Are You an Abolitionist?

What does it mean to be an abolitionist? Are you comfortable describing yourself as an abolitionist? In yet another example of the complexity one can find in the anti-human IMG_0531atrafficking community, this word is troublesome for many, well, abolitionists.

The use of the word “abolitionist” is alarming to some who see the word as either implying a religious connotation to their stance against slavery, or they link the word with an entirely different subject; the abolition of prostitution. While writing my book The Essential Abolitionist: What you need to know about human trafficking and modern slavery, I have been questioned about my use of the word, and in the past have met many individuals who–thought deeply committed in the fight against slavery–prefer to avoid being labeled an abolitionist.

A search of several dictionaries repeatedly offer the same definitions of “abolitionist:” someone who is opposed to a law or practice, or someone who opposes (or opposed) slavery.

While the first definition can be applied to someone supporting the abolition of prostitution, this linkage doesn’t appear in several dictionaries I examined. Neither does a link between religion and abolition appear. So what is the source of this confusion?

During the American debate on slavery in the decades leading to the Civil War, many abolitionists used Christian values and Bible verses to support their stance. At the same time, there were self-described abolitionists who based their arguments against slavery on constitutional grounds, or moral grounds without invoking religious beliefs. Both secular and spiritual abolitionists fought to end slavery then, just as both sectors do so today.

The linking of the word “abolitionist” to the abolition of prostitution appears mostly in academic circles, where a mutual understanding among those discussing the topic exists. A web search of these words together will lead to articles on this subject. Coincidentally, those who have asked me if my use of the word implies a stance on prostitution have always come from the academic sector. This is a narrow use of the term, and one not usually recognized by the pubic.

In my book I address the question, What is a “modern-day abolitionist”? Today’s forms of slavery–and its victims–differ from the slavery of the antebellum United States. Today we address two broad forms of trafficking (labor and commercial sex), while also recognizing the many types of victims; women, children, men, persons of color, domestic and foreign national, native populations, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ, and others.

Today’s abolitionist is opposed to all forms of slavery, and seeks justice for all victims. It is actually pretty simple: If you oppose slavery, the best term to describe yourself is “abolitionist.” Be comfortable using the word, because it is a good–and the proper–word. I’m an abolitionist, are you?

Why is Fighting Slavery So Difficult?

Everyone opposes slavery, right?

Okay, those who are enslaving over 21 million people worldwide don’t oppose it, but assuming the vast majority of people do oppose human trafficking and modern slavery, you might think that fighting slavery would be fairly straight forward. But it isn’t. In fact, it can be quite difficult and frustrating. The United States Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) 15 years ago, making profound changes in how human trafficking is viewed and defined; how victims of trafficking are perceived, served, and assisted as they adapt from being victims of slavery to survivors; and how law enforcement agencies should respond to trafficking. Yet, those who have been involved in the fight against trafficking for years, and those new to the fight, experience frustration that so little seems to have improved since 2000. So why is fighting slavery do difficult?

First, modern slavery isn’t the slavery of old. It does not fit the traditional American view of slavery that was black and white – both in the literal sense, and in the moral sense where slavery was either accepted or reviled. The 13th Amendment may have outlawed slavery in the United States, but it did not abolish enslavement either domestically nor globally. In the modern slavery, victim and enslaver (or trafficker) more typically look alike, sound alike, and share Geo-cultural backgrounds. In addition, the slavery of old is understood by most Americans as either field labor or domestic service – images cast in school books and movies. The exploitation of today is limited only by the imagination and coercive skill of the trafficker: Once a trafficker determines how to profit from another person’s labor, they need only determine how best to make their victim perform that labor  through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. (In the commercial sex trade, engaging in sex is the labor.) In short, the whys and hows of modern slavery are far more complex than in the past.

Second, in this new paradigm of slavery, most slaves do not view themselves as slaves! (In a decade of anti-trafficking work I recall only one case in which a man walked into a police department and said, “I need help. I’m a victim of human trafficking.”) Victims engaged in forced commercial sex often do so because their “boyfriend,” who “loves them,” doesn’t have a job and the only way to eat and have a roof over their heads is by her engaging in sex several times a day.

Globally, 68% of human trafficking victims are exploited through forced labor or services, not the sex trade. Many are, more accurately, victims of debt-bondage, paying off a debt owed to their enslaver – often with unpayable interest rates – and either unable to leave for lack of better job opportunities, or afraid to leave due to threats of violence to the victim or their family. Foreign nationals trafficked within the United States often believe deportation awaits them if they come forward but, in fact, the TVPA offers protection to foreign national trafficking victims. Victims, lacking this understanding, are afraid to report their victimization for fear of law enforcement viewing them as criminals. Also, cultural norms often dictate a debt must be repaid no matter the conditions of repayment; another tool of coercion traffickers utilize. Not surprisingly, few victims of trafficking self-identify, adding another element of complexity.

The complexities of the new slavery, and how victims often perceive themselves, exponentially increase the complexity of responding to human trafficking. No single agency or professional sector (e.g., law enforcement, victim services providers, community organizations) can respond to trafficking alone and be effective in mitigating modern slavery. The “4 P Paradigm” is a model recommended for the comprehensive response to slavery and consists of Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnership. The first three Ps bring their own challenges, but the fourth is most daunting of them all. Collaboration among various agencies and organizations, each involved in different Ps, requires patience and humility on the part of the individuals involved, and long-term commitment from the leadership of the various organizations involved. Effective Partnership requires both institutional commitment, as well as specific skills and traits on the part of the individuals doing the collaborative work. Often, the person chosen to engage in this collaborative work doesn’t yet possess basic knowledge on aspects of trafficking and the response critical for their success, so training is a never-ending process. And, unfortunately, institutional leadership often sees the fight against slavery as merely the latest topic of community interest to be leveraged for political gain.

The struggles of fighting slavery go beyond these three, and each of the topics addressed could merit their own book! But while it may appear to some that little has changed since passage of the TVPA, the truth is far more encouraging. A decade ago friends asked, “What’s human trafficking?” when they learned of my work with a human trafficking task force. Today,  a more likely response is, “Tell me more,” as people are familiar with the term – if not the complexities. Today, more law enforcement officers have been trained; more prosecutions occur; more victims have more agencies and shelters ready to serve them; more communities cry out to help victims within their home towns. Colleges and universities offer courses addressing human trafficking and other social justice issues. Much good work has been done!

But the work continues, and part of the work in fighting slavery includes continuing to learn how to best do the work of fighting slavery. Understanding – and embracing – the complexity is the first step, and the second, and the third… Right now, 21 million people are enslaved worldwide. And they are awaiting our response.

(Interested in learning more about Human Trafficking?   View the Kickstarter campaign supporting The Essential Abolitionist book. Also, visit The Essential Abolitionist Facebook Page.

The Essential Abolitionist: Supporting a Tool for Freedom

(Portions of this post also appear in the Updates for my Kickstarter campaign, The Essential Abolitionist.)

A week ago today I launched the crowdfunding effort to publish my book The Essential Abolitionist: What You Need to Know About Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery. Frankly, it’s an emotional roller coaster every day, with lows accompanying little activity, and then the thrill of receiving alerts from Kickstarter that we have another backer! This was expected, of course, when you launch a project whose success is dependent upon so many others.

I’ve been very involved in the fight against human trafficking for almost a decade, since January 2006, and have been exceptionally fortunate to work with a wide variety of individuals and organizations as a speaker, trainer, consultant, task force manager, and professor. I’ve met some great people along the way!

In 2006 there were very few resources for learning about human trafficking, and most people had not even heard the phrase ‘human trafficking.’ Today, most people have at least heard the term, but there is still much confusion about the topic and, in particular, how best to respond. That’s the core concept behind The Essential Abolitionist; if you want to be knowledgeable you need to be introduced to both the macro view of trafficking (e.g., how is trafficking defined, who can be victimized, how do traffickers control others) while also understanding the micro aspects (e.g., what challenges do local law enforcement face, what are the unique needs of trafficking victims, is the Super Bowl is largest trafficking event in the country). Each of these topics relate to each other in ways unique to the fight against slavery. The Essential Abolitionist addresses about 100 of these macro and micro issues that are essential to a more comprehensive understanding of the response to human trafficking. No other book has previously taken this approach, and the book will be an asset to abolitionists for years to come. Here are some additional thoughts after the first week of the campaign to fund the publication.

First, I want to thank all of my backers during the first week of this campaign! Many of you I know and are long-time supporters in the fight for freedom. Others I don’t know, but I look forward to getting to know in the future.

As of this morning we are 28% funded, which is great news. On the other hand, Kickstarter (and all crowd funding) campaigns are well known for dropping into a lull between the excitement of the campaign start and the urgency near the end. So how to mitigate this expected lull?

I’m continuing to email every person in my Contacts list, and post frequently on both my personal and book Facebook pages, along with my Twitter site. I’m also working on other plans to engage potentials backers.

What can you do? First, please continue to share this project with friends and family and ask them to support the project. A personal “I think this is a valuable project, please support it” attached to your Facebook post or email carries a lot of weight with your friends!

Second, ask the civic, faith, or other groups you belong to for their support; many of these groups are looking for good causes to support and this is great project to back! Any person or organization backing at Level 6 or higher will be included in the Acknowledgements section of the book, receiving credit for bringing this project to life! Level 8 backers will have me travel to their location to talk about human trafficking and the fight for freedom – another way these organizations will gain recognition for their support.

Remind your friends that the reward structure allows additional donations. For example, if a backer only needs two books but wants to help this book become a success, they can support at Level 4 (two books) but also donate any additional amount. (This is also how an organization can support us at any amount they wish.)

Thank you all again for your generous pledges! (And those of you reading this who have not pledged, please do so now!) The work doesn’t end with your pledge, please keep sharing this until the final day.

John

Knowledge and the Response to Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is complex. The response to trafficking is even more complex. That is the reason I’m writing, The Essential Abolitionist: What You Need to Know About Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery.

I’ve been involved in the fight against human trafficking for almost a decade; first managing the San Jose Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Force, and since 2011 as a consultant working with both governmental and private organizations to better understand, and respond, to human trafficking. It has been quite an experience; I’ve learned a lot through my involvement and worked with many wonderful and committed people. But I’ve also seen many efforts – even when backed with plenty of passion and money – struggle and fail due to lack of knowledge about  of the issue, the challenges of collaboration, or the intricacies of the multidisciplinary response. While there are several good books and resources helpful in learning about trafficking, no book currently exists that is based upon experience in the actual response to slavery. The Essential Abolitionist will fill this void.

The concept behind the book is rather simple. I put together a list of questions that I am consistently asked by people who are interested in trafficking, along with a list of the topics that I usually include in training programs or presentations. I view this information as essential to a foundational knowledge on the subject, and necessary to be as effective as possible in our efforts to assist victims, prosecute traffickers, and raise public awareness.

I then shared my list with several anti-trafficking colleagues, all of whom supported the concept behind the book, and many of whom have offered to contribute to the book. The Essential Abolitionist will not only educate those who desire a better understanding of human trafficking, but will be an asset for abolitionists in the future.

I’ve decided to self-publish the book for several reasons, but here are two: First, I can update information in the print and eBook more easily if needed, and; Two, I wanted as many people as possible to be involved in the project  – and not only by supporting it financially. Backers of The Essential Abolitionist will get to vote on the book cover, read early drafts, and support anti-trafficking efforts in their communities by sharing the book. Hopefully backers will feel they are not just giving support, but are actively involved in the response against trafficking.

Please visit the Kickstarter Project Page!

Then, do three things.
1 – Back the project.
2- Share the project with your friends and colleagues via email and social media – and ask them to support it. (Depending upon your social media platforms you may want to post more than once since not all of your contacts may see only one post. The campaign lasts only 30 days.)
3- Share this project with civic or faith communities, universities, or companies that want to support efforts fighting slavery. Everyone is opposed to slavery, and this is a great opportunity to get involved.

This project involves three of my greatest passions: leadership, collaboration, and the response to human trafficking. Thank you for your support!

(Motivated? Here are two additional things you can do. Follow me on Twitter (or just click the button on my home page), and “Like” The Essential Abolitionist Facebook page. Thanks!)

Leadership, Collaboration, Response to Human Trafficking

Leadership, Collaboration, Response to Human Trafficking. These are the topics I address on my blog, teach to others, and speak about in public. While they may appear to be three different subjects, they are closely intertwined. Together, they also create lessons that are applicable to the world around us; the response to human trafficking is also my laboratory for practicing leadership and collaboration.

Human trafficking (the exploitation of a person’s labor or services, or forced commercial sexual exploitation, through force, fraud or coercion) impacts an estimated 24 million victims worldwide. The International Labour Organization estimates global revenue from trafficking (really, modern slavery) is $150B every year. The dynamics that lead to, and foster, human trafficking are varied and complex. But the dynamics involved in the response to trafficking are even more complex! Whenever a discussion focuses on how individuals and institutions respond to trafficking, the conversation inevitably shifts to topics of leadership and collaboration.

The “4 P Paradigm” is a model of response to human trafficking created and promoted by the federal government; Prevention, Protection (of victims), Prosecution, Partnership. The first three legs fail without Partnership, or collaboration. Sectors involved in the response to trafficking include: victim services providers; local police or sheriffs; federal law enforcement, including FBI and ICE/HSI; local and federal prosecutors; private organizations; community groups; and others. If an effective response is to occur, these sectors have to be able to work together to maximize their own effectiveness. An axiom in the response to trafficking is that no single agency (or sector) can address the problem of human trafficking alone. At a minimum, each sector must recognize that others sectors exist, and that each sector has it’s own mission and goals. Collaboration includes assisting others in achieving their goals. Collaborating in this sense is a learned skill; it requires traits and skills that many of us do not learn naturally and most have not been taught in any formal setting.

Leadership comes into play when discussing how collaborative groups are formed, how decisions are made, and who “leads” the group. This can be especially challenging in a group comprised of different professional cultures, varying levels of knowledge and experience regarding human trafficking, and institutional goals. There have been a lot of failures in the response to trafficking, and when examined closely these failures can usually be traced to issues of leadership and collaboration, not the passion to fight modern slavery.

Lessons of leadership and collaboration experienced in one environment can often be translated into other environments. While I write about the interplay of leadership and collaboration with the response to human trafficking, I also examine leadership and collaboration as they apply to other settings. Being involved in the response to trafficking allows me not only to work in developing effective responses to trafficking, it offers me the environment to practice collaboration and leadership, just as various positions during my career with the San Jose Police Department offered me opportunities to enhance my supervision and leadership skills. Every leader need a laboratory, if you will, in which to practice and develop their leadership skills; true leaders never stop developing their leadership skills.

The topics of leadership, collaboration, and the response to human trafficking are closely connected. Success against modern slavery require leadership and collaboration. At the same time, the development of leadership and collaboration trait and skills can be enhanced in any environment and for any purpose.

As you can see, the words at the top of my homepage are very closely related. Please subscribe to my blog – and share it with others – if you have interest in any of these topics.

Getting Thrown Under the Bus, or Not.

One of the most exciting Super Bowl finishes in history deserves a short examination under the lens of leadership. There is a critical lesson we can all learn from the post-game responses from the Seattle Seahawks’ leadership.

Head Coach Pete Carroll has told the press the decision to call the play which led to the now-infamous interception was his responsibility. Carroll immediately stepped up and took responsibility as every leader should. But wait, Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson has also taken responsibility, stating he agreed with the play selection and believed – as the football left his hand – that a touchdown was imminent. Both Carroll and Wilson have taken responsibility for the decision-making and execution of the play.

As a leader, do you take responsibility for the strategic or tactical decisions you make when the execution of your plan is in the hands of others? As the leader on the field, do you take responsibility for the outcome of your execution of another person’s plan? I hope so, because that is what effective leaders do. In the public response by Carroll and Wilson, nobody is being thrown under the bus. Meanwhile, countless media pundits and fans will look for someone to blame, to chastise, to throw under the bus. (Maybe, simply, credit should be given to Patriots’ rookie Malcolm Butler for a brilliant interception.)

While the play-calling decision and execution in the final 30 seconds of the 2015 Super Bowl will be debated for years (and was made on the most visible stage imaginable), everyday the rest of us, as leaders, face situations and decisions that offer the opportunity to throw someone under the bus – or not. Self-protection by blaming, demeaning, or chastising others in public is the fastest way to lose your credibility as a leader. Don’t throw others under the bus. Taking responsibility for the failures of your team will enhance your leadership credibility; just be prepared to determine the cause of failure and work as a team to correct them for the future. Luckily, few of us have to make decisions and execute a plan, while being watched (and, ultimately, second-guessed) by millions of people. But the impact on our team members as a result of how we act as leaders is just as critical.

Your team will work hard knowing you will take responsibility in the tough times. They will work even harder when the decisions and execution lead to success, and you give them all of the credit.

 

 

3 Signs of Effective Leadership: Do You Experience These?

Talking recently with a friend about leadership, we explored how we might be able to identify if others perceive us as leaders? Formal leadership roles or formal authority – such as a rank – mean we hold positions of leadership, but we have all suffered the experience of answering to someone in a position of leadership who we would describe as a poor, or even terrible, leader. If we define leadership as something we all do (offering positive influence while working with others for a common good) then we should be able to recognize when others view us as practicing leadership effectively – regardless of our formal authority.

Here are three signs we can look for in our own experiences that will offer insight into how others perceive our practice of leadership. There are certainly many more than three, and experiencing all three does not necessarily make us excellent leaders These signs are also contextual; meaning, they are not simply black or white. But they are a start. Do you experience these?

1 – People seek you out for advice. Immediately context becomes important. I’m not referring to people who could be considered subordinate to you, but to people outside your immediate sphere of influence who seek your counsel because they respect your opinions and knowledge. If this person can curry your favor or receive something of value from you, it is not the same thing. Have you ever experienced someone contacting you out of the blue, maybe having received your name and a recommendation from a third party? This is what I’m talking about. The person coming to you wants to tap into your knowledge and experience. They want to learn from your experience of creating positive influence. While not necessarily saying it, they view you as a leader in your field or on a specific topic.

2- Dissent is freely given. When you are responsible (again, either formally or informally) for meetings, conferences, or discussions, do others feel free to dissent with others and – most importantly – you? An effective leader will encourage and sustain an environment where others feel confident they can dissent without repercussions. Leaders who allow dissenting opinions to be heard, discussed, and considered show they value everyone’s input. Not only are these leaders more likely to learn more and discover additional options, they promote cohesion among team members. Everyone feels they are part of the effort. On the other hand, if you do have formal authority over a group, and you do not hear dissenting views, if your subordinates just look at you and nod their heads, well, you are in trouble. You need to take a close look at your leadership practices. Effective leaders tolerate dissent, but never silence.

3 – You self-develop your leadership knowledge and skills. How often do you study topics related to leadership without being mandated? Attending a leadership course or listening to a speaker arranged through your employer doesn’t count. Do you have a real interest in the practice of leadership that inspires you to study and learn, to consistently develop your knowledge, traits, and skills? Do you notice how effective leaders are effective in many different settings? That’s because the practice of effective leadership crosses boundaries; a good leader will want to foster effective leadership practices regardless of the setting. Notice I’m not saying leaders will want to lead regardless of setting, but their positive influence will be felt. Leaders like to practice – or perform – leadership. If this description fits you, great! If you just like being “in charge”, it is time to reassess your practice of leadership.

Here is one extra sign: You regularly take time to examine your practice of leadership. So take a few minutes and look closely at your recent experiences to see if any of these three signs apply to you. Honest self-reflection is the most critical trait for a leader. If you like what you see, great. If what you see needs to be changed, start today. It is never too late to become a better leader.

Are You Involved in the Fight Against Trafficking? Then You Need This!

If you (or your organization) is actively opposing human trafficking in your community this resource is for you! The Human Trafficking Task Force e-Guide. The guide is newly updated and expanded, and is the only guide on task force operations available to the general public. While the guide uses the term “task force,” it is designed to assist any multidisciplinary-team approach to the prevention, investigation or prosecution of human trafficking, or to providing protection and services to victims of trafficking. Regardless of the term used for your organization (coalition, task force, collaborative, etc.), this e-guide will increase the efficiency and knowledge of your members, and your team as a whole.

The e-Guide offers guidelines to collaborative practices, along with more detailed information valuable to victim services providers, law enforcement investigators, and prosecutors. It also contains information on conducting public awareness campaigns, case studies, and a host of additional resources.

The complexities in responding to slavery can only be navigated with a multidisciplinary, victim-centered approach. Yet the work involved with engaging other professional sectors, creating a leadership system within the task force, and working together can be more difficult than the daily work of assisting victims, investigating incidents, or prosecuting traffickers. Much of my consulting work focuses on how individuals and agencies can improved their collaborative work. This e-guide fills a void, and should be studied by everyone involved in the response to trafficking.

Lastly, I was honored to be part of the consultant team on this project. It was a pleasure working with Amy, Jean, and Jack, along with the team at OVC/TTAC. Our hope is that this e-guide will help your organization in your efforts against human trafficking.

Leadership, and the Fight Against Human Trafficking

A key leadership trait is the ability to adapt to change. This ability is vital not only for executive leadership, but also for anyone involved in program management.

For example, over the past several years the number of federally-funded anti-human trafficking task forces has decreased, and this has created both challenges and opportunities for law enforcement agencies in their response to modern slavery. But how to respond to these changes is not the responsibility of the executive staff alone. In fact, adapting any program to new challenges is most likely the responsibility of the program manager. This is an excellent example of how leadership is practiced at all levels of an organization and, more importantly, how the leadership skills of managers impact an entire organization.

This is an article I wrote for The Police Chief magazine, and it examines how local law enforcement agencies have adapted to several changes in the anti-trafficking environment; not only the shift of responsibility from larger, federally-funded task forces to smaller, more localized, responses, but also as our understanding of the dynamics of trafficking has changed over the past several years.

The article can be beneficial for those involved in the fight against human trafficking, and also for any leader seeking examples of how leaders and agencies can adapt to changing circumstances.

Please let me know your thoughts on the article!

Discover Your Leadership Crucibles

The metaphor of a crucible (a container for heating materials to a high temperature or, a sever trial or test) is sometimes used when discussing the learning of leadership through our trials or experiences. The United States Marine Corps has a 54-hour trial that each recruit must complete; it is called The Crucible. Several years ago the San Jose Police Department’s recruit academy staff created a similar (though much shorter) test, during which recruits must work together while hiking, completing a ropes course, complete problem-solving exercises, and display leadership. This trial is also called The Crucible.

The leadership authors Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas examined learning leadership in this manner in their book Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn From Experience to Become a Great Leader. No doubt, learning leadership skills and developing our abilities through our own experiences is, for most of us, the most common way we develop our leadership practices. If we are lucky, we may be offered formal leadership training or instruction to supplement and build upon our experiences. But the key to learning from our experiences is, first, recognizing the opportunity in front of us and, second, making the effort to take advantage of the opportunity. Becoming a better leader requires a conscious effort.

If we stop and think about it, most of us have many, many opportunities over the course of our careers (let alone, our lifetime) to develop our leadership skills. How many of those opportunities did you recognize at the time, and take advantage of? I’ll share three opportunities I had during my police career, each coming at different stages of my career and requiring different types of commitments on my part.

During my first year as a sergeant I supervised a rather arrogant officer who repeatedly made poor decisions, though not of the severe variety. Most of the officer’s problems related to how they engaged with citizens, or handled calls the officer felt were frivolous. Over the course of several minor incidents (and our discussions about these incidents) the officer’s behavior began to border on insubordination. At one point, my lieutenant wanted to step in a begin formal disciplinary action against the officer. It would have been easy to let the lieutenant take charge, but it would have alleviated me of my responsibilities and an opportunity to grow as a leader. I asked the lieutenant to let me try a course of action with the officer. The lieutenant supported me (a leadership lesson in itself), and eventually the officer began to change the way they interacted with others. It took time and effort on both my part and the officer’s, but I like to think that we both learned a few things along the way. The most important part of this experience for me was that leadership requires the willingness to take on difficult situations.

Later in my career, while a sergeant in the Vice unit, I was assigned responsibility for an anti-human trafficking grant the department had received from the U.S. Department of Justice. This was at a time when the response to human trafficking was in its earliest stages, and few people understood what it would take to create and sustain an anti-trafficking task force. A huge part of this work involved creating relationships with federal law enforcement agents, and local organizations who served victims of trafficking. It was an excellent opportunity to develop my collaboration skills, but also required patience and commitment on my part. (And, to be honest, patience on the part of those who had to work with me!) I found the topic of trafficking, and how to respond to slavery, fascinating, and embraced the work with enthusiasm. In fact, I’m still involved in the anti-trafficking community. This engaging in this work took a lot of effort but also gave me tremendous opportunities to enhance existing skills, and identify new areas in which to develop skills. Ironically, this assignment was given to me after two other sergeants chose not to engage in the work. So leaders need to develop an eye for engaging in new areas of challenge; what are some of the new topics being discussed where you work?

The final experience I’ll share is when I was promoted to lieutenant and immediately assigned to command our department’s information technology unit. The problem was that at the time I had zero knowledge about anything to do with IT! Several major projects were in the works and technical decisions had to be made. Also, due to the quirks of how this unit had grown over time, my staff comprised sworn police officers, IT professionals who were employed by the police department, and other IT professionals who were employed by the city and therefore not technically in my chain of command.

The leadership crucible I faced included: how to engage a staff that (rightly so) often felt diminished by the rest of the department; how to make technology decisions in a field I knew nothing about, and; how to gain credibility among my staff which at times suffered their own internal squabbles. This was a huge challenge, but ultimately it was the greatest leadership learning experience of my career.  I learned how to persuade engagement from reluctant team members, draw upon the expertise of others to help me learn, and how to balance input from a variety of sources offering technical advice. I was practicing what is known as adaptive leadership, though I didn’t recognize it at the time.

The common thread among these diverse experiences is that I recognized the opportunity before me and that I made the conscious effort to develop my leadership skills. I could have let the lieutenant take responsibility for the insubordinate officer. I could done minimal work to comply with the anti-trafficking grant and dismissed the opportunity to work with a variety of others. I could have taken command of the IT unit, listened to one or two of the most knowledgeable staff members and began making decisions about hardware and software.

But I didn’t. Instead I took advantage of these opportunities and tried to become a more effective leader. I certainly had frustrations and failures along the way, but the heat of these environments tested my abilities and resolve. Look for your own crucible! Then look for another. Leadership is a burden and requires a consistent effort. Recognize and embrace the opportunities before.  This is how leaders learn from their experience, and the learning should never end.

What leadership crucible can you embrace today?