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Profiles in Leadership: Police Chief Joseph Wysocki

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Camden, New Jersey

Camden was once known as “the most dangerous city in the country,” and “the murder capital of America.” But that has changed, in part due to the extraordinary leadership from the Camden County Police.

The picture above is of Chief Joseph Wysocki marching with a group of Camden citizens on Saturday, May 30 2020. While many other cities across the country were facing violence and riots Camden was not one of them. Intrigued as both a leadership coach and proud NJ native I started digging into the back story to understand how Camden, with it’s troubled history, was now at the forefront of positive, constructive civic engagement.

Colin Powell’s Rules for Leadership

I am an unabashed Colin Powell fan for many reasons, including his Servant Leader practice outlined in his famous “13 Rules.” The story of Chief Wysocki and how he came to be at the march provides a great example of employing a number of Powell’s Rules.

#4 - It Can be Done; If one approach does not work, find another.

Prior to his promotion to Chief Wysocki served as the Deputy Chief. One of his most significant legacies from that time is Project Guardian. This initiative brought community leaders and law enforcement together with youth with previous encounters with police related to potential gang involvement.

The participants are provided a variety of tools including life skills training, counseling, and additional support services. The program provides a “whole person” approach unlike any other. With drop out rates on the decline and graduation rates increasing, trying something different has demonstrable results.

This program no doubt served to build Wysocki’s reputation within the community, providing him with credibility and a measure of trust prior to the march.

#10 - Remain Calm. Be Kind.

“I had to try to deescalate the tension in our city.” - Chief Wysocki

Against the backdrop of chaos and violence around the country the Chief did not act rashly. He stayed true to his core beliefs, got the facts (see #8 below) and communicated clear direction to his department.

He could have quickly deployed officers in riot gear and stage for battle as happened in other cities. Notably Newark, NJ also remained calm. In an example of leadership at every level, it was the fierce determination of the citizens of Newark that they would protect their city, their small businesses - their neighbors - from violence and destruction.

By remaining calm, activists, law enforcement, and citizens alike in both Camden and Newark wrote their own story that day.

#8 - Check Small Things

The first action Chief Wysocki took when he became aware of the planned march was to discern intent. He asked his team to contact the organizers and determine if their intent was to be peaceful or disruptive. Through the course of these conversation they also learned that the organizers planned to march on the sidewalks.

Understanding the details of the marchers’ intent Wysocki was able to make a few fast decisions (#6 is about making Good Decisions.) First, he decided that if allowed he would like to participate. And second, he was able to cut through the red tape (#4 again) and allow the march to proceed through the streets.

#11 - Have a Vision.

This rule was best exemplified by Yolanda Deaver, the protest march organizer, local business owner, and mother. When the call came from the Police Department asking questions about the march, Ms. Deaver had answers. Her intent to be peaceful was clearly stated on her social media post announcing the march. The route was planned and defined.

Understanding Ms. Deaver’s vision made it possible for the Chief to come alongside the protesters, support them, and enhance the march tangibly by clearing the streets for them. And the results not only far exceeded the original vision, they resonated across the country in a very positive way. Ms. Deaver’s inspiration for the march is also reflected in Rule #3 - You can lead from wherever you are.

Yolanda Deaver, march organizer, with Chief Wysocki (left) and U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross

#3. Keep Your Ego in Check.

“They didn’t try to use their authority to control the crowds. They made it about the people, about how we feel. They stood with us.” - Yolanda Deaver

Leaders that choose to use an authoritarian approach to conflict are typically met with resistance. The most effective leaders put their own self interest aside and focus on their people. When your people make statements like Ms. Deaver’s above, you know you got this one right.

#9 - Share Credit.

When the Chief and Ms. Deaver spoke live, one of the first things the Chief did was to ask permission to join the march. From Colin Powell’s Rules: “People need recognition and a sense of worth as much as they need food and water.”

And when people feel respected they are more likely to give respect.

Chief Wysocki, thank you for your clear demonstration of Leadership at its very best, and for inspiring a nation in distress.

You can find the complete list of Colin Powell’s rules here:

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