Patrol commander focuses on teaching leadership
By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — N.C. State Highway Patrol Commander Michael Gilchrist marked his first anniversary Saturday at the helm of the state’s largest law enforcement agency.
Gilchrist, who was sworn in on Dec. 3, 2010, inherited an agency with a crippled reputation after a series of high-profile incidents involving troopers in 2009 and 2010.
One of the most notorious involved Sgt. Timothy White of Salisbury, who was fired after an alleged drunken sexual encounter with another trooper’s wife after a Highway Patrol Christmas part.
Gilchrist took over after former commander Randy Glover resigned in July 2010.
Gilchrist spoke to the Post recently about his first year as commander and how he’s tried to improve the State Highway Patrol:
Question: Can you talk some about your first year?
Answer: Well my first year has been very busy. It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been a full year, but we’ve done a lot in that year.
Of course, one of the things that we’ve tried to do and we’ve done that, we’ve done it very well — the leadership advisory group recommended that we get leadership training. They felt like leadership training can go a really long way. The Highway Patrol as an organization — the leadership advisory group and the Kroll report both said that fundamentally the organization was functioning very well, very efficiently. And so really what you’re trying to do is to take a very good organization and make it better, and the best way to do that is with leadership training and so over the last year what the Highway Patrol has done is interviewed a group of vendors, leadership training experts across the country and selected a vendor.
That vendor is FBI LEEDA and they have come in and provided each sworn supervisor with 36 hours of leadership training and over the last about eight months every supervisor in the Highway Patrol has attended that 36-hour course. It’s gone over very well. I think the supervisors really enjoyed the training. They learned a lot. And if you look at our organization, if you look at the Highway Patrol, really the Highway Patrol is about people and that’s where we spend the vast majority of our budget on is people. So when you invest in quality leadership training what you’re doing is investing in your organization as a whole.
To select a vendor, and to actually develop the training and to deliver it all within a year, that’s a pretty significant accomplishment. In addition to that, what we’ve done is we’ve continued on and we have created what is called a center for leadership development. Basically what that is, that’s a commitment to provide leadership training into the future. We’re not going to stop where we are now with leadership training we’re going to move beyond where we are and continue to provide quality leadership training in the future.
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Q: Can you talk some about the types of training supervisors are undergoing and what that training includes?
A: One of the things that we’re doing is we’ve broken that out: leadership training and ethics training. A lot of similarities, we’re doing both. We’ve focused on leadership training and we’re in the process of rolling out additional ethics training. That will actually begin in January 2012.
Some of the curriculum, some of the information, obviously team building, is very important when you start talking about leadership, how to effectively build efficient teams and work together. How you effectively lead and manage those from different generations, things of that sort.
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Q: Is this a classroom-based training?
A: It is.
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Q: How exactly do you plan to gauge the success from these changes the Highway Patrol has made?
A: Another thing the leadership advisory group recommended is that you do things like create a “citizens academy.” What a citizens academy is, it’s a program where you sort of introduce in a more detailed level the things that your organization does. So one of the things that we’re in the process of is creating a citizens academy and we will probably have that up and running in March 2012.
The leadership advisory group also recommended that we have a place on your website, and of course we created a place where you can comment on a trooper. We get lots of very positive feedback that men and women are doing across the state. By and large, it is positive stuff.
I think if you look at the internal health of the organization, the productivity, we’re doing very well. Our crashes are down from the last year. People are, both sworn and civilian, really excited about the job that they do. They’re very proud of the organization. What we’re going to do is continue to focus on training and leadership and move us into 2012.
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Q: There was some talk about changing the way Highway Patrol commanders are selected before you were chosen last year. How do you think that conflict, that discussion, impacted your first year?
A: As it relates to the leadership advisory group, that puts me a difficult position to say. What I’ve concentrated on is managing and leading the Highway Patrol that we have now. So I’ve focused all my efforts positively in doing the very best job that I can. It’s a very good organization and it’s a very large organization and I think that what I’ve focused my efforts on is getting out in the field more and interacting with members of the Patrol more, so I have got a very good understanding of what’s going on in the patrol and staying focused on the organization as a whole. I really haven’t paid attention to that part of the process. That’s beyond my scope of concern.
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Q: Have you seen a “weeding out” process with former troopers or has it simply been a matter of better training?
A: One of the things that the leadership training has been really helpful in doing is it gives employees, if you will, a new focus. So when you spend that kind of time and that kind of money developing them personally, they see that as a personal investment in them. That’s really what it’s about, leadership training. Everybody in the Highway Patrol is a leader. When you present very good quality leadership training to the number of people that we have, and you make a commitment to do it into the future. That says a lot to the employees and they really appreciate that.
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Q: In Salisbury, there was an incident with a trooper that got a lot of publicity. It was an off-duty incident. What are the standards for off-duty troopers?
A: I know that Capt. Hayes (Capt. Doug Hayes, commander of the Highway Patrol troop that includes Rowan County), he has a lot of expectations about his employees. He has expectations, you as a citizen of North Carolina — you expect members of the Highway Patrol to be beyond reproach. We all have very high expectations of our employees. Our challenge, his challenge in Troop E, my challenge across the state is, again — through leadership training and other things — to pull everybody in and guide them into the future. Employee success, individual employee success, is critical. And that’s one of the things that’s so important to me.
I want every member of the Highway Patrol to be successful in his or her job — providing the right environment, the right structure, for employees to do such an important job and to do it very well.
For more information about the N.C. State Highway Patrol, go to www.nccrimecontrol.org and under “Our Divisions” select “State Highway Patrol.” To leave a comment about a particular trooper, go to that site and select “Comment On A Trooper.”