The Leader Within Me

Sam Hancock, EdD

By Samuel Hancock, EdD
Guest Column

A $300.00 Bribe. Why would a Probation Officer (PO) bribe a client he was responsible for supervising? Why would the PO refuse to refund the money the client had given him when he could not do what he had promised to do for the client? The PO had promised the client that he would be granted probation when his day of sentencing arrived. The client had violated his probation and was in custody awaiting sentencing. However, instead of receiving Probation, the client received 10 years in the Penitentiary, which had been his original sentence. After the client began serving his sentence, he sent a letter to the sentencing Judge complaining about the PO’s. behavior.

The PO refused to plead guilty, requested a trial by jury and was found guilty. Normally, after a jury has rendered a verdict, the judge sets a date for sentencing which could occur a couple of weeks or a month after the verdict. In this situation the PO was sentenced almost immediately after the jury rendered their verdict. The judge was probably very disappointed and upset because a person had been placed in a leadership position by the courts and had abused their authority. Being awarded a leadership position is a privilege not an entitlement.

This tragic, but true, story also illustrates how Leaders don’t always lead in a positive way. This PO used his position and the power of his personality to influence another person to give him money in exchange for something he did not have the authority to give. Leadership is all about influence.

When I began my career as a probation officer I had just graduated from college, and I had no experience. I was asked to assume responsibility for the caseload the convicted former PO had been responsible for. Being thrust into a leadership role does not make you a Leader and although I had a tremendous amount of potential, I had no clue about what the word Leadership meant. I had to discover the leader within me.

I was being asked to assume responsibility for a group of ex-offenders that I first had to find! They had absconded (meaning leaving hurriedly and secretly to avoid detection) to the far ends of the city and state. Some of the excuses I was given as to why they had not reported were so absurd that even I had to laugh. Some thought their probation had ended because the PO had gotten in trouble, some said that nobody had contacted them and some simply said they forgot about it.

One problem that I encountered right away was that I had been in contact with some of these ex-offenders, although I did not know it at the time, because they hung out at the same clubs I frequented, at that time. John Maxell Author of the book entitled The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership once said that that integrity is who we are, who we are determines what we see and what we see determines what we do. If inconsistency exists between what we say and what we do, then our integrity has been compromised.

My effectiveness as a leader was greatly diminished because I did not see myself as a leader. I simply did not understand something I learned a long time ago. People cannot hear what you’re saying because they are too busy looking at what you are doing. A flaw had been developed in my character and others saw it, co-workers, and clients. I did not understand that being a leader involved being lonely at times and it occasionally will be painful because your journey is supposed to be different than the journey of followers.

Eventually I was able to locate most of the ex-offenders. However, I learned a valuable lesson in Leadership and integrity. If you don’t take yourself seriously nobody else will. You can’t separate the way you behave privately or in your personal life from the way you behave publicly or in your professional life. For example, one of my former supervisors became very intoxicated at one of our office parties and when he saw me, he said  “I hope you will respect me in the morning.” It was difficult for me to view him the same way that I did prior to that incident.

Definition of Leadership and a Leadership Paradigm

One of the best definitions I have been given about Leadership is taken from the book The Spirit of Leadership, written by the late Myles Monroe, PhD. He defines leadership as the,” The ability to influence others through Inspiration motivated by a passion, generated by a vision, produced by a conviction, and ignited by a purpose.”

When my career began as a PO, I was not familiar with Monroe’s definition of leadership or his work in this area. But I was very familiar with Blake and Mouton’s work, the Managerial Grid. This paradigm involved five different management/leadership styles. Blake and Mouton characterized the 1-1 manager/leader as a person who had one degree of concern for productivity and one degree of concern for the person. The 1-9 Manager/Leader as a person who has one degree of concern for productivity and nine degrees of concern for the person.

In addition, they described the 9-1 manager/leader as having nine degrees of concern for productivity and one degree of concern for the person. The 5-5 manager/leader was described   as having five degrees of concern for productivity and five degrees of concern for the person. The empirical Manager/Leader, the 9-9 Manager is one who has nine degrees of concern for productivity and nine degrees of concern for the person.

In retrospect I was functioning as a 5-5 manager.  I had a “country-club” type of mindset which involved me being a “middle of the road” kind of Leader, trying to have it “both ways.” However, as I matured and began to realize that others around me were being much more productive than I and were being rewarded and recognized for their productivity, I decided to become more consistent in the way I lived privately and publicly.

The first thing I did was to quit “hanging out” in places where many of the clients I supervised frequented. Also, I began meeting with clients on my caseload in small groups and making a more concerted effort to hold them accountable (working toward developing nine degrees of Concern for Productivity) but to also to become more interested and getting involved in helping them receive (working toward developing nine degrees of concern for the person) what they really needed (housing, employment etc.).

I did not realize it at first but gradually I became convinced that I had been inspired by the managerial grid. I could feel myself developing a passion for the work, because I began to believe in the mission of the department. I also began to believe in the vision of community-based corrections and consequently a purpose had been ignited in me. Monroe’s definition of Leadership was manifesting itself in me and I did not even know it. I had discovered the leader within me.

There were at least four ways a probation officers performance was measured. One was how often your clients reported. Two was how many paid on their court costs. Three was how well did you get along with the clients you were supervising. Four was and how effective were you in influencing your clients to comply with their conditions of probation. On one occasion I was recognized for having collected more court costs during one quarter. On another occasion, I was asked to work with a client who every other Probation officer he had been assigned to had been unsuccessful in working with. He was big, loud. very intimidating and had a serious alcohol problem.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I was not a miracle working PO nor was I the smartest or more competent than other PO’s. But I did have two qualities that helped me tremendously. One was patience and the other was that I genuinely liked people. As a result, I was able to identity what this client’s most serious problem was and what drove his anger and alcoholism. He needed adequate housing. That’s all.

Once I was able to help him in this area and once, I became more serious about my work I was able to influence him to seek treatment for his drinking problem to lower his voice when he came to the office and to just behave in a more mature way. But of course, I had to use one aspect of Kotter’s eight-stages of change theory, I had to model the way. I even requested that he seek help spiritually and he visited a Church.

Finally, remember that PO who was convicted of bribery? After he served a few years in a minimum-security prison, he was released and turned his life around. A little while later he joined me and my family for dinner. The Leadership in you involves empathy as well.

I learned how to lead, and I am still learning. And to think it all started with a former colleague taking a $300.00 bribe.

Samuel H. Hancock Ed.D. SHRM-CP


Samuel Hancock, EdD, is SHRM (Society Human Resource Management) Certified in Human Resources and is currently the vice president for Human Resources at the Area Office on Aging NW Ohio. Hancock is also the former assistant to the president for Institutional Diversity at the University of Toledo where he held a faculty appointment in the Department of Medicine. He is also a licensed, ordained Minister of the Gospel.