Leading with Passion
Doing the right thing and helping others is part of what draws many officers to the law enforcement career. For Department of Criminal Justice Training Leadership Training Instructor Chip White – a self-professed adrenaline junkie – the excitement of the career was a major bonus, too.
White was hired by the Madisonville Police Department in 1994, pursuing the career he had been interested in since he was young, he said. A Madisonville native, White said he toured the police department once when he was about 19, and the SWAT gear caught his attention.
“I just thought it was the coolest thing at the time,” White said. “The SWAT team was pretty small then and they didn’t have a lot, but to me it was really cool getting to talk to those officers. I didn’t know at the time I would not only work there, but be part of the Emergency Response Team. For about two years, I was the commander of that team, so it was kind of cool how that came full circle.”
During his career in Madisonville, White primarily worked patrol, he said. As a young officer, White was sent to training to learn to be an ASP (Armament Systems and Procedures) baton instructor. After successfully teaching that class, White said the department began sending him to additional instructor schools to train other MPD officers. The opportunities sparked his interest in teaching, he said.
“About the last four to five years of my career, I started thinking maybe I’d like to try to go to Richmond [at DOCJT] and teach,” White said. “I enjoyed it so much.”
With a passion for fitness, White said he thought he’d like to teach in DOCJT’s Physical Training Section. But when White retired as a Madisonville Police lieutenant, there was an opening in DOCJT’s Leadership Development Section.
“Madisonville is very big on training, especially for supervisors,” White said. “So I had been through the Academy of Police Supervision, Class No. 1, and Criminal Justice Executive Development, Class No. 11. Then I was fortunate enough to go through the Southern Police Institute’s Administrative Officers’ Course. That gave me a good background in leadership. Once I got here and started teaching, I really enjoyed it and it felt like a good fit for me.”
Today, White is the lead coordinator for CJED, a role that requires a roughly six-month commitment now that it is being taught in two sessions, he said. Additionally, White team-teaches a Stress and Wellness course with Leadership Training Instructor Larry Conley.
“I’m very passionate about fitness and nutrition, and those are two parts of the Stress and Wellness class I really enjoy,” White said. “I really enjoy how those two things really mesh together.”
Like many officers, White he began his law enforcement career in pretty good shape. But over time, third shift and Rally’s breakfasts of spicy chicken sandwiches and large Dr. Pepper’s began to catch up with him. After gaining nearly 40 pounds, White said the difference in his physical health was noticeable.
“I started not feeling good,” he said. “My blood pressure was getting higher, and I had to hold my breath when I would bend over to tie my shoes because my gun belt was cutting off air. I think I was about 35 years old, and I thought, ‘This is getting ridiculous.’ I was getting ready to have to order a larger size uniform. I thought, ‘If I don’t do something about it now, it’s only going to get harder the older I get.’”
White began avoiding fried foods and sugar while trying to lower his caloric intake. The weight started coming off and, as he started feeling better, White decided to pick up running.
“I ran track and cross country in high school,” he said, “but I had not really run any since then. I decided to run a mile and a half. I had to stop because I was out of breath and my legs hurt. But I just kept on going. I started running a little further, and a friend of mine asked me to do a race with him.”
After running for only four months, White completed his first duathlon – an event consisting of running a 5K, biking about 16 miles, then running another 5K. White said he was unsure if he could complete it, but once he did, he was “bit by the bug.”
“I enjoyed the racing and the competition,” he said. “It really inspired me to start running more.”
About the same time, Madisonville Police implemented a mandatory physical fitness program. White said he and another officer were sent to the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas to learn more about fitness and assist other officers.
“Just being in that atmosphere for that week pushed me up to the next level,” White said of his health and fitness. “I cleaned up my eating more and began to exercise more. I decided to try to run a half marathon. … I ran the half marathon and did really well. I was shocked by how well I had done and how fun it was.”
The following December, White ran in the Memphis Marathon – his first full-length marathon – and his finishing time was good enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
“I didn’t go that time [to Boston], but I ended up running several more marathons,” he said. “I was running a couple marathons a year, and I did end up running in Boston three different times.”
White’s fitness story has become an important part of the experiences he shares with students at DOCJT, and not just in the Stress and Wellness course, he said.
“Leadership is a skill just like fitness – it’s something you have to work at,” he said. “To some people it comes easier than others. There are a lot of mistakes I made in leadership, just like the mistakes I made in my health. Now I can say, ‘Look, I did this and I could have done that so much better. Don’t make the same mistake I did.’”
One of those mistakes White wishes he could go back and do over is following advice he was given as a supervisor not to get too close to the people he led. The concept, he said, was that it made it harder to discipline or correct his subordinates if he had personal relationships with them.
“Sometimes I think people try to lead like other people lead,” White said. “We think, ‘That guy is a great leader, I want to lead just like him.’ If you’re not authentic to yourself and your own values, people pick up on that. I regret not letting down my guard and establishing those closer relationships with the people I was trying to lead, because I think it would have helped me be more successful than I was.”
Relationships are a critical part of leadership training at DOCJT, too, White said. Particularly in CJED, the networking and relationships students develop over four weeks are invaluable. One of White’s favorite parts of teaching is developing relationships with those students and learning from them in return.
“I don’t like to PowerPoint them to death or just totally lecture,” White said. “I enjoy teaching that includes two-way conversations with the students. I learn a lot from them as well.
“Probably the thing to know about me is that I take what we do very seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously,” White continued. “I like to have fun and joke around with the students. It doesn’t bother me if they joke with me. I look at them more as peers. Even though it is my responsibility to make sure they learn, I don’t feel like I’m their superior. I’m just relating information to them from my experiences and the research I have done to hopefully make their journey as a leader better than mine was.”
White is always looking for new information that his students may not have heard before and trying to create a course that will be of value to the officers he serves, he said. As far as advice he has for his students? It comes down to this:
“Leadership is something you have to work on every day you walk in the door,” White said. “We all get wrapped up in the day-to-day stuff and forget that you have to focus on being a good leader and utilizing all the tools and skills you learn in training to do your best for those who look to you for influence and development.”