Tim chats with his cousin Dave Sweet, homicide detective, author, and consultant, on the overlapping themes between leadership in business and in the world of policing. You’ll hear fascinating insight...
Episode NotesTim chats with his cousin Dave Sweet, homicide detective, author, and consultant, on the overlapping themes between leadership in business and in the world of policing. You’ll hear fascinating insights into how our minds manifest and manage fear and align with strategies to help your teams open up, give feedback, and share ideas. Whether it’s eliciting opinions during a board meeting or encouraging a witness to give a statement, when leaders empathize and give speakers the freedom to be honest, the more valuable the information given will be.
Dave talks to Tim about the idea behind his book, why he pivoted to the world of consulting, and what is next on his horizon. Dave’s desire to show up as a leader, see people as they are, and serve the community is what drives him in his profession as a detective and as a writer. Tim confirms that his cousin is perfectly matched for his job and that as leaders when our work aligns with our passion, it no longer becomes work but a calling. This episode will have you assessing your leadership skills, inspired to improve your communication, and learning to overcome your irrational fears. Stay tuned for part two of this conversation coming soon.
About Dave Sweet
David Sweet is an active-duty Homicide Detective with twenty years on the job. He has worked in the Drug Unit and the Organized Crime Section, and he teaches new recruits and presents at law enforcement conferences and various community groups. In addition to a Distinguished Service Award in 2010, Detective Sweet received the Chief’s Award for Investigative Excellence in 2017. He’s also the author of Skeletons in My Closet: Life Lessons from a Homicide Detective and has another book in the works.
Resources discussed in this episode:
Contact Tim Sweet | Team Work Excellence: --
If you can remember to love people, it goes a long ways to be able to ultimately accomplish whatever you're sort of setting out to do that particular day. Everyone has a story, we would all think, Oh, well, I would never be in that situation. But the truth of it is, is that the majority of people that we investigate, had no idea that morning, they woke up, that they're about to take a life that day, and the victim had no idea that they're about to lose their life.
I'd like to ask you some questions. Do you consider yourself the kind of person that gets things done? Are you able to take a vision and transform that into action? Are you able to align others towards that vision and get them moving to create something truly remarkable? If any of these describe you, then you my friend, are a leader, and this show is all about and all for you. Welcome to the Sweet on Leadership Podcast, episode 14. Thanks again for joining us for Sweet on Leadership. I've got someone really special for you today. Not just because he's family, but because of his story. And well, it's one for the books literally, say hi to my cousin, Detective Dave Sweet. And today the two of us are going to be coming at you. So we might want to rename the show, not Sweet on Leadership, but Sweets on Leadership, just for this episode. Dave's been with the Calgary police service for a good two decades, and a big chunk of that was in the homicide unit. But here's the twist. He's taken those intense years and turned them into a book, Skeletons in My Closet: Life Lessons from a Homicide Detective. And it's not a typical cop tale. Dave goes deeper, he shares life and leadership lessons from his days on the job. And it's something to read. As a cousin, I find that our conversations often are somewhere between a gripping crime story and the heart-to-heart you'd expect from family. It was surprising to me that in his book, Dave takes us behind the scenes into some high-profile cases and shows us that even when faced with tough situations, people can do incredible things. And that's really a theme that Dave is touching on more and more. It's not about the gritty crime details, although there's plenty of those. It's more about the heart and the impact of those experiences and what he's found in them. Now, Dave is shifting gears, he's moving into a world that I'm more familiar with, which is consultation, and he's gearing up for even more public speaking. And there's a new book on the horizon. This time, he's tackling the idea of courage and fear and where that takes us as leaders. So I hope today I get to explore some current issues that you as leaders may have, but through Dave's lens, we're going to pull in some leadership lessons from his unique experiences. We're going to get to see a seldom-seen side of the world. And Dave's journey is one that has the potential to make a difference in your life. So no matter where you're starting, I think you can learn from it. So with that said, let's jump in, I'd like you to meet Dave Sweet, my cousin, a detective, an author, and soon to be a sought-after consultant. Man, it's great to have you here.
Thank you so much, Tim, I really appreciate it.
So this is gonna be a little bit different. I've never interviewed a cousin before, I had a brief chance to interview my dad, but you're gonna see me smiling a lot, because it's just so neat to be trying to interact with you in this way.
Ya, no, it's gonna be definitely interesting. I've done a few podcasts over the years, but never one with family. So this is gonna be a lot of fun Tim.
Hear you go. So when we were talking, before we hit record here, we were coming up with a few areas in which we could sort of kick-off and chew around a few leadership concepts. And the one that I thought was really compelling and what I would be interested in, in chewing around with you, is the idea of transparency and resistance and bringing ideas forward in the workplace. Amy Edmondson talks about the psychological safety aspect in the workplace. And often, we find that leaders have trouble eliciting information from people, but you're an expert in this space. And so I thought maybe that's something that you could tell us a little bit about from your, from your line of thinking. Before we do, though, is there anything that you'd like to share just about how you came into this role as a thought leader?
Yeah, absolutely. So as you sort of said, well, I've spent the last 14 and a half years investigating some of the city's worst crimes, being in homicide, and sort of through that perspective, or through that lens. I've come to learn like, you know, our life… nothing's guaranteed for tomorrow. And so with that sort of perspective, I realize that, you know, one day I'm going to die. I think we all are. And so coming from the perspective of a homicide detective, I looked at it and thought, you know, what's really important to me is that I have some sort of a, a legacy that I leave behind whether it's no, and hopefully it echoes for some time. And service, the thought originally behind the book, the first book, Skeletons in My Closet: Life Lessons from a Homicide Detective. And the reason I wrote that book is it's so that my, my written word, could be a legacy that can be passed from a generation to another generation, they could learn a little bit about, you know, what this crazy, great, great grandpa was all about at one point in time or another. And maybe some of the things that I think about are things that they would be thinking about, as well, you know, in 50 years, or 75 years. And so, that was sort of the inspiration behind it. But it all sort of bases and stems around, you know, this idea that we're not here forever. And so we need to make as much impact in people's lives each and every day. Because Tomorrow is not promised to any one of us. And so, when I look at this world, and I think about it, you know, the offerings and the opportunities to learn from it every day are right in front of us. We just have to sort of seize the moment and take time to learn the lesson, whatever it is that we're supposed to learn that day, we think that we do all our learning in school, but the majority of our learning is through experience. And it's outside of the four walls of a school. So that's sort of the basis for where this all comes from. I think that our world is just a beautiful, big, unconventional classroom that allows us an opportunity to learn things. And then hopefully, we can go back and share those experiences with people that we love, and so that they can maybe learn from our sort of wisdom that we're taking on every day.
That is a calling for many leaders is that you have to be able to care for your staff in some way, shape, or form and pass on what you know and what you've learned, as well as create opportunities for them to learn about themselves and, and really engage in the world around them. And so I think that there's a lot of parallels there. I've always thought there's a lot of parallels between parenting and management generally, yeah, for sure. When I think about your profession, and what you do, you're an investigator, you have to establish the truth, you’re about getting down to what is the truth of the situation. And whereas I may deal with people's work lives, and their career choices, and things like this, your game is much higher stakes, and the pivotal moments that you see people have, and through happenstance, I've happened to meet families that have had tragedy in their life and who you've helped. They always ask me, you know, is Dave your… Are you related to Dave Sweet? I say, yeah, I'm related to Dave Sweet. So I've seen, you know, second hand or the impact that you've had on people. And when you're going after the truth, you're going after some really hard to find, or at least very impactful and very dramatic truths, things that have changed people's lives profoundly in an instant. Right. So it's much higher stakes than what a leader is going to face in a typical business. But I think there's still lessons in that. So drawing from that and your legacy that you're leaving behind about how you conducted your life and how you how you brought value to humanity. Tell me a little bit about how you see your role when you wake up in the morning. And you've done so for several years, what drives you to go out there and seek truth?
It’s sort of talking about I think that's really important, which is sort of the essence of somebody or what your mantra is going to be, you know. So, I mean, first of all, and I'll always consider myself a servant to the community, you know, first and foremost, and secondly, even on the worst days with some of the worst people, if you can remember to love people, it goes a long ways to being able to ultimately accomplish whatever you're sort of setting out to do that particular day. And it doesn't matter who it is. Everyone has a story, the uniqueness of the world that I'm in the world of murder and stuff, we would all think, Oh, well, you know, I would never be in that situation. This could never ever happen to me. But the truth of it is, is that the majority of people that we investigate, had no idea that morning, they woke up, that they're about to take a life that day, and the victim had no idea that they're about to lose their life. And so there's, there's always a backstory. If you can remember to love people, and it becomes a lot easier to do sort of relate and empathize with the person sort of sitting in front of you, whether it's a witness or a victim or, or the accused person or the, you know, the offender themselves. That's a big part of what we do every day. But I think what I wake up to in the mornings is really this concept or this idea that, you know, I'm a servant to the community. I embrace that as a role. It makes me feel good. I'm doing this, truthfully, I'm doing this for myself. I mean, I pick this career, right? So when I'm having a bad day, I just have to remind myself of that, you know, we live in a city of I think it's 1.4 million people. The truth of it is there's more Calgary Flames that live in this city than there are homicide detectives at this point. And if you were to like, look at this, the world of sport and hockey and all those things, one in every, I don't know what it is 80,000 kids that plays hockey in this country gets to play one game in the NHL. And so when I think about statistically, where are the odds that I'd be in the spot that I'm in, because I think I'm in a pretty cool place. And I think a lot of people out there would think, hey, you know what, I'd love to sit in that chair. But there's only a very small number of people that ever get to do that, I have to remind myself, I picked this profession, I picked this location I have, there's a lot of luck to get to where I'm at. But I have to this really, even in the worst days, just be so thankful for the opportunities that I've had.
And we're all so proud of you, you know that but there's a luck that happens to be around you that allows you to be in that position. But there's also the question of job fit, and that so many people that I've worked with myself included, I mean, I could not see myself in that role, I think I would ring out, I'm not sure that I could do it, you have to be wired a certain way and, and have a certain tolerance for being able to deal with traumatic situations. And, as you say, maintain that perspective and maintain that empathy while you're doing it. professionalism. And not everybody is cut out for every role, not everybody would choose every role. So luck is part of it. But all skill is another part of it, and then just fit for the role and fit with the lifestyle and everything that goes with it. Because it is, you know, it's a tough shake. It's not for everybody.
It's definitely true, we found each other in terms of careers, you know, I found it and it found me and it has worked out really, really well. It is an area of policing, where you can make impact every single day. Just this morning, I met with a mom who lost her son last year, and she's moved through the various stages of grief and at this point in time is just incredibly angry. And for all sorts of reasons. And I and I understand, and I do my best to empathize with her position, although I've never been in that spot. You know, you try to you try to still get into the hole with her whatever deep dark hole she's in right now and try and help her kind of move through it. And by the end of the meeting this morning, I feel like we got a little bit further with her in terms of being able to she maybe, it's alleviated some of the stresses or the concerns that she's had up until this point. And that was an easy opportunity to just sort of help somebody today move through a crisis that they've been dealing with now for a year, sadly.
Yeah. I mean, I think we move through seasons of our career and, and whatnot. But we, we hit these periods where we're, we're a perfect fit. Every once in a while we've got the skills, we've got the knowledge, we've got the motivation, and we've got the values alignment. And I mean, that's where it stops being a job and starts being a calling. And it's not necessarily that you stay in that position forever, because everything changes. But the basics remain the same. The urges that you're serving, the purpose that you put yourself too often stays the same, right throughout your life, and what's going to satisfy you.
I think that's really what you're talking about there. What you're touching on are like what our core values are, you know, what we go back to in times of crisis, or adversity or those types of things, you know, what your core values are, and they're foundational to you. So you always go back to it. And that follows you everywhere you go.
Well, with that if we move, if we move the conversation on a little bit, I think I'm really interested for my audience and the people that tune into this podcast, which are primarily managers and leaders. They can be in the STEM fields or they can be in academia, they can be all sorts, all sorts of different places. They're dealing with also trying to find their purpose and what they're doing in what they're doing and how they've pointed their lives. And one of the drivers of a person in a leadership position is that willingness to make larger problems your own right, this is one of the key determinants that we see in about 6% of the population. It's people that are willing to make larger issues their own, and and not just sort of coast around them. And you know, when I think of our talk today, and I'll go back to that, that question, so much of what you do is about getting people to come forward. And, and there's a fear on teams, perhaps a leader wants to know how people are feeling, because they want to make things better, and they want to improve the lives of both the employee and the the operation. And sometimes getting people to come forward, people are just resistant in wanting to report what they've seen. And so I can imagine that something that you deal with on a day-to-day basis, is how do you gather information and get the facts?
If I was to parallel that, I think you're, you know, it's when we're investigating any kind of a new crime or a new case, obviously, there's, there's a desire, there's hope that we'll have people come forward with information, they're gonna, you know, put us on a course where we will ultimately successfully identify the person that's responsible for whatever the crime is that we were investigating how we get there? Well, some say witnesses are more than willing to come forward. Right, they have no problem or qualms. But often, of course, that's not always the case. And people have a number of fears. And some of them are very, very natural fears, you know. What are the types of things that witnesses fear? Well, a big one is safety. I mean, they have safety concerns, right? And that's, that comes from somewhere, typically, I think it comes from what they've seen on TVs, TV, or in movies and on film, heard in the media, a fear that if you know, they come forward, that they're going to be somehow targeted by the person right? After the fact, the reality of it is that's likely not going to be the case. And so when a person has a fear like that, you need to take some time, first of all, to understand whatever the fear is, it's coming to you have to understand what the fear is, empathize with it, and then do your best to try and overcome whatever that person is saying. And in a case of a witness, the truth is, in the 14 and a half years of investigating murders in this city, and dealing with hundreds of thousands of witnesses, I've not known one case where a witness has been murdered, sometimes life can be a little bit rough and uncomfortable, certainly. But we've never had somebody significantly hurt that I'm aware of, in the time that I've been there. And so this fear that people have, it's generated from something else other than what is actually reality, right? Perception versus reality are two different things. But you know, speaking in that sort of same vein, of course, the next part of some witnesses and their concerns, is the way they're going to be perceived. And then how that person is going to be received back into the community they come from. It's no mystery that a lot of our witnesses are also in a criminal lifestyle. And so if you are coming forward with information, you are still going to end up going back into that lifestyle that, that you came from, and how are you going to be received? And how are you going to be perceived within that group, it's another big piece. And so again, it's making people understand sort of perception versus reality, the reality of it is, is that three or four people have come forward from that community and provided the same type of information. And then at that point in time, the person will start to sort of feel more at ease about being open and cooperative, and things of that nature.
So those are two great ones. A fear of retaliation. And we want to make sure that people understand contextually how often that doesn't happen. And I liked the part about empathy. And really, you know, hearing them and not underplaying what their fears are. But then say, let's look at the facts. How often does this actually happen? And then the next one is, again, that context of saying, I understand you're worried about losing your community around you, and maybe your status, but there are others that are coming forward to. And so, you know, you're not alone in your concerns. You're not alone in your action here.
And there are programs in place to I think it's important to know that, you know, again, we're fortunate, we have programs that will allow people to come forward and it was some anonymity as well. Right, which does help and I think, in the bigger picture world, those are like those whistleblower programs and things of that nature. In my world, that can be Calgary Crimestoppers, right? You know, there are other avenues where people can provide information and feel like they're protected in some way, shape or form from the information that can be provided.
You know, a number of the groups that I work with, stories are so important and, and the the stories that frame up how we perceive work frames of how they perceive the culture that's around them. And I thought it was interesting that you, you raise that issue of what they've seen on TV, and sort of how that dominates what they're expecting this interaction to be, be like, when a lot of the crime dramas and whatnot that are on TV, have that Hollywood version of what a witness's experience is going to be like, or, or whatnot. That is the story that they're operating from.
Well that’s the number one reason why people can't get over some of their fears or alleviate some of their fears is because, we all do this, we all catastrophize we always look at a situation. And we imagine the worst possible outcome that could come as a result of whatever the situation is in front of us. And really what we're doing with victims, or witnesses, or teammates, whatever it is, we're always trying to try to minimize somebody's catastrophizing. And the catastrophizing often comes from, like you say, and what, you know, we spoke about earlier, things that we've learned along the way. Years ago, before I was in homicide, I was in the drug unit. And I spent, you know, three or four years working as an undercover police officer, purchasing illicit drugs from a variety of people in the city. And during that time, prior to ever going into the drug unit, I had always heard a number of things about drugs. First of all, I heard the drugs are bad. I had heard that people that use or abuse drugs are scary. And you know that the drug dealers are evil. Right, these are the kinds of some of the messages we, I had at least, at different points in time, I don't know exactly where I received all of them, some of them probably from my own home as I was growing up as a kid. And then from other places as well. And so, with all of that in mind, I remember I used to pick up the phone and call up some guy I'd never met before to see if he would make a meet with me. He always sounded like he was about six foot three and 300 pounds, and just beef and muscle. And when I actually did convince the individual to come and see me or meet with me, you know, they were usually five foot three, 110 pounds soaking wet, and driving their mom and dad's Range Rover, you know, like it was a completely different thing. But I was catastrophizing would make me nervous. I would be fearful of like this sort of impending meet with this guy that sounds like he's huge, and mean and scary and would show up to, to uh, meet me was not that at all, it was something completely different. And that's just an example of how I used to catastrophize things all the time as well. And so through experience, I started to learn, you know, that, actually, they're not that scary. Right, and they're not that evil.
It's funny, because, I mean, often, when I talk about the origins of fear, you know, when we think about ourselves as a species, one of the reasons that we've created such wondrous things, one of the reasons why we can we are conscious about our own mortality, why we can think deeply about issues and whatnot, is that our brains are essentially a giant simulation engine. I mean, that's what they are. And I run this exercise with some groups where I ask them to envision and imagine what certain flavours are, and what they would eat and what they would need in combination, and they can do it because that's what our brain is designed to do. And then we coupled this with the fact that we have a very primal sense of, you know, things by and large fall into one of two categories either this thing is good for me, this person is a provider that will help me hunt and stay warm in the winter. Or this is a tiger in the grass and poses a threat to my family and my, my group and we definitely, in my experience, people their simulation engines bias towards the threat and towards you know, more things are going to eat us then they're going to you know not. And so when you're speaking about this, people's perceptions are A-they simulate so they're living in the future and B-that's probably the most catastrophic future that they can imagine. Right? They are really angled towards what are the bad things that are going to happen and then avoiding the risk. But we don't know what we don't know.
There's a best selling author, speaker, you know, she's an authority on leadership. Her name is Margie whorl. And I read a quote from her once and it was really, really great. She said, you know, human beings are wired to overestimate risk and underestimate opportunity. And so the way I see it, because I agree with her, if we're not taking risks, if we're being risk adverse, then we're performing like, everyday average human beings. And we're also you know, shortchanging ourselves on so many of the new opportunities and challenges in our life. And so, risk aversion is such a big part of why we don't do certain things, what we're afraid of. And so we just become risk averse. And we see it in so many different, so many different ways. Organizations, we see it all the time, that way. People are worried about liability and, and perception and reputation. These are the same things that witnesses are worried about, you know, sometimes offenders, but organizations worry about these things as well, right perception or reputation. Yeah.
It's the thing that we prep against. It's often that we prep against loss versus prepping for benefit. It's why often, people think first of themselves as a cost rather than an investment.
That’s right. catastrophizing, catastrophizing, catastrophizing all the way along.
Okay, well, that's so. So, I mean, it's a really valuable perspective to be able to say, even you going through these are prepared for the worst. But, you know, through experience, and as we get older, I guess, we learned to double check ourselves, just how often we can cave to that cognitive bias of assuming that, you know, the threat is right around the corner.
It's, you know, I actually say often, I mean, other than if you've done something really illegal, and really, really bad, right? What is getting in trouble as an adult really look like?
Especially in a privileged sort of, you know, we're in the first world where first world problems getting in trouble is I got a rock chip on my windscreen kind of thing, right?
What is, what does it look like to be getting in trouble with your boss? I mean, like, really, at the end of the day, what does that look like? You know, it might be a don't do it again, but, you know, these are things that we can overcome, you know, and so it's okay to…
It's not a Wookie that's going to rip your arms off.
No, hopefully not. You know, we've created a role within our team. It's called a devil's advocate.
Whatever you want to call it. Yeah. And I believe the devil's advocate, has a hail. It's an important thing, because it allows you, everybody gets a turn up being devil's advocate, or people can sort of step into that role at different points in time. It really does help with the decision-making.
Have you ever read the book The Six Thinking Hats? It's an old one, but it's quite a good one. And they talk about the different colors and everybody gets to wear different hats at different points. Years ago, we ran a workshop where we would actually teach people the hats, and there were coloured hats. And the white hat was a person that was data, facts, information, you got to know what's known or needed. The red hat is instinctual. It's all feeling hunches. Intuition, the yellow hat is the values-focused hat, you know, are we being true to ourselves and our organization? A blue hat is all processes, action plans, next steps organization. Green Hat is wildly creative alternatives, new ideas, and then the black hat. The black hat is the devil's advocate. Some people love the Blackhat. Some people hate it, Right? That’s a good one to talk about, oh, that’s a really, it would be a really good one to knock around.
As a leader in a boardroom, if you want people to step forward with new ideas, and I, you know, I guess he, you know, maybe you don't give them feel comfortable putting somebody on the spot, but it's nothing wrong with going around the table and saying, here's the dilemma. Here's the problem. Tim, what are you? What do you think? Yeah, I think that's okay. JP, what do you think? I think this, okay, and you go around, and you know, you're gonna get a variety of different responses. And then at the end, you make your decision, based on what everybody said, if you do a really great, you know, what, Tim, I really understood your perspective there. I like it. I think it's certainly valid, but it's not the direction I'm thinking I'm gonna miss. You know, JP, Johnny and Lee. I think I'm in agreeance. With you, he made some really valid points. This is what we're gonna do. And this ends the conversation. There's no more debate.
At that point. You're at decisiveness. And I think what's interesting about that idea of the leader has to do that. But to get there to elicit all of those ideas, it's got to be safe for people to speak up and share. And often, you know, the leader wonders why there's silence in the room. And it's because there's a tension against saying anything, it could be fear of being wrong, not being in a creative mindset, fear of looking stupid, you know, there's all sorts of reasons why people don't tell you what they're thinking.
Well, thankfully we drew that out, because I actually think that's a really valid thing, right? Like when things aren't working out for us as leaders, whoever the leader is, things aren't working out for you. Maybe it has more to do with you than them.
Thank you so much for listening to Sweet on Leadership. If you found today's podcast valuable, consider visiting our website and signing up for the companion newsletter. You can find the link in the shownotes. If like us, you think it's important to bring new ideas and skills into the practice of leadership. Please give us a positive rating and review on Apple Podcasts. This helps us spread the word to other committed leaders. And you can spread the word to by sharing this with your friends, teams and colleagues. Thanks again for listening. And be sure to tune in, in two weeks time for another episode of sweet on Leadership. In the meantime, I'm your host, Tim Sweet, encouraging you to keep on leading.
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