A Leadership Lesson from a Cop Show?

bostonEvery so often a silly cop show can have a profound message. I watched one today. The message it communicated – that leaders have to look beyond the obvious in connecting with their employees – was really well done, if a little hokey.

Maura is the Medical Examiner for the Boston Police Department. She has a Fellow working for her, an Army doctor back from Afghanistan, transitioning from general medicine to pathology, studying under her tutelage. He is a jokester, with a subtle sense of humor that she rarely understands. She passes him in the hall, and casually asks if he has notified the parents of the cause of death of their daughter. He said he had not, and was obviously uncomfortable with either being confronted, or in failing to have completed what had been asked.

So he grabbed her and kissed her.

After a day’s time, he brings a report to her in the lab, and she asks him to come to her office in twenty minutes. He does. She gets up from her desk, came around the room, closes and locks the door, draws the blinds and walks up to him, saying, “You started something in the hall, and I’m going to finish it.”

He stutters an apology, and says “It’s not what you think.”

She replies, “I think you did exactly what you wanted to do – distract me from what we were talking about.”

He says, “It’s a really long story,” and she responds, “That’s okay. I’ll make time.”

Turns out he had a traumatic incident while in Afghanistan, having hired a local boy to help out in the medical center who was killed. He had to face the parents of the boy, and the event troubled him so much it drove him into pathology where he expected to never have to pass along such horrible news again.

He says, “I know, you’re going to have to fire me.”

Maura answers, “No, I’m going to help you.”

The last scene in the show shows him at a house, hugging the woman and shaking hands with the man, as Maura looks on.  He thanks Maura for helping him through the meeting with the parents, and she says, “It’s all part of my job.”

There are a couple things that strike me about this scenario. While a bit unrealistic – amped up for TV – it fairly dramatically provides an example of how things are not always as they seem. True, it could have been exactly what it seemed but that would be a different TV show.

Here’s what I found cool about the way Maura handled this.

She gave herself time to think

The scenario in the hall was awkward, but it might have been tempting to respond immediately, and there could have been a whole continuum of response depending upon her feelings, but she didn’t. She thought about how best to handle the situation.

She called him to her office

Setting aside the television-induced nuances of a potential personal relationship, asking someone to come to your office says, “This is serious, and we need to talk.” There is nothing wrong with that. It gives both the boss and the subordinate time to think through the situation.

She made time for a long story

We’re all busy, and I suspect an urban medical examiner is no less so.  Nevertheless, she made time to listen.

She never stepped out of her role as a leader

Even with the dramatic closing of the door, her intent was to make a point to someone that she was in charge. Too often we apologize for “being in charge.” That demeans our authority.

She realized that leadership is part helping and part teaching

There is no perfect employee; everyone has strengths and challenges. It is a leader’s job to help with the hard lessons, and to teach ways of coping and growing.

She didn’t let him off the hook

She was his teacher and mentor in transitioning into pathology, and therefore couldn’t let him not carry out a task that is part of a medical examiner’s job. She pushed him to make the call to the parents, and helped him be comfortable doing it. He overcame a challenge, which is called “growth.”

Leadership is more than just setting a vision and directing work

Leadership is the responsibility entrusted in those who have the honor and duty to nurture and develop others. Nurturing doesn’t mean letting followers pave their own road if it doesn’t meet the needs of the organization. Instead it means looking at people as individuals, connecting with who they are and what they need, and helping them do the very best work they can do.

I thought this was a pretty nice little vignette about how leadership might work.

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