NextGen: How to Make Effective Decisions- Lessons Learned from an Undercover Case

The Mongols are an extremely violent motorcycle gang in Los Angeles organized over 30 years ago. John Torres, Deputy Assistant Director, Headquarters, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, discussed leadership lessons learned from two undercover cases involving the gang. In 2001, Billy Queen, an AFT agent infiltrated the Mongols successfully for the first time in history, but not without several hiccups along the way. Admittedly, the AFT was unprepared for the challenges they faced over the course of the two-year case.

John boiled his lessons learned for improved decision-making down to one word: TRUST.

T: Treat your employees how you want to be treated. Similar to the rule we all learn in kindergarten, when in a leadership position, you need to give everyone the respect and time you would expect in return. As John said, “there will be always be people you don’t like, but you have to work with them, and treat them equally.”

R: Relationships- Building strong, professional relationships is all about being proactive and remembering that the little things count, even if you can’t see it now. He recommended reaching out to anyone, and everyone, that you may interact with in the future. And how do you make the best impression? John suggested sending personal notes and described them as the “holy grail of relationships.” Unlike facebook or texting, writing a quick, hand-written note (saying hello, congratulations etc) is memorable and personable.

U: Understanding yourself first and others second. Leaders need to be aware of all situations and people, and understand how people like to communicate, receive criticism, and learn information. John also noted that as a leader, “you need to hold yourself accountable before you demand from others. “ From his experience on the Mongols undercover case, he discovered the importance of knowing when you made a mistake. You shouldn’t be afraid to say, “I made a mistake, I’m sorry, and I’ll fix it.”

S: Share Your Position/Influence- An important leadership lesson is to remember to show that you trust your employees. Moreover, try not to contribute to the stress your employees feel. Instead, make sure you are helpful and providing tangible ways to solve problems.

T: Trust your people until they give you a reason not to. The key takeaway for John after the first Mongols infiltration case was that he needed to trust his employees to do their job, until they prove untrustworthy. If he had done this, he believes the case would have gone much better because employees would have continued to communicate. Moreover, the agents on the case would have continued to have faith in the department and operation. Admittedly, building trust is a slow process, but essential to successful operations and projects.

From the first infiltration case to the second, John’s team worked to change how they communicated with each other. Most importantly, they worked on building trust within the department. The outcome? The 1,100 ATF and LA cops shut down the gang and arrested over 50 people more effectively, and with far fewer internal hiccups.

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