What Does It Take To Build Morale

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Below is a common headline conveying the belief morale can be bought. This shows the degree of crisis in leadership within the profession of law enforcement:

“Ga. chief pitches more officers, better pay and benefits to counter low moraleBy Tim Chitwood Columbus Ledger-Enquirer


It takes authentic leadership to build high morale. Members at all levels need confidence and trust in their leaders. I once heard a great Catholic preacher say: ‘One of the worst consequences of sin is the removal of leadership.’  A crisis of leadership soon leads to a crisis of craftsmanship.  

What is morale?  In part Merriam-Webster defines morale as: 

Morale: a confident, resolute, willing, often self-sacrificing and courageous attitude of an individual to the function or tasks demanded or expected of him : a sense of common purpose or a degree of dedication to a common task : ESPRIT DE CORPS.

Esprit De Corps: the usually selfless and often enthusiastic and jealous devotion of the members of a group or association of persons to the group or to its purposes.  

Personally, I like a condensed definition of esprit de corps, fighting spirit, or even a willingness to riskHigh morale means the members of the group have confidence in, devotion to, and a willingness to risk in a self-sacrificing courageous kind of way for the leader, for the group, and for the groups purposes.  The purposes are rightly defined as those things that profession or craft was designed or ought to do Is it in the best interest of the common good that law enforcement officers have high morale? Yes, absolutely! Chiefs of Police are right to ponder how to improve morale.  

Today there is a massive crisis in leadership in the Church and in the world.  I’m going to make some comments regarding the crisis in law enforcement.  There is no shortage of men sitting in seats of authority who do not appear to understand the responsibility that authority carries with it.  Part of the problem today is an imbalance between the desire to become a craftsman at doing all the things which their law enforcement profession exists to do (as C.S. Lewis might be wont to say), and their desires to become a craftsman at politics.  If ambition for wealth, power, pleasures, or honors is their primary focus then we find craftsmen at politics who lack craftsmanship regarding the profession itself.  

Bad leaders become modern day sophists or word smiths.  In antiquity what was a sophist?

Sophist: a paid teacher of philosophy and rhetoric in ancient Greece, associated in popular thought with moral skepticism and specious reasoning :a person who reasons with clever but fallacious arguments.  Oxford Languages

Bad leaders use buzzwords being clever enough to avoid ever defining what those buzzwords mean. The use of buzzwords that sound like solutions often provides an opportunity to fool the highest number of people into believing that the buzzword means whatever they want it to mean.  Sounds a lot like a modern day politician. One of the buzzwords which directly affects this crisis of craftsmanship is accountability.  Bad leaders often worry more about human respect and being liked than worrying about the sacrifice they need to make to ensure their people are properly trained and then held responsible for meeting competency standards with the end goal of craftsmanship. So inside the police house things get neglected while outwardly bad leaders project they understand the importance of accountability. Because many of the leaders are incompetent, blind, or confused on next right things they themselves cannot give what they do not have. Many out in the community interpret the use of the buzzword ‘accountability’ to mean that the Chief of Police and his staff are focused on holding the officers accountable. In an administrative and legal sense this is true but not in a good way. Due to pressure from special interest groups, politics, and the rise of activist prosecutors officers are frequently being thrown under the proverbial bus when their actions were morally, ethically, and even legally correct (activist prosecutors don’t see it that way). Incompetence reigns supreme in a crisis of leadership.  Andrew Branca has an outstanding analysis of the legal defense of the former police officer Aaron Dean where Mr. Branca breaks down competence issues in the legal defense. Don’t misunderstand me there still are craftsmen and craftswomen in the world and in the profession of law enforcement but those men and women are too often being passed over for the high seats by men and women of a more progressive mindset. Why? Punishment for sin. In my opinion Attorney Andrew Branca has done the work and is one of those craftsmen. You can find his book and links at this website at:

Attorney Andrew Branca’s Website

In addition to a lack of clarity another aspect of bad leaders using buzzwords is the telling of half truths.  Another popular buzzword today is deescalationDeescalation by itself is a half truth.  Police necessarily have to use force to stop unjust criminal aggressors from harming and especially from killing innocent people including the police officers themselves.  That force or violence of action includes both escalation and deescalation.  At the moment an unjust criminal aggressor chooses to initiate and maintain an imminent deadly threat to any innocent person; a police officer ought to escalate force to STOP that unjust threat and protect innocent life.  If the police officer hesitates because of various fears he gambles with the lives of innocents. How long will he gamble? How many verbal warnings will he give to drop the gun? In his willingness to gamble with innocent lives he neglects his grave moral and ethical duty to the benefit of the unjust criminal aggressor.  Yes, I know exactly what the United States Supreme Court has said about an officers lack of a legal duty to protect innocent life. To my understanding this lack of a duty was reaffirmed following the Parkland Stoneman Douglas High School active shooter massacre. That is why I emphasized an officers grave moral and ethical duty. Perhaps law enforcement might want to drop the whole swearing of an oath thing. This wager works in the favor of the bad guy over and above an innocent.  Common sense ought to tell everyone that isn’t right. To make such a wager is to abdicate a grave moral and ethical duty over to the bad guy. It’s like saying to the bad guy: “I don’t want to make this hard decision so I defer to you.  You decide who lives and who dies today! You go first. I’m willing to sacrifice innocent life to give you the benefit of the doubt even though millisecond by millisecond you choose to maintain an imminent deadly threat!”  My point is folks who use the buzzword deescalation are advocating for a lie – a half truth.  

Here’s the correct order for anyone who’s confused:

  1. God first
  2. Innocents second
  3. You Third (presuming your committed to protecting those your responsible for and then yourself)
  4. Unjust criminal aggressors last

Community policing is another buzzword which has been used and abused for many years within the profession of law enforcement.  This term has been used to provide those who do not understand a false kind of hope that things will get better. The term itself is not a bad term. How it has been used by ignorant men is the problem. Authentic community policing ought to concern itself with relationships. The cornerstone of any good relationship is trust. As a Catholic through studying my Faith I learned a very important Catholic principle that has serious implications to authentic community policing: Unity subsists in truth.  Outside of truth – no unity!  The probability of building trust when telling the public half-truths is zero. In the same way a Chief cannot buy his officers morale Chiefs of Police cannot buy good relationships with their communities by use of ignorant gimmicks. For instance handing out a free turkey in lieu of a ticket around thanksgiving.  Nor can he build sound relationships built upon trust by purchasing an ice cream truck and handing out free ice cream in high crime dangerous areas. That doesn’t stop them from doing these silly useless things. The first time one of your officers rightly defends an innocent community member, a brother or sister in arms, or themselves justifiably shooting and killing an unjust criminal aggressor those cheap gimmicks add up to exactly nothing. An authentic law enforcement leader who actually cares whether his community members live or die will do the work to convey the right consequences that will hold sway when an unjust aggressor initiates and maintains an imminent deadly force threat. To neglect to do this is to set the stage for distrust. If that Chief, Assistant Chief, or Deputy Chief lacks the craftsmanship to do this or to properly field questions then he should ensure he’s putting the right department trainers in those seats and let the trainer properly explain it and field questions. Here’s the thing YOU as the Chief of Police have to actually care whether your people live or die.  This includes all of your people.  The men and women that you send into harm’s way as well as every innocent member of your community.  Tragic as it is when a human life is lost, realize the unjust criminal aggressor‘s life cannot and SHOULD NOT be valued above any innocent life (including innocent police officers).  To place an unjust aggressor above innocents is madness, blindness, and confusion of mind (Deuteronomy chapter 28 verses 15 and 28).  

Transparency is another buzzword Chief’s seem to love to advocate for until they don’t. Some things cannot and SHOULD NOT be disclosed.  Ironically the things that should be talked about with the community are not.  Why?  In many cases it’s because corporation counsel declares due to pending litigation or expected litigation we’re not going to be commenting on that specific incident.  Corporation counsel is yet another problem plaguing law enforcement, private companies, and even the Church. Lawyers ought to stay in their lanes.  If Chiefs of Police were more of a craftsman at their profession than politics then Chief’s would have the competencies to tell corporation counsel what the next right thing is. They would be able to unpack why this is the right time, right reason, and right way to handle whatever needs handling. There’s an old Latin saying: Nemo dot quod non habet. Loosely translated this means: No man gives what he does have.  Chiefs who are craftsmen should then demand counsel use their expertise as it pertains to the law to assist the police department in fulfilling its mission in accordance with these next right things.  Next right things are a major part of authentic leadership which has to do with the moral (ethical) battlefield. Realize as a leader when you choose to speak publicly and/or privately either to the public or your police household by your use of buzzwords absent a clear defining of terms you demonstrate a lack of authentic leadership. At best you are perceived as incompetent and at worst you are perceived as a coward.  In other words, your people find you out.  

If the Chief of Police and his staff are incompetent, mad, blind or confused, why in the world would anyone have confidence in, devotion to, or a willingness to risk for that staff?  That’s rhetorical as we already know the answer.  They won’t!  If you want your people to have a high morale then you have to give them reasons to believe they should have confidence and trust in you, the organization, and the organizations purpose. You cannot merely tell them how much you care about them and then through every single decision you make disprove every word you previously said. Talk is cheap and the moment a little (or big) test comes along everyone sees what you are – incompetent or a coward. People won’t follow that. People will not risk for that style of leadership.

You cannot buy esprit de corps or fighting spirit.  High morale must be earned by authentic leadership.  An authentically proud house in the very best sense of those words requires good leadership at every level but significant damage is done to morale when those sitting in top seats are incompetent, blind, or confused.  When good leadership is removed morale and the common good of the whole community are quick casualties.  For those who remain steadfast in their belief that money or some other benefit has the power to fix low morale then I challenge you to think about what the Word of God says about hirelings.  

John 10: 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. 

The hireling flees because he cares nothing for the sheep.  Because he cares nothing forPeople need to know that you really do care whether they live or they die.  They need to know you care whether they go to prison unjustly for doing their job or whether they maintain their freedoms.  They need to know you care whether they unjustly lose their job?  They need to know you care whether they are forced to file bankruptcy?  You cannot fake this because tests will come along and your people will find you out!  Your people watch you like a hawk for discrepancies between what you say and what you do.  

Leadership has many fronts upon which you as the leader need to be willing to fight, suffer, and die in small and sometimes large ways.  The late Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi understood leadership at a high level.  One of Lombardi’s famous quotes is: 

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”  

Those who believe moving up in authority is about an easier life don’t understand the responsibility and commitment necessary for authentic leadership. Leadership isn’t about you and your ego.  Authentic leadership is for your people.  It is in service to your people.  You are not going to right every wrong that comes down from those with more power and influence.  However, you can certainly open your mouth with a willingness to risk for your people when they act rightly as you trained them to do.  There are many and various fronts that leaders must be capable of fighting upon but before any of that they must break their backs, as it were, to become a craftsman at that body of work. 

  Leadership is for your people. 

If you don’t know your craft up one side and down the other you cannot give what you do not have.  Which means you’ll have errors within your training such as an over emphasis on things like deescalation when innocent citizens and officers’ lives depend upon sound training principles.  What are you doing to prepare the troops you lead into violent conflicts to actually win those physical battles?  Are you permitting human resources, corporation counsel, or some confused Mayor to force feed your people lies or half truths that endanger innocent lives?  

Have you had the courage to explain in detail to your troops what having their back actually means?  It means so long as they’re acting rightly as they’ve been trained to do; you are willing to go to the wall to rightly defend them against all threats both inside and outside your proud house.  It also means that if they act against their training in a spirit of vengeance or with malice you will do everything in your power to ensure they are held accountable.  To ‘have their backs’ when they act with malice or vengeance is not having their back; but is only a form of corruption.  

Simultaneously, what are you doing to put your larger community on notice that you will never sacrifice any innocent persons life under the specious pretext of a deceptive version of the term de-escalation?  That word deescalation offends more in what it fails to say than in what it actually says.  In order to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason and in the right way the profession of law enforcement must sometimes use of force.  Use of force necessarily includes both escalation and deescalation.  Why don’t we hear about the legitimate need for escalation?  Half – truths – are – lies.  Have you found a way to convey to the public that accountability applies to everyone?  Have you made clear that if their husbands, fathers, and sons initiate and maintain a deadly threat to any innocent person including your innocent police officers that they ought to expect to be immediately shot?  Have you made clear bad guys should no longer expect twenty five, forty two, or fifty seven verbal warnings to drop the gun! Have you explained to your officers to give the same warning over and over expecting a different result is what’s called a goofy loop? Have you explained to the public that upon seeing the presence of a police officer they should immediately drop the weapon which then will result in legitimate de-escalation?   Have you informed the public that if they refuse to change their will and if they fail to immediately drop the weapon the officer’s only legitimate right option is to remove their will by causing their incapacitation?  These are hard sayings.  What mayor will tolerate such raw truth?  You have to find a way without watering down the reality one iota.  Leaders need to unpack precisely what they mean when they use words like accountability, deescalation, community policing, or transparency.  Accountability applies to everyone.  If you will do this as a leader you will find you have many new enemies because this is not in accord with what is convenient or in season in 2023.  Much of the world has rejected truth and run off to myths and fantasies.  Yet it is precisely what is needed.  Have you made clear to everyone that you place more value on the lives of innocents over and above the lives of  unjust criminal aggressors?   

Authentic leadership is simple but it is hard to live out.  I have failed more times than I could count but I get back up and I aim once again for such noble things.  Authentic leadership is the solution to the problem of low morale.  

Authentic leadership is the solution to low morale!

Immediately preceding the Bible verse on hirelings we see this golden nugget or great secret to authentic leadership:

John 10:  11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The secret if there is one is that the authentic leader cares enough to lay down his life in many and various small and sometimes large ways for his people. An authentic leader sacrifices his time to do the hard work to become a craftsman at the very thing his profession ought to do. There will never be a better example of authentic leadership than the Life of Jesus the Christ. You want to fix morale?  You better get dialed in on what authentic legitimate leadership really is.  May God give us the graces to live out authentic leadership.