing leaders in law enforcement.”

I’ve lost count of the number of conversations.  I’ve read dozens of articles on Law Officer and Police One.  How about news reports on police leadership – from both the real and fake news, not to mention the hours of content YouTube, snapchat, and Facebook of people inside and outside the profession.

Bottom line: There’s a recognized need for training that develops current and future leaders of law enforcement.  And everyone here knows that people we train won’t rise to meet expectations, right?  Instead they’ll fall back to the training we’ve provided.

And – What is training?  Really?  Is it a conference, a course, a workshop, an Academy?  Is it these haphazardly strung together events or is it the practices between them?  See, no matter where I look, I think training is poorly defined for what it really is.  Let me ask it this way, to train for a marathon can I go to “running workshop” in March and then show up to the race in September truly expecting to perform?  Of course, not I have to live and train like a marathoner each and every day.  We all know that for training to actually manifest in our behaviors – especially under pressure it takes what?  Practice, right?  And more than practice it takes perfect practice… Only Perfect practice makes perfect – nothing else.  There are no shortcuts are there.



So, if you want to develop a leader training program – my suggestion is to start with these four words… “BE THAT LEADER NOW.

“A Leader is anyone who by assumed role or assigned responsibility inspires and influences people to accomplish goals. Leaders motivate people to pursue actions, focus thinking, and shape decisions for the greater good.” So, a patrolman on the scene of domestic or a detective talking with the mother of a troubled teen, are they not leaders?  More importantly, trainers – do you see yourselves as leaders?

When I was a First Sergeant for Military Police Basic Training Company.  We had five months to turn civilians into Soldiers and Military Policemen… one of the first conversations I had with them every cycle was one I called, “Be That Leader Now…”

I would do this after a major event…  like the first physical fitness test or their first inspection.  But it was always one where several trainees failed to meet a standard.  Prior to me chatting with them, the Drill Sergeants made sure they knew that they hadn’t met the Army’s expectations.

Then I’d call the Drill Sergeants off, and I’d line the Drill Sergeants up behind me, about thirteen trainers from the top-1% of the Army – they looked like a poster… Just a wall of badassery

Here we were, about two-weeks into five months together, just long enough that the trainees knew for sure how amazing my team was.  I mean, think back to the police academy or your own military basic training experience, reflect for just a moment on the admiration and respect you felt for the team that would have stood before you.

I’d ask them, “Did we have a bad day today?”

“Yes, 1SG!”, they’d respond…

“Hell yeah we did!  Some of you really messed up today, didn’t you…” I’d pause for effect – make eye contact with the known culprits… “But that’s ok…” I’d add.  “We still love you – and we’re still going to turn you into damn good soldiers!  You know this too don’t you!?”

“You know this because these men and women are here.  They wouldn’t be if your training weren’t the most important thing to the Army.  They wouldn’t pick these men and women to spend day and night with you…  These guys could be out there in the fight in Iraq, because they’re Bad Asses.  They, They could be humping up and down the mountains of Afghanistan right? – They are beasts aren’t they… But they’re here… They’re here because America needs you to be bad ass beasts – just like them…  So we bring the best in to that… To train you to be the best you can be… So, I’d ask them….

“Do you think you’ll just show up one day as a Staff Sergeant and be this warrior, this trainer, this leader?”

Hell no, it takes years and no single event that will do it… It’s not a single range day, it’s not single PT test, it’s not a single decision -ever.  It’s every round at every range, it’s every pushup, word you ever say, it’s every moment of every day!  Privates, if you want to be that leader then, Damnit – be that leader now!  Because you won’t be one of them when the time comes years from now unless you’ve trained and lived like one every moment up until then… So, some of you failed today…

Then I’d turn to the trainers behind me and say, “have you every failed?

All of them responded back with, Yes 1SG (reluctantly of course – they’re pros – admitting failure is hard).  But what did you do?  Of course they all said things like trained and practiced… So, I would say that’s right… They trained, they practiced, and they went back out and did again… If you want to be like these men and women tomorrow – live like them now…

We all make mistakes… 

So, here’s the rest of the story… News flash – Drill Sergeants really are the top 1%… But I’ll be damned if they don’t make mistakes from time to time.  So, as the senior trainer, and the one charged with training, mentoring, and disciplining the top 1%ers I can tell you – it helps to hire the best, but be prepared to hold them accountable.  They need it and quite frankly, they deserve it and they expect it!  More importantly, if you’re in a leadership role over trainers, be prepared to hold yourself more accountable than you ever have.  Trainers and leaders – especially leaders of trainers, don’t get to show up off their game – ever.   Moment to moment discipline is your watchword.

Some things that I found helped:

  1. Define what a leader is and what’s expected of them. How does your agency define leadership?  What is it that a leader in your organization must BE, KNOW, and DO?
  2. Calibrate their moral compass. Leaders make hard decisions. Training for ethical decision making is like the marathon analogy – it’s a lifestyle choice, not an event.
  3. Teach and reinforce bystander intervention skills. Whether you learn it from one of my courses or develop the training on your own, leaders need to learn to make on the spot corrections of seniors, peers, and subordinates.
  4. Be the example. In an organization, with a leader development mindset every member adopts this mentality.  Leaders go first into danger and last into chow.


Go, Be That Leader Now!

In nearly 20-years of leading and training leaders in 360-degrees I can say I’ve never seen a leader suddenly rise to the occasion.  The best ones have always been those that lead like a they are training for a marathon.  They lead and live with conviction and true moment to moment discipline.

Police and community relations are in a period of transition, growth, challenges and change.  Law enforcement as an institution isn’t perfect.  But the profession is filled with men and women who answer a call to serve, selflessly.  They are amazing human beings and you are their coaches, mentors, and leaders…

Developing leaders in any organization starts with these words, “Go.  Be that leader now.”