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Leadership: Texas Hold 'Em Style
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The Best Leadership Book

An excerpt from Chapter 25

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Note: This is an excerpt from Chapter 25 of Leadership Texas Hold em Style




You cannot survive without that intangible quality we call heart. The mark of a top player is not how much he wins when he is winning but how he handles his losses.  If you win for thirty days in a row, that makes no difference if on the thirty-first you have a bad night, go crazy, and throw it all away.

Bobby Baldwin on Poker


            Morale is incredibly important in any organization; it affects everything.  It affects how people treat one another, their work quality and even the way in which they answer the phone.  It is elusive in nature but palpable in its impact.  If morale is low, it is a problem even if everything else in an organization is strong.  Karl Von Clausewitz, a Prussian military general and military theorist, identified morale as a fundamental military principle.  Since Clausewitz published On War, morale has developed into a concept seen as critical to organizations.  Unfortunately, morale is difficult to define and in many circles has become somewhat synonymous with motivation.  But, morale is not about motivation.

            Research indicates that high morale creates a more productive and safe workplace.  When morale is high employees are enthusiastic, dedicated, and creative.  They have a personal investment in their work and gain a sense of fulfillment from it.  The quality of work and the quality of the workplace are both increased when morale is high.  Traditional definitions of morale include: the mood of individuals in the workplace; attitude or spirit; how a unit feels about itself and its abilities; and, even a state of individual psychological well-being.  As you can see, these definitions go back and forth between the individual and groups.  We all have good and bad days.  Yet, as individuals who occasionally wake up on the wrong side of the bed, we generally dont affect the mood of the entire unit.  As our personal attitude ebbs and flows, the morale of our unit is marching to a different drummer. In a previous chapter we talked about your individual attitude as a leader.  Here, we are looking at the overall attitude of your work unit. 

            Morale is about groups and it might be defined as how a group feels about what it does.  For instance, this group feeling can be an expression of how high or low the group values an activity. If a group of detectives have their job suddenly changed and they find themselves working in uniform and issuing traffic citations, they may have lowered morale because they place a low value on working in uniform and issuing citations.

            For the detectives, their normal working conditions do not involve uniformed activities nor issuing citations.  The activity is outside their group norm and not highly valued.  Morale is about sub-group norms and values and their alignment with larger organizational norms and values.  For our hapless detectives, working in uniform and issuing citations is not the norm nor highly valued by the group.  Therefore, when the larger organization imposes new norms and values, if the group maintains its previous norms and values there is a misalignment which manifests itself as low morale.  The detectives will show-up in uniform and issue citations but because of the misalignment between group and organizational values we can expect them to have lowered morale and probably not issue many citations.

A norm is the behavior expected within a group of individuals.  It is a belief shared by the group about what is normal and acceptable.  In groups we establish norms so that we can anticipate and judge the actions of other group members.  In law enforcement, we have a strong safety norm.  We expect our peers to be tactically sound and safe.  We place a high value on this norm.  Value is an expression of worth we place on an activity.  In other words, groups can have many norms (safety and productivity) and they can place differing values on those norms.  For instance, we generally value safety over productivity. 

If your organization developed a new rule, policy or procedure that seemed to value productivity over safety, morale would most likely be lower.  Employees would have the previous value scheme wherein safety was more important than productivity.  They would not feel good about the change.  Also, like the detectives who were asked to issue citations, if the organization rapidly changes the norm, employee morale falls.  It is the imposed change in the value or norm that lowered morale.

            Changes and challenges to sub-group norms come from both inside and outside the organization.  If a police officer is killed, especially in the line-of-duty, many group norms and values are challenged.  Police officers face dangerous situations daily.  The norm is that police officers, as individuals or members of a team, overcome those dangers.  The death can represent an inability to overcome danger thereby challenging the norm.  Moreover, we value human life as well, the individual person who died, and safety.  An on-duty death can shake all three values.  This outside challenge to the norm can lead to a lowering of morale.

            Sub-group changes from within are somewhat more subtle.  A sub-group with high congruence to organizational values can find itself drifting towards new sub-group norms and values and experience lowered morale.  As an example, weak small-unit leadership can lead to deviant peer group behavior becoming the norm.  Perhaps the leader allows a clique to grow within the workplace.  A clique will develop its own norms and values.  Typically, it will value clique membership more than wider workgroup membership.  This change in values leads to a change in normal behavior which manifests itself as a reduction in workgroup morale. 

When groups feel good about what they do, they experience high morale.  Certainly, high morale can lead to improved productivity and quality.  If we accept the proposition that morale is an expression of sub-group alignment with larger organizational norms and values, an increase in productivity and quality makes sense.  As an example, if the sub-group and the larger organization both value traffic citations, traffic citations will be issued.

            For law enforcement, sub-group alignment with larger organizational norms and values is even more critical.  Police officers work in a high-discretionary environment.  Basically, we choose when to intervene and what to do.  The use of discretion is driven by our norms and values.  In other words, our decisions will reflect our alignment with organizational norms and values.  Consider the impact of norms and values alignment on high-discretionary activities like the application of reasonable suspicion, probable cause, use of force, and vehicle pursuits.   Simply put, high morale leads to greater group and individual integrity.  As you can see, morale is critical to your organization.

            In most organizations, management as a whole is collectively responsible for morale.  This is fine in theory, but generally does not have a practical application because morale is such an inclusive and intangible attribute most closely associated with sub-groups within an organization.  Through experience, Andrew has developed a technique that can improve morale as a whole by breaking it down into more manageable pieces. 

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