Service Above Self and Ethical Leadership

This month’s column was inspired by my teenage daughter’s enthusiasm following a recent Midlothian Youth Council Leadership session on ethical leadership led by Chief Carl Smith of the Midlothian Police Department. I sat down with the Chief eager to hear more about the leadership lessons that engaged even busy high school students. With a challenge coin on the table framing the discussion, Chief Smith explained that he joined the Department in 2007 with a goal of rebranding the organization through collaboration with the officers and administrative team to develop a mission, shared values, and a moto to lead the organization.

The mission statement developed into dedication “to delivering police services in partnership with our community to keep Midlothian the safest place to live, work and visit.” As Chief Smith explains, the officers are the arm of the community with the training and authority to step in and create resolution when conflict arises. Although officers are trained in a team environment, Chief Smith believes that each officer must appreciate that every time he or she steps into an environment, the officer immediately becomes the most powerful person in the setting. The officer must know how to use that authority and have the maturity to de-escalate very dangerous situations. In the highest-stress environments, officers must bring calm and objective perspective to find solutions.

Although the department agreed on nine core values, three were added to the Department’s challenge coins: integrity, commitment, and courage. Integrity, the hallmark of ethical leadership, is critical when an officer is empowered to detain, arrest, use force, even take a life under the color of law. In hiring and training officers, Chief Smith emphasizes the importance of making sure recruits fully understand the power to ruin a person’s life and to cause him to incur enormous amounts of money fighting to save a reputation. The officers must show commitment is to quality. Courage means facing adversity and danger with valor and fortitude to ensure the safety of those whom the officers are sworn to protect

“Service above Self” emerged as the Department motto. Proposed by an officer who had recently returned from Afghanistan, the words resonated with the entire department. A later presentation by Chief Smith to the Midlothian Rotary revealed that the very same motto had long guided the Rotarians. Perhaps recognizing the benefit of having the motto to inspire service throughout another organization, the local Rotary Club applauded the choice by the police department.

As we edge closer to the end of my term as Chair, and I reflect on a year filled with challenges and opportunity for growth, I realize that individually and as a chamber leader I have much to learn from those words: service above self. We regularly frame leadership discussions around how “the Chamber” can best serve the membership, but the service comes not from the Chamber as a thing, a place, or an entity. It comes from the real people: staff, members, volunteers, community partners, you, and me.

More than thirty members served many long and thoughtful hours developing the three core strategic directions guiding us today to create value, build capacity, and engage and impact the community. Many more opportunities to serve remain in the implementation of those strategies. The Chamber is the community that happens when real people connect to serve and help each other thrive in business and in life. Those acts of “service above self” pay back in ways we will never adequately capture in our member benefit packet, but we hope you will give it a try.

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