Do the hard things

There’s an old saying about easy times making soft people. That’s where we are right now and it all stems from our fear of challenge


“I’m sure you can do it.”

Those life-changing words came from Lynn Givens of Rangemaster Firearms Training Services. I’d asked her if she would be willing to allow my then 16-year-old daughter into her ladies’ only class that following Sunday. She agreed but asked why I’d never taken the Rangemaster Instructor Development course that was also that weekend.

For the uninitiated, Tom Givens, founder and lead instructor of Rangemaster Firearm Training Services, is a legend in the firearms training community and had been teaching his excellent instructor development class for nearly two decades at that point. He also spent a fair amount of time reviewing classes and writing magazine articles. I don’t remember my answer, but the truth is I had/have a debilitating fear of public speaking. I allowed that phobia to hold me back from participating in some very joyful activities like teaching. The next thing I knew I was enrolled.

Remember, the acronym FAIL: First Attempt In Learning. Nothing worth having comes easily.
Remember, the acronym FAIL: First Attempt In Learning. Nothing worth having comes easily. (Getty Images)

I decided to review the class for “Police Marksman” magazine. There I was, about to take my first instructor development class from one of the legends and write a review about it. I was nervous to say the least. The anxiety I felt for much of those three days was replaced by the elation of knowing I’d begun my journey to conquer a phobia.

Soon after, I took the Oklahoma Basic Peace Officer Instructor Development class and then the state’s difficult and arduous Firearms Instructor Development program. There is little in life that brings me such comfort and peace as does teaching. I would never have been able to become a teacher if I had not done something that was difficult for me. And it was truly difficult. Not a lot of life-enhancing activities happen in your comfort zone. What else can we apply the “do hard stuff” principle to?

1. Advance

How many officers do we know who would make great supervisors but fear taking the promotion test? Is that officer you? How many supervisors do we know who have no business in a position of leadership but are there because they had the courage to try? The same can be said of detectives, SWAT, K-9, field training officers, and – of course – instructors.

Your organization needs the best people in these positions. Don’t let a fear of failure keep you from making your agency better. 

2. Take control of your education

In "Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead," General James Mattis writes, “If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.” That might seem a little harsh, but it’s true.

There are thousands of laws that affect law enforcement. Human behavior is so complex that mental health professionals have difficulty predicting criminal behavior. These are just two of the many skills we can learn more about on our own. Also, your brain loves reading, even if you don’t. Readers have better recall and quicker decision-making abilities.     

3. Speak up

The easiest thing to do when we see unethical actions is to ignore them. That can mean an inappropriate comment all the way up to a civil rights violation made by a colleague.

If you do not stand up and do the hard thing in those cases, you are nothing more than a co-conspirator. This principle is just as difficult for leadership.

One of my former chiefs had to stand up to a few members of the city council sometime back. They were discussing passing an ordinance that the police department would have been responsible for enforcing. It was a very hot topic at the time and would have undoubtedly ended up in officers being required to use force on the citizenry. After careful deliberation, he told the council we would not be enforcing that new ordinance if passed, and the reasons why. He took some heat for it, but he also received a tremendous amount of support from the public.

Crisis of comfort

According to author Michael Easter, we are experiencing a comfort crisis in this country. I agree and believe it’s negatively affecting our profession. There’s an old saying about easy times making soft people. That’s where we are right now and it all stems from our fear of challenge. We should seek challenges, accept our failures and revel in our successes. Remember, the acronym FAIL: First Attempt In Learning. Nothing worth having comes easily. Now get out there and do something hard.  

NEXT: 6 strategies for leadership in everyday life

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