Pitching Character – Character-based Praise

Shortly after I took office as Sheriff of Dorchester County, we experienced a tragic crime. An armored-car was hi-jacked and one of the guards brutally murdered. Due to an intense investigation and some top-notch forensic work, we were able to identify the murderer and successfully prosecute the case.

Right after the jury came in with their verdict, I sought out my Detective Sergeant (now a Lieutenant) who had handled the crime scene and forensic portion of the case. I knew the conviction was largely due to his efforts and I wanted to recognize him for a job well-done.

Lt. Earl Asbell

So I found him out back of the courthouse and went up to praise him as any good Sheriff should. But instead of praising him for his achievement (gaining the conviction), telling him “good job,” or “keep up the good work,” I praised him for three character qualities. By “pitching” these character qualities, right across the plate so he could catch them, I made the “character connection” and ensured that I sent the right message.

Gaining the conviction was the achievement–the fruit. Character qualities like attentiveness, thoroughness, and diligence were the seeds that produced the fruit. If you focus on the fruit and neglect the seed, you can produce a bad crop. It’s the Law of the Harvest. According to our Character Maxim, if you focus on achievement to the exclusion of character, you encourage bad character. 

Watch this short video excerpt from the Police Dynamics Video Training Series as I demonstrate how to use character-based praise to encourage high achievement. 

Praising character over competence requires a new vocabulary. The 49 character qualities defined by Character First provide an excellent tool.


The Rookie’s Pursuit – Making the Character Connection

Do you remember your first pursuit? Most police officers do. They can turn out really good or they can turn out really bad. As law enforcement leaders, we can use character-based praise to help minimize the potential disasters associated with high-speed police pursuits.

In this short clip from the Police Dynamics Video Training Series, I use the story of a Rookie’s Pursuit to illustrate just how important it is to praise the character that produced the achievement rather than the achievement itself. 


In this illustration, the Rookie exercised the character quality of self-control:

rejecting wrong desires and doing what is right.

His self-control is what kept his own emotions in-check and maintained his composure so he could make good decisions under pressure.


The Character Training Institute defines Determination as:

purposing to accomplish right goals at the right time, regardless of the opposition.

Watch this heart-warming video of a young girl whose determination allowed her to overcome an incredible obstacle in order to reach her goals in life. 

Click here to download the full list of the 49 character qualities and their definitions.

Sensitivity: the Key to Street Survival

The character quality of the month is Sensitivity, which the Character Training Institute defines as:

Perceiving the true attitudes and emotions of those around me.

Think about it from a street survival perspective for a minute. Perceiving the true attitudes and emotions of a criminal suspect can be the difference in life or death. We call it “street savvy” or “street sense,” but the character quality of sensitivity can give you more protection on the street than your ballistic vest…!

(Which I am grateful to have when I am roaming around the streets of Afghanistan…)

Determination – A drunk and his beer are not easily parted…

A little bit out of the norm for the Police Dynamics blog, but I couldn’t help but think just how determined this drunk was to hang on to his beer…!

The working definition we use for Determination comes from the Character First! curriculum. It says that determination is:

Purposing to accomplish right goals at the right time, regardless of the opposition

Of course you have to question his choice of goals in this video, but you can’t question his commitment…!

Law enforcement and leadership are full of obstacles. In his book Challenging the Law Enforcement Organization: Proactive Leadership Strategies, Jack Enter calls leadership the “path of most resistance.” (I have heard Jack speak on numerous occasions and am very impressed with his humor, communications skills, and insights into police leadership. I highly recommend him as a consultant and motivational speaker.) Jack promotes determination in the face of opposition as a key character quality for effective police leadership.

I am currently reading Larry Kreider‘s new book,  the 21 Tests of Effective Leadership. Larry makes the same point. He says discipline is the key to passing the Perseverance Test:

“Discipline is what keeps us going forward when our emotions are saying something different. Discipline is what causes us to ‘order our steps’ and face our fears… Discipline keeps our thoughts and emotions on track when circumstances around us would dictate otherwise.”

And I’ve often found myself saying “The undisciplined life is not worth living.”

If only we could demonstrate the level of determination demonstrated by this drunk in accomplishing some of our “right goals.”

Through the Magnifying Glass

People are quick to say that ethical matters are not always black and white, but often gray. My counter is that I don’t think it’s a matter of grayness. Grayness is just our lack of information or our lack of understanding of the underlying ethical principles.

It’s like looking at a black and white photograph in a newspaper. At first glance, there appears to be a lot of gray. But pull out a magnifying glass and look closer. What do you see? A bunch of black dots on a white background. So what appears to be gray on the surface is really just black and white when we analyze it more closely.

Ethical situations can be a lot like the photo. We sometimes have to pull out our “ethical magnifying glass” if we are to see and understand the underlying principles more effectively. Once we can bring the black and white into focus, our ethical decisions become easier.

I was reminded of this principle earlier today when I read a post by Jack Marshall on the Ethics Alarm Blog Site (an excellent resource for ethics-based leadership, by the way). Police Dynamics and the principles of good character help us to keep that magnifying glass polished so we can make better ethical decisions.