Phoenix Law Enforcement Association

A Leader Moves on

On Friday December 3, 2010 PLEA was honored to be invited to a retirement sendoff held at the Academy to honor the service of former Phoenix PD Lieutenant and now Mesa PD Commander Heston Silbert.

As a member of the PLEA board, I as well as all of the other board members have attended numerous retirement functions over the years.  It is always interesting to see who and how many show up to these functions.  As Mark Spencer and I worked our way into the auditorium we were surprised to see that it was pretty much a standing room only crowd that had assembled to honor and say their farewells to Heston.  Every rank was represented in the room with the exception of those holding Public Safety Manager rank.  There were retired officers and supervisors, former squad mates, former supervisors, former partners, folks from MOB, Gangs, ACTIC, and of course a healthy serving of folks from SAU where Heston had served as an officer, lieutenant, and, as several people including Heston jokingly mentioned, as the shortest lived commander of the unit.  The Hollywood equivalent of the event would have been a sendoff for a rock star with “A” list celebrities in attendance.

After finding a couple of chairs on the side of the room, we settled in and listened as a handful of Heston’s many friends got up to share their stories and wish Heston well in his new assignment.  One of the more notable presentations was made by South Mountain precinct’s “last man standing” Lt. Sean Connolly who presented Heston with a plaque for his dedicated service and leadership from the men and women of that precinct.

As people told their stories, several things became readily apparent:

  • Heston is a true leader.
  • He understands the concept and philosophy of servant leadership (a concept that seems to be completely alien to many of our managers).
  • Truth, honor, integrity and fairness are principles that he believes in and lives by.
  • He has learned that by serving, people will naturally want to follow.
  • The people assembled as well as those who spoke were truly there because they wanted to be and the words being spoken were sincere and heartfelt, not empty platitudes.
  • Possibly the most unique thing I’ve noticed about Heston over the years is that whether you worked with him, for him, or simply around him, I’ve yet to run into anyone that has anything bad to say.  This is truly amazing considering the profession we work in, as cops usually aren’t shy about speaking their mind.

As I listened to the presentation and heard about Heston’s career track, his ability to excel and demonstrate leadership in any work unit, along with awards and commendations received, many for exemplary leadership skills, I couldn’t help but think that this guy is what we referred to in the military as a “rocket on a fast track”.  The question is why would the PPD want to let a guy like this go?

Perhaps it’s because true leaders tend to be confident strong willed people.  They can sometimes be stubborn, almost to the point of being obstinate.  They surely aren’t yes men and if the boss is wrong they aren’t afraid of saying so.    Values that are mere words to many like truth, fairness, honor, and integrity actually mean something to them and they aren’t afraid to stand up and voice objections when they see these principles being violated.  True leaders aren’t afraid to stand on the courage of their convictions when everyone else runs for cover.

I believe that many organizations aren’t fond of true leaders simply because they don’t know what to do with them.  It’s like trying to harness the power of an Arabian stallion.  If you climb on, you’d better know what you’re doing or you’re gonna get hurt.  Just like the stallion that can sense when a novice rider is aboard, true leaders have highly refined BS detectors and tend to bow their backs when the person in charge doesn’t know what they are doing.  As most everyone knows, the Phoenix PD tends to be an organization where leadership style is often characterized by terms like “yes man” and “company man” rather than by any term with the word leader in it. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few gems scattered in amongst the managerial rubble out there.  Organizations like ours are fond of espousing principles like truthfulness and integrity… unless it means speaking out against the boss or the organization.  Sadly, for many managers and organizations, concepts like truthfulness, honor and integrity are like malleable gobs of clay to be twisted to their liking to fit a given situation.  For organizations that think this way, true leaders and truth tellers are just not a good fit, in fact, they are a threat.  Except in rare instances, weak leaders or managers will almost always see true leaders or strong leaders as a threat to be dealt with rather than a resource to be developed, cultivated and duplicated.

One thing that Heston, I, and the Chief all have in common is that we’ve all achieved the pinnacle of our careers within the Phoenix PD.  When you have the kind of energy, leadership potential, and desire to serve that Heston has, you make the jump to the next level even if that jump takes you to a different agency to continue your career track.  Our loss is truly Mesa PD’s gain and it’s too bad that the Phoenix PD’s shortsightedness in dealing with personnel issues caused us to lose one of the good guys.