“Blue Courage” — Coming to a Police Station Near You?

Zic-Schlomas, Nila, Ziman, Couper, Snelling, and Schmer at their summer meeting near Madison.

Last weekend I attended a preview of the “Blue Courage course” for police officers at the Aurora, Ill. Police Department.

I first met the men and women who put together the course this past summer when Michael Nila, Dan Schmer, Larry Snelling, Ginny Zic-Schlomas. and Kristen Ziman came for a visit (Michael is a retired police commander from Aurora, Dan is a retired Kansas City captain, Larry is an active training sergeant with the Chicago department, Ginny is an active Chicago detective and Kristen is an active commander in Aurora). They all have impressive career experiences and formal educations! So, I said yes when they asked me to come down to Aurora and preview the course which is intended to inspire a sense of nobility, purpose, character, and greatness into policing. Or in their own words:

Blue Courage is a way of being, a philosophy that inspires one to embody the noblest of character and unquestioned devotion. It is to flourish in all aspects of life, to act with practical wisdom, to exude vitality, and to hearten human connections. 

“Blue Courage is a transformational two day leadership development workshop designed for all levels of the organization. This revolutionary educational process is designed to touch hearts, awaken minds and ignite spirits through dynamic presentations and learning processes. If your interest is self-improvement, increased engagement, stress-management, developing resilience, igniting culture change, combating cynicism, while improving overall health and well-being, then Blue Courage is waiting for you to answer the call!”

Wow! This, in short, is why I wrote my book. It is the reason I have re-engaged into policing. This is what is needed today!

After the seminar, and on the way home, I struggled with ways to bring this vision, belief-set and values into operational practice. I mean, isn’t that the essential of leadership – to teach, coach a set of values like Blue Courage teaches into organizational operations; that is, “to walk our talk”?

Since my police years I have had the opportunity to attempt to do the same thing in the religious/spiritual sphere – to teach, coach and “walk the talk.” In counseling church members I would often say, “I hear you say you believe such and so, but how are you practicing what you believe in your daily life? How are you putting your beliefs into action?” I am still pondering how to effectively do that. My secondary career as a clergyman is based on a belief I have always held — that we can transform and better our lives and the lives of those around us.

In my police days, I attempted to change a top-down style of leadership in my department into a more collaborative style we called “Quality Leadership.” It took at least a decade to do it. And it began with the casting a bold vision of how this new practice would work, training both leaders and employees, conducting periodic “check-ins” as to how we were doing, and implementing a leadership academy that was open to rank-and-file officers. Almost 20 years later it seems it is still in place and being practiced.

As I was thinking back about this transformation, I suddenly realized that not every leader in the organization was 100% on board. We had resistance. Even from some top managers. There never was a total buy-in from everyone. Some leaders just went through the motions. They learned the skill-set, but never had the heart-set. My officers, although, knew who was posing and who wasn’t. But it really didn’t slow things down because we all shared the EXPECTATION that this was what a leader is to DO. This is WHO leaders are. And change happened and was sustained.

Chartes, a magnificent 12th century cathedral in France.

So what’s the message I got this weekend? What did I realize on my drive home from Aurora? Let me try to explain it with a story. It comes from the Middle Ages. The time of the building of Europe’s great cathedrals.

Once a great cathedral was envisioned, the Master Builder drew up the construction plans to make this great, bold, and breath-taking vision of a magnificent cathedral into bricks and mortar — a reality. But the first Master Builder never lived long enough to see it finished. For the most part, building a great cathedral took a hundred years. It was a three-generation, effort.

There were no short-cuts to building such edifices. The one who envisioned the building and those who began the construction never saw the finished product. The first Master Builder saw the foundation laid, some walls erected, the next generation saw more work completed and, perhaps, the roof installed. It was only the third or fourth generation who saw the building completed.

But this story is not just about Master Builders but also about Stone Masons; those who cut and carved precise building blocks from the huge boulders that other men dug from quarries miles away. To some of them they considered themselves “just Stone Masons.”  But there were others who had a grander vision. They did not consider themselves to be just a Stone Mason – they were Cathedral Builders.

I can only imagine what they brought to the building site each day. “Hey, Joe, how’s it going? Isn’t it great to be a Cathedral Builder? What an honor! What a blessing! This is important and exciting work that we do!”

Each day all the Masons were lifted up by the Cathedral Builders in their ranks. These are the men and women who are the real leaders in our organization because they get the big picture of what it means to be a police officer in a democratic society. They know WHO they are and WHAT they are to DO! They’re not just cops, they are practitioners of a noble profession that helps, protects, and makes things right. They are civil-rights protectors and they model citizenship.

Some of our police leaders today have caught the vision of this noble future. But so far, not everyone has. And that’s okay, because, as I said, we have men and women in the ranks who have caught the vision and are our Cathedral Builders. They do not look at themselves as ennobled men and women who are working toward the Blue Courage dream:

 “… a way of being. a philosophy that inspires one to embody the noblest of character and unquestioned devotion. It is to flourish in all aspects of life, to act with practical wisdom, to exude vitality, and to hearten human connections.” (For more, see www.bluecourage.com)

I am,  by nature, an impatient person. Most cops are like that. We like to get things done, problems solved, and move on to the next problem. But today’s needs demands something more: police committed to being first-generation Cathedral Builders — those who embrace and work toward the Blue Courage vision.

To me, that’s what Blue Courage is, it’s a bold, breath-taking plan for a better future for not only police but for everyone.

Because I have travelled and seen and prayed in those magnificent cathedrals built over a  hundred years by three generations of workers, I am convinced that we can and will prevail with our own cathedral-building. Even though we may not see the end product of that which we dream today, it will happen. We will ennoble policing and this will make for a much better, heartfelt, and beautiful world for those who follow us. It’s not about us — it’s about our future and those who come after us.

That’s the lesson of the cathedral and why I believe the Blue Courage effort among our nation’s police will also turn my dream for police into reality.

Will you commit with me to this future for policing and work toward it?

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

3 Responses to ““Blue Courage” — Coming to a Police Station Near You?”

  1. Based on the information known to date, count me in.

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  1. Top Posts This Week | improving police - July 20, 2014

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