By Robin Smith

By studying the workplace from a historical perspective and choosing to view employees in a positive light, modern law enforcement managers are able to develop and maintain more effective teams. This article compares the theories that traditional managers view employees in a negative light, and that modern managers view employees in a positive light. By contrasting the two approaches, modern managers are better equipped to deal with modern employees.

As opposed to traditional managers who tend to have a cynical opinion of employees, modern law enforcement managers have found they can develop more effective teams by assuming a positive view of employees. One of my favorite artifacts in our police department is a black and white 1948 Plymouth mocked up to represent the patrol cars our department used during that era. To celebrate the city’s 50th anniversary, a group of our officers raised the funds to purchase and overhaul the car 23 years ago, doing much of the work themselves. Once restoration was complete, the car was donated to the department. I enjoy driving “The Old Car” on special occasions – it gives me a sense of connection with, and an appreciation for, how police officers functioned all those years ago. There are a lot of modern conveniences we take for granted nowadays – power steering, door locks and windows; two way radios, mobile data terminals, radar units, in-car cameras, back seat partitions… air conditioning! In 1948 both of my grandfathers were cops – one in a small town and the other with a federal agency. Little did they know, their grandson would later serve 15 years in that same small town, then 17 years with that same federal agency. As you might imagine, both of those agencies changed significantly in the three decades before I started my career – just as they have continued to change in the three decades since.

Just as vehicles and equipment have changed over the years, so have management philosophies. The arrival of collective bargaining in the 1930s brought with it the demand for better working conditions and benefits. Leaders had to adapt and learn how to deal with employees in the shifting work environment. To help leaders adjust, experts began to study the behaviors of people of work – begetting the human relations movement. In 1960 Douglas McGregor published a book entitled, “The Human Side of Enterprise,” which proposed two theories about people at work. The first theory held that traditional managers viewed employees in a negative and cynical light. In the second theory, McGregor suggested that modern managers could be more effective by viewing employees in a positive light.

According to McGregor, traditional managers assume that most people dislike work and avoid it when possible. They believe workers must be motivated by threats of punishment and can only be trusted to work under close direction. On the other hand, modern managers realize that work is a natural activity that many people enjoy. They recognize that people are capable of working without close supervision if they are committed to objectives – and that they are committed to objectives if rewarded. Thanks to the human relations movement, management philosophies have evolved over the years. Effective leaders embrace these lessons to create and maintain a positive environment where workers feel they are valued and trusted members of the team.


Kinicki, A. & Kreitner, R. (2008). Organizational behavior: Key concepts, skills, & best practices, 3rd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill

McGregor D., The Human Side of Enterprise (New York: McGraw Hill, 1960, Ch. 4.)

Smith, Jason A. Car 50 Sketch Up. 2015. Digital drawing.