Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

The ephemeral quality of leadership

Post by Brian O'Neill on Nov. 26, 2012 at 7:07 am with 7 Comments »
November 26, 2012 7:07 am

Since I began writing this blog some 18 months ago, I have become a cover-to-cover news junkie. I look for stories that capture my attention, especially those which have a common thread. When I find such articles, ones with a tangible connection to an intriguing theme, it becomes a column.

Case in point are three unlikely recent samplings from the News Tribune: the latest on the Petraeus scandal; a “Dilbert” comic poking fun at managers; an article about a Gig Harbor police sergeant currently suing her department for harassment.

Courtesy of

The nexus which connects these three disparate topics is leadership, a trait which is easy to recognize, difficult to define, and becoming as rare as an honest politician, a competent public official or a selfless CEO.

Let’s begin with the Petraeus-Kelley-Broadwell triangle (or square, if you count General John Allen). The story has morphed from national security scandal into a pathetic joke involving an overabundance of flow charts. It has scorched the reputation of General David Petraeus, a soldier widely praised for his ability to motivate and inspire troops while managing billions of dollars in military assets, because he failed the litmus test of public trust.

Petraeus has become one more Shakespearean tragic figure, a victim of his own human weakness. His exit from the national stage included a concise acknowledgement of his own mistakes, and in this he showed real dignity. He may have strayed from the path of leadership, but at least he pointed out the wrong turn.

Moving on, I’ll let the “Dilbert” cartoon speak for itself (if you need a visual, picture an evil cat standing on Bozo the Clown’s desk).

Pointy-haired boss: “I’m more of a leader than a manager.”

Catbert: “That’s what all the bad managers say.”

Even without the characters, the context of the message is clear: In today’s workplace, where management and leadership are murky synonyms, the strip’s cynical joke works because the notion of leadership is, unfortunately, nothing more than a corporate buzzword.

Which brings me to the article (Trib 11/21) describing a recent lawsuit served on the Gig Harbor Police Department. Sergeant Sharon Cox, the department’s only female supervisor, filed a sexual harassment claim alleging, among other abuses, that subordinates illegally viewed her personnel file. That is a legitimate concern, however, the suit goes much further.

Cox also alleged that Chief Mike Davis told her to “expect to be given a hard time from the other officers” and cited instances where officers were insubordinate.

To be fair, breaking the mold is a tough job. But so is the challenging role of being a police sergeant which universally includes dealing with insubordinate employees. That facet is such a vital part of the job that promotional tests always include the “unruly subordinate” scenario. An inability to handle employee insubordination is as much a reflection on the supervisor as it is on the subordinate. It is certainly a matter unworthy of a lawsuit.

Cox’ subordinates also voted “No Confidence” in her leadership skills. That may be due to her response to a fatal shooting on the Key Peninsula on August 11. In that instance, Cox had reportedly been handling a hit-and-run collision when the shooting was first broadcast, but she delayed her response ten precious minutes as she finished her paperwork and notified her lieutenant of the call.

In hindsight, the paperwork can wait, and the lieutenant will understand if the call is delayed in lieu of public safety. Instead, Cox’ performance eroded her authority and in the resultant chaos she decided to sue. Is that the right course of action?

No. Absolutely not. We expect police officers, regardless of rank, to have the common sense to know what’s important, to immediately respond when someone is in serious trouble.

Just so, we want our military, political and corporate leaders to behave as role models, to put the best interests of their subordinates, constituents and employees at the forefront, to be role models who set the standard of behavior. Gender or race is unimportant- what we need are supervisors, managers, generals and chiefs willing to do more than simply show up to enjoy their perks.

We need them to lead.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. Anything can happen to the average individual walking down the
    street. In the blue cocoon anything can and will happen.
    Is the problem that because of encrypted communications cops
    think no one will ever find out what is said? When it does come out it
    seems likely that citizens will always blow it up to enormous
    proportions. In France would Petraeus have gotten any more then a
    talking to?

  2. Alinup – not when you’re discussing the head of the CIA. Do you have any idea what a security risk an extramarital affair is, especially in the intelligence world? I know that since Clinton people seem to have a cavalier attitude towards sex and our public officials, but come on.

    And we’re not france, thank God.

  3. smokey984 says:

    So the question remains and needs to be asked and addressed. Why is there a lack of leadership within our society? Political leaders, community leaders, etc etc…

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Good question…

  5. I think it is sad that as a society we care more about what someone is personally doing to get their rocks off instead of caring about how they do their job, which is representing the people, or doing the job we hired them to do. I don’t care if Petraus had an affair, that’s his personal business between him, his wife and the lady he screwed around with. Does he do his job well? Does he have the confidence of his subordinates?

    As far as the Sgt. in Gig Harbor suing the department after her lack of punctuality on a very important call, it’s typical CYA. Just another card to play….she did wrong and instead of owning up to it, she is trying to shift blame elsewhere. Whether it was out of cowardice or indifference, I wouldn’t place any trust in her to back me up if I was one of her subordinates. I’d fully expect to have my a** hanging out in the wind taking fire while she was finishing up paperwork on a routine call. And that’s unacceptable for a leadership figure like a Sgt. in a police force. Just because she is a woman in a typically men dominant position doesn’t mean she can not do her job then be absolved of all blame for that.

  6. Can leadership at all levels in this nation always
    be encrypted?

  7. ZeroDarkThirty says:

    It is hard to make a correct judgement with Sgt. Cox when incomplete information comes out of the media. Sgt. Cox works for the City of Gig Harbor P.D. The shooting call was not even in her jurisdiction. It was a call for the Pierce County Sheriffs Office. The Sheriffs Office can make a request for assistance from the adjoining jurisdiction. As a Sgt., it would be proper for her to stay in the City and clear subordinate officers to assist the adjoining jurisdiction. This shooting occurred on a Saturday and she was the highest ranking officer in the City. The phone calls she made was to an off duty Lt. Colberg. She would be the acting Chief as the highest ranking officer. Believe me, the Chief of Gig Harbor is not running off to take up arms outside his jurisdiction. She now has a target on her back and her life is going to be made miserable until she leaves or until the good-ol-boy system is smashed.

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