Part 1: Interview with Assistant Police Chief Steve Thiry, Servant Leader
Tuesday, July 19, 2016 - Joe Kiedinger
Meet Assistant Police Chief, Steve Thiry. Steve is a 24-year veteran of the Fond du Lac Police Department. He has served in many training and leadership positions which include performing the duties of a patrol officer, crisis negotiator, field training supervisor, and various patrol supervision positions (up to and including Captain of Patrol) before his current assignment in administration.
So, with this type of background, what does Steve know about Servant Leadership? In talking to him, he’d probably say prior to 2009, not much. But all of that has changed! Read on to learn more about Steve, and we also invite you to come see Steve speak at our next Servant Leaders of Wisconsin event, RSVP here.
Q: Your presentation is called “Emotional Survival: Finding Meaning and Purpose in the Workplace through Servant Leadership.” Your background has been with the police department since 1992, but not every field of work seems as impactful as those that work closely with the community. Can people in all types of organizations find meaning and purpose through Servant Leadership? If so, why is it important to have meaning and purpose in what we do?
Steve: I truly believe that an individual’s need to feel liked, loved, wanted and needed is universal, no matter what your occupation is. The feedback we receive from others in the form of verbal kindness and positive interactions has a lot to do with how people believe they are perceived by others. That feedback also has a lot to do with people obtaining their “higher order” needs, such as a sense of belonging and a sense of self-esteem. This has a lot to do with a person’s happiness in the workplace, and that reaching of “higher order” needs is what causes people to be engaged. People who have achieved this level are happy at work, loyal to the organization and willing to be part of the solution to any problems encountered in the workplace. They are emotionally connected.
Those that limit their focus on the “lower order” needs don’t usually reach that level of satisfaction in the workplace. While obtaining these needs is critical since they include things such as food, water, shelter and safety; they do not address the individual’s need to be a part of something bigger and to make a difference. These employees have what they need to survive physically, but there is an emotional component missing. This creates a lack of connection.
I don’t think meeting those “higher order” needs is limited to public service, nor is it limited to the profession of law enforcement. Almost every profession provides a service to others in one form or another, whether it is manufacturing a product, performing a service, or managing a process. Somewhere there is a need that is being filled which impacts those around us. There is satisfaction to be had knowing that what you do for a living provides benefit to someone else. When your actions contribute to someone else reaching their full potential and having a better life: that is Servant Leadership.
The practice of Servant Leadership is not limited to the workplace either. Rather, it can be practiced in every aspect of a person’s life and quite frankly should be. Imagine a community where neighbors subscribe to this philosophy. Imagine everyone, in whatever role they are in, being committed to making it their mission to help other people reach their full potential and have a better life. That is a community that I want to live in, but everyone needs to do their part with whatever passion or gift they have to share.
Q: You plan to tell us about your Servant Leadership “a-ha moment” (but don’t give it away now!) and how this moment awakened your real priorities for yourself and within the police department. This happened in 2009. Once you had the wheels of servant leadership in motion, have there been moments you lost sight of this vision along your path? How do you keep this leadership philosophy top of mind for you and the force?
Steve: Absolutely. We are all human. As human beings we all have the potential to slip back into our old habits. The path of a Servant Leader is not an easy one. Trying to walk that path requires constant effort. The environments we work in, as well as the time limitations and pressures we put on ourselves and others, all open the door to non-Servant Leader behavior. The key to staying on the path is to look in the mirror and to reflect on how things are going. I’ve learned that most of us in leadership roles develop a form of “tunnel vision” caused by the stresses of the job. What I mean by this is that we all become so focused on the task immediately in front of us that we lose sight of the big picture. We must be purposeful in setting time aside each day to get out of the daily grind and to think about things more globally. It is only from that view that we get refocused on the true goals and go about the daily tasks with renewed purpose.
It is important to mention that looking in the mirror also helps me stay grounded to Servant Leadership. I once heard a quote from Ann McGee Cooper who stated, “What am I doing that is causing me the problem that I don’t want?” To me, this quote often makes me look in the mirror to see if my actions are within the principles of Servant Leadership, or if I strayed off the path and that is what is causing the issues I face.
Q: What is one lesson you hope all attendees will take away from your presentation?
Steve: My wish is that if attendees only take away one point from my presentation, it would be to recognize that they have the ability to change their world. Actions do not have to be grandiose. It starts with the smallest of effort but if everyone makes one small effort each day with the people they come into contact with, that would have a ripple effect that would reach people and places that are beyond imagination.
Q: You’ll be speaking about the “Ladder of Inference,” which describes the thinking process that we go through to get from a fact to a decision or action. Our human nature is to draw meaning and inferences from what others say and do, based on our own past experiences. Why do servant leaders need to be aware of this?
Steve: Servant Leadership is based on human interaction and the relationships we have with those around us. Relationships are only built when there is honesty and mutual trust. Unfortunately, when observing behaviors, human beings tend to assign meaning to what they have observed based on past experience and other factors. They also tend to act on things based on the meaning assigned. Sometimes, this interpretation of data is accurate. Other times, it is false and the true meaning is missed. When people are falsely judged it breaks down the trust between individuals and the relationship suffers. Unless repaired, the relationship will now become one of questioned motives and mistrust. These negative relationships undermine the achievement of needs. In the workplace, you would then have unmotivated employees who are not committed to the organization. It goes back to people not achieving their “higher order” needs. What happens to your sense of belonging or your self-esteem when you are negatively judged by someone else without all of the facts? You lose job satisfaction and employee engagement. In personal relationships, we all see the side effects and outcomes of what happens when trust is lost between individuals.
I’m excited to see Steve’s presentation, and he has a great activity planned for his audience as well! Besides his professional activities, Assistant Chief Thiry enjoys spending time experiencing life with family; especially his wife Marci who he has been married to for 24 years, his daughter Amie who is off to college this fall, the family dog Belle and the family show horse Oliver.
Get the details and then RSVP here so we know you’re coming! See you at the Servant Leaders of Wisconsin event on Thursday, September 8th!