Never Off Duty – Are You A Social Role Model Too?
By The Army Leader
They talked about the inmate rehabilitation programme at Louisiana State Penitentiary in a talk titled ‘Unexpected Leaders: Lessons from Louisiana State Penitentiary’. The prison is one of the US’s hardest super-max prisons. The average sentence is 93 years, so long that over 85% of inmates die in the prison.
With little chance of release, there isn’t much incentive to behave well. But over the last 15 years the prison has turned around its inmate violence levels to the point where some of its prisoners now get ‘seconded’ to other, low security, prisons to act as rehabilitation mentors. For the graduates from this outreach rehabilitation programme the re-offending rate is now as low as 12% – less than the 30% in UK prisons.
The Power of Role Models
The success of the both the Louisiana programme and the outreach programme is down to role models. Those role models aren’t the prison guards. They are the senior prisoners. And by senior, I mean those prisoners with the longest time served and the most serious offences. The people you might think would be the worst kind role models.
Through a programme that fosters a sense of community, responsibility and achievement the senior prisoners act as role models to the junior prisoners, showing them that they can be better people.
Johanna put this down to the senior prisoners acting as two types of role model. The prisoners are taught skills in the prison to allow them to do manual jobs. Car repair work, farming, mattress-making, and (stereotypically) making license plates. The senior prisoners act as vocational role models, teaching the newer prisoners skills.
Social Role Models
But far more importantly, they act as social role models. The guards aren’t with the prisoners 24/7, but the senior prisoners are. They live together, eat together and are someone you can talk to about your problems. Most importantly they show that day in, day out, a prisoner can also be a better person. Its is this that is at the heart of the programme.
Johanna and Lt Col MacKenzie made the link between the Louisiana senior prisoners and Army instructors. Just like those senior prisoners, instructors need to be more than vocational role models. They need to be social role models. But for me, Section Commander instructors still have the same problem the guards have: they don’t live with the recruits they train. They (quite rightly) have their own accommodation. They are one step removed.
Who are your unit’s social role models?
But in units, it’s the norm to have JNCOs living in the same corridor as their sections. In officers’ messes across the British Army Captains are living in the same corridors as new Lieutenants. Just like the senior prisoners, JNCOs and Captains are there, day in, day out. The eat together, work together, socialise together.
Mentoring those junior to you in the skills they require is an accepted role of a JNCO or Captain. But in exactly the same way as the senior prisoners, junior leaders need to realise they are social role models, not just vocational ones.
As a leader, you are never off duty. Your honesty, integrity, attitude and bearing are being noticed when you are off duty, when you show the authentic you. It’s why being an effective leader is hard work. You rarely have time off.
Lead by Example
Creating vocational role models wasn’t what turned around Louisiana State Penitentiary. It was creating social role models. Two famous army leaders, from opposing sides, made a similar observation:
‘Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life.’
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
‘You are always on parade.’
General George S. Patton
The Bottom Line
‘Lead by Example’ isn’t just about a being professional in the skills of your trade, its about living as you expect your best soldiers to live. This was the message I took from Louisiana. It’s a message every leader might reflect on.
You can see the video of their presentation on the CAL’s website here:
To learn more about being a role model, check out an RSM’s view on what it takes: Role Models and Vulnerability