GRATEFUL LEADER PROFILE - CAPTAIN DANIEL E. SOSNOWIK, NYPD, Excerpted from: Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results, by Judith W. Umlas
I am always inspired by Grateful Leaders who have the courage to learn, the vision to lead, and the passion to grow. By my definition, Grateful Leaders are those who see, recognize, and express appreciation for their employees’, customers’, and other stakeholders’ contributions and for their passionate engagement, on an ongoing basis. Once these leaders allow themselves to feel and express their gratitude, the next step is to take action to acknowledge, support and engage their people profoundly so that these outcomes can be achieved. These leaders really want to know their employees and other stakeholders as people.
From the day I first met Captain Sosnowik, when he participated in one of my public Leadership and the Power of Acknowledgment classes at IIL, I recognized him as a Grateful Leader, but that was long before I had actually found and used that term to describe the humble and inspiring people I have profiled in my book. When he brought me into the NYPD to train two groups of executives there, I got further evidence that he loved, respected and was grateful toward his people and for the sacrifices that they made on a daily basis. We kept in touch over the years and he would always tell me that he was still practicing the 7 Principles of Acknowledgment, and how deeply they had affected him. When it came time for me to find Grateful Leaders to profile, he was an obvious and wonderful choice. I share him and his heart-warming stories with you now. They can have particular appeal at this holiday time, although they are great at any time.
GRATEFUL LEADER PROFILE —CAPTAIN DANIEL E. SOSNOWIK
COMMANDING OFFICER LEADERSHIP TRAINING
SECTION (LTS) NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT (NYPD)
Photo from Grateful Leader book launch, and tribute to Grateful Leaders, NYC 11/15/12
The day I was to be interviewed by Judy for this book, I was honestly feeling terrible. It was a bad day from many perspectives, and I was, in truth, lacking the very thing I had been asked to speak about. I told my story as best I could, and after our 20 minutes focused on gratitude, I found that my entire perspective had changed for the better. Our conversation became a staunch reminder that when a person is focused on being grateful, there isn’t any room left in his or her mind to stew in negativity.
For some, constantly having a positive perspective comes naturally, but I really had to learn it from scratch. I met people who were grateful in their lives, and from them I learned to be more grateful in mine. These were spiritual, not necessarily religious, people who appreciated life and understood the importance of being the best person you can be. I’m still so thankful for those who taught me, and as commanding officer of the Leadership Training Section (LTS) of the NYPD, I try to transfer these same values to the people I teach, to my colleagues, and to those I interact with day to day.
I’ve been with the NYPD since 1984, and I’ve worked a number of Christmases over the years—I’m Jewish so I’m happy to do it. On one Christmas several years ago, I made an announcement over the dispatch radio: “I want to thank all of you for all of the work you do all day. Have a great holiday, and get home safe.” Then I told the dispatcher, “By the way, Central, this also goes out to you and everyone behind the scenes. Thank you for what you do.” The dispatcher’s voice cracked. There was a complete outpouring of responses as a result of this communication, and it really resounded with me.
I don’t know how many of my colleagues remember that, but the power of this story is not just in acknowledging the officers (that is, taking 15 seconds to break with tradition by using our radio to convey a truly personal message) but also in the emotions that overcame the dispatcher, because I believe she realized my thanks indicated that she and her colleagues weren’t just voices—they were as much a part of our police family as the rest of us. Truly, our radio dispatchers are the unseen voices and the unsung heroes. Wherever an officer is on any given day—but especially when he or she is, heaven forbid, shot or fighting for his or her life and screaming for help into his or her radio—it’s the dispatcher who makes a difference by calmly managing radio transmissions and guiding his or her colleagues to their location. It is often the difference between life and death.
The idea of dealing with people as people is the key to my definition of a Grateful Leader. All people deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated for not only the things they do but for who they are—you acknowledge the person, not just their act. There is a human need to be treated as a person of value. Simply put, people want to be treated as people—not as a “number” being talked at—and this applies to the classroom environment as well as the community we serve.
Since 2006, I’ve designed training and development curricula for NYPD supervisors, middle managers, and executives. When you are in front of a classroom, the most important thing you need to do is make sure you are connecting with the people, as I’ve found that our students learn best when they’re part of the discussion. Their active input is encouraged, appreciated, and in fact, needed in order for the instructor to have a truly successful class. As we know, leadership also requires training competencies, so we therefore include the conceptual framework of sharing information and eliciting feedback as the model for our supervisors to use with their own subordinates.
In a regimented, hierarchical organization (as is common in law enforcement), people tend to be very conscious of rank. However, although rank is significant, I am a firm believer that thinking and working as a team—instead of focusing on individual authority— is much more beneficial. Thus, we ensure that our students come away with the understanding that what is successful in the classroom environment can easily be transported into their interactions with their subordinates.
I’m fortunate that my duties also take me out on patrol twice a month, as a “duty captain.” I travel throughout one of the patrol boroughs of the city (in my case, Brooklyn South), visiting precincts, reviewing conditions, responding to large-scale emergencies, and conferring with supervisors. As my tenure here at LTS increases, I come into contact with more of our graduates, and I’m gratified as more and more of my students remember me from their time in our programs. I always take a few minutes to “pick their brains,” looking for information regarding their own experiences, and I explain that the information they share may serve to help me further update our curriculum back at the academy and address current concerns. As always, they are involved—just as they were during the actual training. Few things make people feel as good as knowing that their opinion is sought and valued.
Excellence deserves praise and acknowledgment, and leaders must always remember that. As a new captain in 2002, I was called to the scene of a particularly gruesome car accident, involving a fatality. It was late at night, raining heavily, and the scene was awful. Yet the sergeant who handled the accident was so thorough, so professional, that I spent a few minutes that morning preparing a report acknowledging his good work under some of the most difficult conditions. I forwarded the report to his commanding officer and to the head of his bureau, as well. He called me shortly after to thank me for my acknowledgment. And then I didn’t see him until some six or seven years later—I didn’t even recognize him at first—but the first thing he said was another profuse thank-you to me, for taking the time to recognize his performance on that difficult night. Such is the power of acknowledgment.
For additional information see Judith W. Umlas, Grateful Leadership – Using the Power of Acknowledgement to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results, McGraw Hill Professional, New York, 2013; P.122.