Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen

Dr. Les Sylven - Meditation, Mindfulness, & Leadership

April 10, 2024 Scott J. Allen Season 1 Episode 222
Dr. Les Sylven - Meditation, Mindfulness, & Leadership
Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen
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Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen
Dr. Les Sylven - Meditation, Mindfulness, & Leadership
Apr 10, 2024 Season 1 Episode 222
Scott J. Allen

Dr. Les Sylven has been a police officer in Canada for over 30 years, serving with three different police organizations in a wide variety of roles, from a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in a rural community to a municipal Police Chief. During his policing career, he was actively involved in numerous public safety initiatives for which he was recognized by the Governor General of Canada, receiving the Order of Merit of the Police Forces in 2020. 

He is a life member of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and an active member of the International Leadership Association.

A Quote From This Episode

  • "For me, your breath is with you all the time."

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

About The International Leadership Association (ILA)

  • The ILA was created in 1999 to bring together professionals interested in studying, practicing, and teaching leadership. Plan for ILA's 26th Global Conference in Chicago, IL - November 7-10, 2024. 

About The Boler College of Business at John Carroll University

  • Boler offers four MBA programs – 1 Year Flexible, Hybrid, Online, and Professional. Each track offers flexible timelines and various class structure options (online, in-person, hybrid, asynchronous). Boler’s tech core and international study tour opportunities set these MBA programs apart. Rankings highlighted in the intro are taken from CEO Magazine.

About  Scott J. Allen

My Approach to Hosting

  • The views of my guests do not constitute "truth." Nor do they reflect my personal views in some instances. However, they are views to consider, and I hope they help you clarify your perspective. Nothing can replace your reflection, research, and exploration of the topic.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Dr. Les Sylven has been a police officer in Canada for over 30 years, serving with three different police organizations in a wide variety of roles, from a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in a rural community to a municipal Police Chief. During his policing career, he was actively involved in numerous public safety initiatives for which he was recognized by the Governor General of Canada, receiving the Order of Merit of the Police Forces in 2020. 

He is a life member of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and an active member of the International Leadership Association.

A Quote From This Episode

  • "For me, your breath is with you all the time."

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

About The International Leadership Association (ILA)

  • The ILA was created in 1999 to bring together professionals interested in studying, practicing, and teaching leadership. Plan for ILA's 26th Global Conference in Chicago, IL - November 7-10, 2024. 

About The Boler College of Business at John Carroll University

  • Boler offers four MBA programs – 1 Year Flexible, Hybrid, Online, and Professional. Each track offers flexible timelines and various class structure options (online, in-person, hybrid, asynchronous). Boler’s tech core and international study tour opportunities set these MBA programs apart. Rankings highlighted in the intro are taken from CEO Magazine.

About  Scott J. Allen

My Approach to Hosting

  • The views of my guests do not constitute "truth." Nor do they reflect my personal views in some instances. However, they are views to consider, and I hope they help you clarify your perspective. Nothing can replace your reflection, research, and exploration of the topic.

Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate, and conversations-to-text do not always translate perfectly. I include it to provide you with the spirit of the conversation.

Scott Allen  0:00  

Okay, everybody, welcome to the Phronesis podcast. Thank you so much for checking in wherever you are in the world. Today, we have a really fun conversation with a new friend. This is Les Sylvan, and Les has just completed his Ph.D. We were talking about this before we got on, can we call him Dr. yet? We don't know. But, you know what? It's done. It's in the books. It's been approved. So, I don't know, but congratulations, sir. I am very, very, very, very happy for you. So, Les has been a police officer in Canada for over 30 years, serving with three different police organizations in a wide variety of roles, from a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in a rural community to a municipal police chief. During his policing career, he was actively involved in numerous public safety initiatives, for which he was recognized by the Governor General of Canada, receiving the Order of Merit of the Police Forces in 2020. He is a life member of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and an active member of the International Leadership Association. Les recently completed his Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at the University of Victoria, where he explored how meditation and mindfulness could influence the practice of police leadership and become a catalyst for police reform. When not teaching and coaching police officers about leadership or spending time with his family and friends, he can usually be found on the mats practicing his lifelong sport of judo. Now, in this endeavor to produce this podcast, I've had just a number of conversations with a number of individuals in different nooks and crannies of life. And Les, when we crossed paths, I was so intrigued by your work. And we're going to jump into that. We're going to jump into what you found and maybe explore some of your dissertation a little bit. But what else, before we begin, should listeners know about you that maybe isn't in your formal bio? 


Les Sylvan  1:55  

Well, thanks, Scott. You know, I think the first thing that comes to mind is where I'm at right now. And, of course, I'm very lucky to be living and working here in the traditional territories of the Lekwungen and the Saanich First Nations, who have had historical relationships with this land for millennia. It's in Victoria, as close to the university, on Vancouver Island, of course. And I think that's one thing that I'm feeling very grateful about every day is kind of… They call it the Hawaii of Canada out here on the island because we're pretty lucky. We get the good weather and the palm trees, which people don't really know. So, that's one thing I'm out here in Victoria, lucky to be here. And, other than that, I think it's just this having been very lucky to have served as a police officer for over 30 years. And just like anything else, I think just because it really lined up with who I am as a person, so it flew by, I can't believe how quick it went by. And I have this real sense that it's time for an evolution in policing. Not necessarily a revolution, but it's time for an evolution. And there's a whole different group of ways that a person or a group could go about doing that or different levels of government. But, for me, it's about the individual and how we can support individuals going through the change that they need to do, on top of the fact that it's already a pretty darn tricky job to begin with. And there are lots of different challenges just to the work, and now we have this need for reform. So, that's what really gets me out of bed in the morning is thinking about how we can support police officers and police leaders so that they can serve the community in a more fair and just way.


Scott Allen  3:41  

I know that your research really kind of was centered on that question right there. How might meditation and mindfulness practice support police leaders in Canada? Before we jump into that, help listeners understand, kind of, ground level, what are officers experiencing day-to-day. What is it that you are seeing them endure as they take on this very, like you said, tricky role in the first place? 


Les Sylvan  4:11  

Yeah. It helps me to sort of organize it into two groups. So, there are the operational challenges or stressors. That's kind of what everybody would probably imagine when you think about a police officer out there on the street. Keeping the community safe, doing what they do, and dealing with the stress that comes with that. And that's not too much of a challenge. Again, I reflect a little bit on my own experience. You see things that are very challenging, and your belief system gets tested really early on in that career as a police officer. So, that's the operational side. But another way to view it is the organizational stressors. One of the challenges, probably, first and foremost, is the way that power is used inside an organization as a paramilitary organization or culture, profession, or profession. unlike, let's say, teaching or a university. A full professor doesn't walk around with stars or stripes on their shoulders so that this person has more power than, let's say, associate professor. But in policing, rank and power is in your face. And again, that is critically important when dealing with critical incidents where people are at risk in the communities. When people get hurt or could be killed, there needs to be a clear line of authority. The challenge is that, in policing, that's probably less than 10%, maybe even 5%, of an actual day as a police employee is in a crisis, like a hostage-taking or a critical incident. But what seems to happen, that research says, and again, sort of through my experience, is that people get used to using the power of the rank. The outcome of that is the stress around abuse of authority, harassment, and sort of these oppressive kind of approaches to leadership that tend to happen. And I know that, in Canada here, of course, I speak from that experience, but there have been multiple inquiries and reviews and studies done on how we can create more positive, psychologically safer police organizations. So, I look at it that way, Scott. I look at it as there's the operational stress, but most police officers, you know that when you're getting into it that that's… You're going to see some challenging things. But it's when you come back and you're inside that police station when you have some stressors that originate inside, that can be harder to handle. And that's where we start to get into things like moral injury inside a police station. Your team when you're out there, when it's about keeping the community safe, yourself safe. So you go home at the end of the day, but when you come back inside, and maybe go through some perceived course leadership or supervision, you can experience what they're starting to really talk a lot about the moral injury that occurs inside.


Scott Allen  6:55  

The first time I heard that concept was from an American Army veteran. And, as I understood that concept, I might be asked to do things that go against my personal value system that, again, I hold with me. So, again, in wartime, you have an individual who's given a task, and they implement that task. And we could go a wide variety of what that task could be; sniper to secure this location. But I might carry some of that with me, if it moves against my personal value system, is that how you're defining it as well?


Les Sylvan  7:36  

I am, and I'm adding a little something extra, and not me, but others who have been researching this area, and that is also the moral injury when someone inside an organization fails you. So, there is that part, which is out there doing work that's inherently difficult for you, individually, and your value system, but then also, the other pieces that sold out, or someone has not stepped up and done their job to support you. In particular, the leadership, or the structure, or the system, whatever it is. So, it's the outside when you're on the road, and it's the inside that is kind of two stressors that seem to be where a lot of the research is. And, of course, they're not that simple. And if you're rundown from going from call to call to call or having to deal with some really challenging situations, you're going to pull that into the police station as well, and vice versa. If you're thinking about the poor way that you received some feedback or didn't have a voice inside the police station about something, it can manifest itself in how you're treating the public at 4 o'clock in the morning.


Scott Allen  8:36  

Yes. Okay. So, you're at University of Victoria, you're studying leadership. I have to imagine that was a fascinating experience given what you've experienced over 30 years. What were some critical insights as you began exploring the literature and opportunities that you see?


Les Sylvan  8:53  

Well, what comes up for me when you say that, Scott, is that it was quite a challenging time to be a police officer in a university in 2020. I started in 2018, but again, it kind of ties into why we need police reform. And I believe the backbone of that is education. In Canada, we've had, for the first time in probably 20 years, a reduction in police positivity, the community, the trust, and also confidence in the police. And so, I would be up there taking some classes as part of the early days, and, at the same time, sort of wandering around [Inaudible 9:33] the police and anti-police protests, and whatnot. They were going on at the university, and everybody knew I was a police officer. So, that was interesting. And I think that was one thing that comes to mind when you ask that question and try to understand. Also, it's clear these situations that have happened around the world were horrible, and yet, trying to also say, “Well, hang on a second. Right now, anywhere, there is a whole group of men and women out there doing amazing things for you.” So, trying to balance that was kind of one of the things. But I've heard this said before, and you know I love your show, and I listen to it, but I've heard it said before someone said, “Research is extensive research.” And so, this was, for me, why I came to the idea of what is it that I'm going to put my energy into here. And so, it's definitely my own experience. And so, I consider myself very lucky when I was a young police recruit trying to figure all this career out and sort of getting used to even wearing a uniform, and walking around, and people looking at you, and all this kind of stuff. I had a few experiences really early in my career that made me think, “I need to figure out a way to cope with some of these things that I'm experiencing.” The culture or the time was probably more like you would imagine in the late 80s, and not being common that we would debrief a call over beer, that was kind of a cornerstone of the culture. But I wandered into a meditation studio, Transcendental Meditation Studio, in the 80s. And, I credit that lucky step into that meditation studio as helping me out the next 30 years of my career and having that ability to regularly practice meditation from frontline operational work to dealing with all the organizational stuff we were just talking about. And I think there's some great… Mindfulness in the workplace has exploded. I saw a study that, before 2003, there were maybe eight academic or published studies on mindfulness. And since then, there's close to 2,000 since that have come out. So, it's exploding. And, of course, with that you have all the challenges around, like leadership, what's the definition of mindfulness? What's the definition of meditation? But this helped me just as much about when I finished my shift and I would come home to my family, or I'd be out with my friends, having that ability to put that down. To take that body armor off, or whatever you want to call it, to process some of the things that I've seen. And then, I got into formal leadership positions, same thing. The ability to navigate that organizational stack that we were talking about, I really created it with my practice of meditation. And so, what I wondered was if this was just me or if this was like other people who have had long-term practices. Do they also see the world kind of in a similar way? Or do they attribute their practice to helping them? Or how does it influence them? Again, trying to be neutral and avoid all the positivity bias that comes from this kind of stuff. So, that's what I wanted to find out. 


Scott Allen  12:33  

Okay. I love it. So, I read a book. This might have been two years ago now, but it was a book about TM, transcendental meditation, by Bob Roth. And I had come across TM because of Ray Dalio. I was reading his book, and he was talking about how it had really just helped him throughout his career. And he attributed a lot of his success to that practice. The book was called ‘Strength in Stillness.’ Personally, I went to a course, and I understood and learned about the practice. And twice a day, 20 minutes a day, I found that I wasn't committing to twice a day, so then I wasn't doing it at all. But then, now, in the last six months, I've been able to do 20 minutes a day. And last night, I found myself from 8:30 to 10:00 P.M. at my son's baseball practice. And it was hilarious, Les, because I was in this huge field house where people were playing soccer, baseball, and lacrosse, and I turned off my music, shut everything down, and just closed my eyes, focused on the mantra. I knew I had about 30 minutes left, and I just said, “You know what? I want to meditate right now. I just want to kind of clear out for the day.”  And it was so comforting in a way. There were all these noises going on around me, but I just kind of slowed down and paused. And so, talk about your practice over the course of those 30 years. Was it twice a day? Was it once a day? How did it work for you?


Les Sylvan  14:14  

You know, even to this day, it’s a daily practice. I’m doing it even today. Again, I find the most benefit I get is from twice a day. Twenty minutes, sitting in silence. And, again, this particular technique. And there are many, obviously. Many, many different techniques.


Scott Allen  14:28  

Yes, yes, yes. We're not promoting TM solely right now. 


Les Sylvan  14:33  

Definitely, I've connected here with a local group and some amazing people. And they are keen on helping first responders, and so they're offering training. But aside from that, the analogy I think of is that it's like physical exercise. Like I’m a little self, 5 ft 9, and not a very strong basketball player. So, that's not for me. But I do have other sports that I do, and I practice. So, one of the things that people talk about is that something like transcendental meditation, or stillness practice, they just can't imagine sitting there for 20 minutes and their body will react, they just can't do it. And so, I think what's important, though, is that that's just one type of meditation, as you mentioned, and that there's a whole tree of contemplative practice that we often refer to and use as an example that the roots of this tree -- and this was done through the contemplative mind organization, and I can send a link to it for you. But the idea is that the roots of this tree are communion with others. Or, in some cases, there is a religious aspect, so communion with the divine, but it's also awareness. So, any practice that a person does that develops this deeper concentration, this greater awareness, this greater connection with others is valuable and is a community contemplative practice. So, I started with transcendental meditation, and I’ve continued to this day. Almost all religious and spiritual traditions [Inaudible 15:57] are but have some form of contemplative exercise. So, the Christian-centering prayer, or this idea, and Buddhism, of course. Meditation and mindfulness are thousands of years old. Maybe it is more part of a spiritual tradition or a way of being in a specific practice, but I have tried just about everything. And what I think is important for police officers, in general, and for leaders, is sometimes the techniques that you can do take a minute or 60 seconds. As you're transitioning for policing, you're running from call to call to call through the course of a 12-hour shift. And I would say that to some people, boy, you know what? If you can meet at seven o'clock less at the beginning of the shift that night versus reaching at 4:30 in the morning, I'm not always the same because I've been to 15 calls or 20 calls. I had a really horrible one or one that I'm still thinking about at 4:30 in the morning. I'm not going to be as patient and calm. And so, for me, that meditation became, “What things can I do in the moment? What mindfulness practice can I do at the moment to clear my mind, to shake off that last call, and to give that person who I'm seeing the compassion and presence that they need?” For me, the TM, or those stillness practices, is like your cardio that you go out and you do every day, and it helps you so that when you're out, say, you're playing soccer, or playing baseball, you've got that foundation. And then, specific skills, although people use absent things, your breath is with you all the time. So, that is something, There are hundreds of different exercises just focusing on your breath. And the other thing is maybe… In policing, we have what's called the alert tone. So, if there's a very critical incident that happens, you'll be driving around your police car, or walking your beat, or whatever, and the radio go off with this really distinctive sound that wants everyone's attention, something's happening. So, focusing on that, okay, that sound is an automatic trigger to take four deep breaths just to center yourself and listen to what's being said because it's usually something very serious you're about to find yourself in. The other way is to think about it maybe as, yes, there's that formal practice, but there's also informal practice. And it's kind of like, I keep coming back to these parallels for the body and exercise for the mind. Some people say, “I don't have half an hour or 20 minutes twice a day to sit there.” And it's like me, I would sometimes say, “I need an hour to go to the gym, I don't have an hour, I'm not doing it.” But just like with exercising the body, we could drop down right now and start doing some push-ups; we don't need to go to the gym. We could do some squats against the wall.


Scott Allen  18:38

That’ll be in a podcast first. 




Les Sylvan  18:41

We could do some planks, we can do some leg lifts, or, I don’t know. I know we're both maybe a little more [Inaudible 18:46] around the center a few more times; maybe it wouldn't be very many of them, but we could do a few. But, anyway, so it's the same thing. There are moments throughout the day for someone to do it. So, that's kind of how it's changed for me. And then, I had some roles that were quite high-risk in my career. Those each really, really brought the need for me to be able to control my awareness and my body. So, these were undercover for a number of years. And then a part of the emergency response team. As a sniper on the Mercy Response. So, there were times when it was critical to be able to stay calm, and that is how I… At the moment, I credit those informal mindfulness practices for helping me do that job okay.


Scott Allen  19:32  

Well, I think that's so beautifully said. I think sometimes your mind can go to, “Ah, 20 minutes twice a day.” Well, no, there's a sweet, I imagine, whether it's a calm app, or whether it's just your breath, or triggers that you had said the alarm goes off, or there's, okay, four deep breaths. So, there are these practices that can help the individual, in these very high-stress moments, stay present. And, as you are doing this research, I know you spoke with a number of different individuals. What was the spectrum of practices that they took in? And then maybe get into a little bit of what you found.


Scott Allen  20:13  

So, the terms in the literature, like we kind of alluded to earlier on such an exploding field, and so many different definitions like leadership or love, the first thing that I was surprised with was what they thought meditation and mindfulness were. So, I was very lucky, I had a large Canadian police organization send out an invite for me saying, “Hey, do you have a regular practice of meditation or mindfulness, and do you want to talk to Les about it?” And so, they sent this email out in the past; I ended up with about a dozen senior police leaders. And again, the focus for me has always been, well, how does it impact police leadership? Again, talking about some of their challenges, I see that they engaged in a wide variety of practices. From this formal meditation, we were just talking about, “Yes, I meditate.” “Yes, I garden.” And someone else who is part of my practice says, “I walk my dog. And that tail is like the mantra. And I just watch it go side to side.” 


Scott Allen  21:13



Les Sylvan  21:14

“That is part of my practice.” So, a huge variety of different understandings. And a couple that were trained quite a bit in meditation said, “Meditation isn't just about relaxing your mind, it's about accepting your reality.” And there's what they call this meta, cognitive, self-regulatory capacity. It's about developing that. So, that ability to think about what you're thinking about, and being aware, and having these thoughts that are maybe not helpful, or ruminating. And this is when we start to get into some of their findings around well-being and PTSD and trauma as a tool to prevent that rumination. To think about stuff that happened 20 years ago, that we all have them, I am sure, and in policing, they say that, in a career, a police officer will have over 900 critical incidents in a 30-year career. Most people go through three or four in their lives. So, having that ability to get out of your time machine is part of what they talk about. PTSD, and how to work through that. So yes, a wide variety of practices. These leaders say it helps them in three ways: helps their job performance, helps their relationships, and helps their well-being. And again, I was surprised that most of these individuals, when I said, “So, how did you start meditation, and when did you start meditation?” Of the group that I had, most of them said, “Well, it was when I was seeing my therapist for PTSD therapy,” or, “Talking to my counselor, and they said I need to engage in this practice,” or, “I had a physical injury, and the doctor said, “You need to engage in mental practice, not just a physical one.” So, that was kind of one of the first findings. And it's a very small number of people, so I'm not extrapolating or trying to generalize the course. It was a qualitative study, but what I found interesting was just like, again, back to the analogy of exercise, you wouldn't start exercising after you've had a heart attack, you only do that before. And I think it's the same thing as the message from these people and my experiences. Instead of just teaching police recruits how to run up and down a hill and lift weights, let's teach them how to meditate in the police academy. Let's get that going earlier on. And then, of course, the other part was they all do a whole bunch of things. Just like people do cardio, weight training, and strength training, each one of these people in my study does breath practice. And they'll do, like I was saying, walk the dog. So, a multitude of practices. And then, when it comes to the relationships, again, what came up with them mostly was this idea of, “I have this enhanced presence that I didn't have before. When I’m with somebody, I am with them.” And I have had that sense that it's improved greatly since I began my practice, and that is what they've told me. Then, I also learned that I need the ability to manage conflict. Interpersonal conflict. And a couple of them said, “I wasn't conflict avoidant, but now I approach it like, ‘Okay, I'm curious. What's going on here?’ I'm in the moment, and I'm not thinking about the past or the future.” They’re fully present. And then, again, what probably was most important for a lot of them was when they went home. They have that ability to, maybe they'll sit for a bit, maybe they'll engage in these practices, but they're there for their families, or their friends, or their babies, or whatever. They have that ability to transition through the third category, which is well-being, which helps them reduce their stress, but also this work-life integration. So, you finish your job, and can you find a practice so that, when you walk through the door, all that stuff that you've just been dealing with is set aside? You'll go back to it later versus carrying it in at home and not being the person you want to be for your family.


Scott Allen  24:47  

Yeah. Well, I'm super curious, but I have not read the dissertation. I've read the abstract. 




Scott Allen  24:55

That’s about as far as I got right now. 


Les Sylvan  24:58  

Yeah. And it was pretty abstract. 


Scott Allen  25:00

It was a beautiful abstract. 


Les Sylvan  25:01  

When you're doing your research in the literature review, have there been studies in other… Because when you get into the TM literature, there are all kinds of studies that have been done. But when you get into… Because you mentioned that policing is paramilitary, are there studies from the military and other similar organizations that you found intriguing?


Les Sylvan  25:21  

Yes. That work has been done. And it's more often, in my understanding, that literature around the performance. I think Amishi Jha is one of the authors that really did a lot of work. Especially in particular, I should say, Special Forces type of military people. And they talk about leadership and extremists. These high-reliability organizations need success. You have to be successful. In policing it’s the same, you have to be successful. So yes, there is that research. Sort of the gold standard, of course, is mindfulness-based stress reduction, MBSR. And it was Jon Kabat Zinn who sort of brought this into the health field. What seems to be happening is trying to move from this medical model of helping people who are stressed or in pain to just how this can help people flourish. Sort of this whole positive psychology movement. But yes, so there has been a lot of study, not a lot, there have been quite a few studies that have gone into how it helps a police officer, or firefighter, or public safety personnel. What's very like about the literature is how it helps public safety leaders. And so, the thing that I think is interesting is that, in my profession of policing, everybody starts in that world. Everybody's going to be ten years of frontline duties before they start to move into these positions of responsibility. And so, everybody's carrying around some form of trauma. And so, how can they understand that and come to terms with that, and also support the people who are responsible for leading in a positive way without relying on their rank? And that sir, and ma'am, as they call you, all this paramilitary stuff, again, which is important, but what often happens is, it seems in police culture it's like when they're deciding where to put the new water cooleri It's like, “You go there, you go there,” whereas, for people to have voice inside their police agencies, for police employees to feel those psychological safety principles, and that they are contributing to their organization, that they can be authentic, they can be themselves, these are all critical topics. And that requires good leadership. And so, I think mindful leadership, I think of Janice Matran. I heard her at the ILA speak about mindful leadership and how important it is. So, a lot of the principles she talks about, sort of dragging those into the world of policing. But I think anyone listening to this if any of this resonates for them, there is high stress in all the issues around policing and public safety, but I think don't we all want to be better? Better friends, better.


Scott Allen  28:02  

Yeah. That's exactly what drew me to it; I knew that I was taking on a lot. I knew that I needed a replenishment technique. Similar to how exercise can be a replenishment technique, but a replenishment technique that was not a quick fix or was not something that was actually going to drain me further. You talked about debriefing over a beer, or something like that, that actually does more damage and increases stress long term. So, what opportunities do you see as you look at policing? What are some things you see as your future work now that you're done with this part of the work? What opportunities do you see?


Les Sylvan 28:46  

I believe that there is a lot of opportunity to explore this further. But what comes to my mind is, when I started policing in the late 80s, I was part of a small little police department, it was sort of small detachment in the RCMP, and a couple of us had just finished depo or the police academy convinced the staff sergeant who ran the office to give us an old [Inaudible 29:10] so we could bring our own homemade weights because we were going to have a gym. “We want a gym,” and this is in the 80's. Some of the more experienced older police officers ask, “Why are they doing that?” Like, “What a waste of time.”


Scott Allen  29:22  

(Laughs)They were smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer when they said that.


Les Sylvan  29:25  

It was the late 80s, and they were still smoking in the office. And there would be people that still have been policing since the 50s because they were in their 30th year or whatever. So, that was kind of like, what a crazy idea, but we did. And so now, fast forward 20,30 years, you won't find a police station anywhere that doesn't have a great physical gym because they understand, people understand like us back then in the 80s, like, “Oh no, we really need physical fitness part of the job.” People are like, “Oh, of course we do.” So, I feel like we're in the 80s of the mind. Now, you've got people like me and others that are out there, mindful badge, mindful places like this. Everybody’s everybody's trying to bring their own homemade weights this time for their mind.  So, I hope, my goal is that in 20 years from now, people are saying, “Well, of course, [Inaudible 30:18] didn't study this, we all know that you have to take care of your mind.” Like, “Yeah, of course.” So, that's where I'm hoping happens: people are starting to bring these things in, and it will be questioned, “Yeah, we have to take care of our mind.” The next thing, I think, is that we got the body kind of figured out, and we're starting to figure out the mind. And then the next part for me is the work that needs to be done in the spirit. So, it doesn't take you very long, I can think it was a few weeks into the job, where I was asking myself, “What the heck was going on here? How did this happen? How are these people not alive anymore? They should be alive. How are these people not dead? How am I still alive?” These existential questions happen very early in a young police officer's career. And I know we don't talk about that. And this idea of sensemaking is how you make sense of the stuff that you see. And I think that's the next opportunity for policing is let's look at it holistically, we've got the body, we've got the mind starting to come together. Let's talk about the spiritual part of the job. And not in a religious way, obviously, unless that's what works for you, but how do you make sense of the crazy stuff you see, put your boots on the next day, and come back to work? The same thing for police leaders. Again, the prevalence of suicide in policing. Prevalence of substance abuse. There are studies that have been done in Canada by the Canadian Institute of Public Safety Research, and what they found in the study in 2018 was nearly half of public safety personnel in Canada who replied to their survey reported clinically significant symptoms that were consistent with one or more mental health disorders. So, really, half of the public safety personnel in this study had clinically significant symptoms. How do you make sense of that? How does a public safety officer make sense of what they experience? And I think for next, for me, personally, is to talk about this research and to get out there. We didn't really touch on this other idea that's come up. Could you imagine a police organization or police agency where the officers are more present? They're more response-oriented instead of reactive. Do they have the ability to be more compassionate? There's talk about how this could be a catalyst for police reform and some of these things that we talked about earlier on. And this is what came through the research of these police officers saying, “I'm sure this is going to help us with our public safety. This will help us with our public trust, and the competence in policing if the police officers are able to be more present, to be more compassionate, to be more kind with the people that are traditionally in Canada.” And I know it's the same in the United States, but they have been marginalized or have been underserved by policing and the justice system. So, this is another idea that needs a lot of research to move it beyond just an idea. But there's something there, Scott. There is something there about police reform.


Scott Allen  33:22  

Well, for sure. And how are we ensuring that we're taking care of the people who are taking care of our communities? How are we helping them take care of themselves as they take care of the community? Because it's heroic work. And like you said, whether it's the stress out in the field or the stress in the organization, how do we better prepare our leaders to be successful? And at least create what we can control. We can control more of what's happening inside the precinct or inside the station and better prepare those individuals to be successful when serving in those really challenging roles. And I oftentimes will say that that's kind of my passion is to better understand this puzzle of how we better prepare leaders to serve in these really gnarly roles. And again, when it comes to the content of the work that you are doing, that even adds another level of complexity to the whole endeavor. And the stresses, just to your point, were there 900 critical incidents that police officers experienced? 


Les Sylvan  34:27

That's correct, during their career.


Scott Allen  34:30

Okay. Over a 30-year career, 900?


Les Sylvan  34:31  

That's correct. 


Scott Allen  34:33  

Wow. That's a lot. That's a lot. And I just have great respect for the work that you're doing. Obviously, thank you for your service. As we begin to wind down, and this is a little bit of a gear shift, what have you been reading or listening to? What have you been streaming? What's caught your attention in recent times? Maybe you no longer have to read journal articles or write a really long paper, but is there something that's caught your attention in recent times that listeners might be interested in?


Les Sylvan  35:02  

Yes, you're right. Put the keyboard down these last few weeks, and I haven't really been delving into literature. But what happens is how often over the last seven years of this Ph.D. I've been doing, I'm like, “I gotta read this later. I don't have time to read it now, but I'm going to come back to it.” So, there are a couple of things on my bookshelf that I've sort of pulled forward that I promised I would read. So, I'm very interested in some research done by Royal Roads University. They have something called the Cascade Institute that talks about the poly crisis. Complexity, science. And just how there are a variety of interrelated crises that are occurring in society, particularly around healthcare, education, justice, and, of course, the planet, the health of the earth. So Cascade Institute has got a very interesting way of unpacking all of that, and…


Scott Allen  35:56  

Poly crisis. Interesting.


Les Sylvan  35:59  

Yeah. So, basically, the idea is that we have never been more connected and that we, at the same time, have no place to hide on the planet anymore. How can we harness the power of collaboration and know that there is no place to hide on the planet anymore and give humanity better prospects? So, this idea of the poly crisis in the Cascade Institute caught my attention. There's also some work done called ‘Beyond Intractability,’ which explores the hyperpolarization in society and the extreme, not just in government or politics, but how we've moved down this path of black and white, and how do we avoid the tyranny of the ‘or,’ and find the power of the ‘and.’ That type of stuff. So, that fascinates me. Last night was one of the first games of the Professional Women's Hockey League that was broadcast here in Canada. I am very interested in seeing how that goes and have signed up through a little subscription to watch more because it's fantastic hockey. Canada is a little bit excited about hockey.


Scott Allen  37:06  

You're kind of known for that. 


Les Sylvan  37:10  

Yes. Based on the last couple of Olympics, our women are leading the way. 


Scot Allen  37:25

Yes, they are.


Les Sylvan 37:16

So, I'm excited about the Professional Women's Hockey League.


Scott Allen  37:19  

Oh, that's awesome. Well, sir, thank you so much for being with me today. I really, really appreciate the conversation. I know that listeners will find this dialogue absolutely fascinating. And I just appreciate your work. And I appreciate your friendship. And keep it up. I hope to see you in Chicago next November. 


Les Sylvan  37:38

I'll be there, Scott. See you then.


Scott Allen  37:39




[End Of Recording]



Exploring Police Leadership and Reform
Benefits of Daily Meditation Practice
Mindful Leadership in Public Safety
The Future of Policing
Navigating Stress in the Workplace