Note: Dr. Jay Chaix, an expert in Strategic Media, recently sat down with Travis and discussed various issues including the development of his website (TravisYates.org). Here is the text of that interview.
Dr. Chaix: Thanks for being with me Travis and I know it’s important to you that you provide this audience some context as to how each of us ended up here today and how leadership became such a focal point to you.
Travis: First, thank you for all the work that you have done, and I found myself at times a little uneasy about the marketing direction of this project, specifically my name being involved because I do not want that overshadowing the importance of what is meant by Courageous Leadership is but as I told you in the beginning, I trust your direction. I have always seen success in leadership when I empower very smart people to do what they know best and even though this is a little different than what I am used to, I have to maintain the same strategy that tell others
Dr. Chaix: I guess we should start with how your focus and interest landed here at leadership and when I say focus, you are dialed in pretty tight. You’ve spent the last several years speaking across the country on Courageous Leadership, you’ve written a book on it, you have others coming out and you are in the dissertation phase of a doctoral degree in strategic leadership.
Travis: Well, it’s a pretty improbable journey. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a police officer and I certainly didn’t have any intention of speaking, writing or even thinking about leadership but it happened and the first change in my life’s course was a ride along with a police officer at 19 years old. My father was in law enforcement, but I had other interests and one fateful night I rode with a Ft. Smith (AR) police officer, and I could not believe they were paying this guy for what he did. The career checked so many boxes for me when it came to having a purpose in life. There simply couldn’t be anything better in my mind than to build a career around serving others and I have been very blessed to be able to do that for almost 30 years.
Dr. Chaix: So, you joined a major city police department at 21 years old, what did the idea of leadership mean to you then.
Travis: Well, it didn’t mean anything. By the time I was 26, I was a first line supervisor and even in my early 30’s when I promoted into middle management as a Captain, I didn’t think much of it.
Dr. Chaix: When did you make the shift into realizing that leadership was so important in law enforcement and really, life in general.
Travis: The first half of my career was focused on training. I was running the EVOC program at my agency and had identified some serious flaws with how law enforcement was being trained in that area across the country and even at my own agency, so I set off to try to make a different in that area. I built a website on the issue very early in the days of the internet and that got the attention of the largest police website at the time, Police One. They asked me to write a monthly article to their audience and I started doing that. After that, I found myself being invited to speak and train for law enforcement across the country on the issue of officer safety and I did that non-stop for over a decade.
I loved doing that and I loved meeting cops across the world, but I noticed that regardless of what agency or community police were in, there was a common issue and that was leadership. When an agency was good, it was because of leadership and consequently, when it was bad it was because of leadership. At the same time, I was promoting up the ranks at my agency and I was attending a lot of training on leadership, and I say leadership but much of it was management. The content and the instructors were great but very little of it transitioned into real and raw leadership when it mattered.
Overall, and I believe it remains true today, law enforcement across the country does not have a lot of problems but we had a huge problem with leadership. At the same time, the environment around law enforcement had begun to radically change. A Legal justified police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, according to the Department of Justice under President Obama, set off a chain of events that really exposed our professions lack of practical and useable leadership.
So as the environment around law enforcement changed both politically and internally, I began to focus in on the problem and I knew without a doubt that was a leadership problem. I was about ten years into writing this monthly article for Police One and a lot of folks paid attention to it so I asked them to let me write some content on leadership. I have to give a lot of credit to Doug Wylie at the time. He’s now the editor at Police Magazine but he gave me an opportunity to write a series of articles on Courageous Leadership way back in 2014. Once that was done, they wanted me to get back to the monthly training articles, but my heart was sold out to this concept of leadership at the time. I had the opportunity to jump over to Law Officer Magazine which gave me some additional artistic freedom but as the years went by and I saw the rapid decline in the profession, I knew that I needed to do more.
Dr. Chaix: So you launched a training seminar called “Courageous Leadership for Law Enforcement” and you followed that up with a book titled “The Courageous Police Leader.” Tell us about that.
Travis: First, there may not be a tougher audience in training than law enforcement. We are definitely a tough group and being in front of them speaking about leadership was about the last thing I wanted because I had been to so many of those classes and I knew how tough it was to tell cops about leadership so I set off to not repeat what had already been said but to put together a course that could give law enforcement from all ranks a way to immediately implement what was being taught. Frankly, some of the concepts were so different, I was convinced no one would take the class but they did, and they keep coming back and I’m tremendously grateful.
But it’s important that the audience knows that like everything in life, I did not do any of that alone. First, I have an awesome family that has supported me from the beginning. My wife of 26 years and my three kids is my first leadership responsibility. Second, my first phone call when I decided to launch the seminar was Dallas Sergeant (ret.) Keith Wenzel. He encouraged me to do it and a few weeks later, I was in his living room discussing curriculum and of course the early agencies that took a chance on a leadership class they had never heard of before was vital.
I had been involved in a lot of training prior to the leadership course. I continue to teach various courses on risk management and officer safety, and I co-founded Below 100, but the vibe and the feedback in this seminar was different. I could tell that there was an affirmation that I was on to something, and the audience seemed to want more. Writing the book came out of that. I wanted to give some additional resources that I couldn’t cover in a one-day course and also wanted to reach as many people as I could so in 2017, I started that writing process.
Dr. Chaix: You had never written a book before. How did that process go and did you find it a challenge?
Travis: I’ll tell you right now, it would not have been completed if it wasn’t for you. Just so the audience knows, I was struggling in a lot of areas including time management with the book and you were integral in keeping me accountable. So much so, I want everyone to know that your role was so powerful, you are also a co-author on the book. The book would not be what it is today without you so I am extremely grateful to your effort. As much as a challenge the book was, it’s been a blessing to see it reach as many as it has.
Dr. Chaix: I certainly appreciate that and if I was going to point to a section that I’d like you to discuss, it’s the portion of the book on what you call “Cowardly Leaders,” and on the last few pages of the book, you basically prophesize that what you are saying will get you attacked. Things haven’t always been smooth in recent years. Did you know that would happen?
Travis: We are deep down the rabbit hole of cancel culture and censorship now but that wasn’t necessarily the case when the book came out. Certainly, I saw it coming not for me so much but just in general. I write in the book about how the suppression of freedom can inhibit leaders doing the right thing and much of this cancel culture nonsense is just that. If leaders can be silenced or scared or intimidated, they would then be rendered ineffective and unfortunately law enforcement has seen their fair share of that.
I knew that writing the book and speaking on issues as a full-time police commander could draw some of the nefarious tactics towards me but frankly, I underestimated how evil and twisted it could be. The tactics are pretty straightforward, and they often work. If you say something that gets in the way of someone’s agenda or goes against a prevailing narrative that is being pushed, the liars will take what you say, rip it out of context and say horrible things about you. The mainstream media is typically their weapon and they do it for one reason. They want you to shut up and if they can ruin you financially, that’s a bonus.
I have always had a simple philosophy, but I errored in thinking that these folks had any type of moral compass to follow that philosophy. If I say something not true, then call me out. I’m willing to sit down with anyone and anywhere and talk about tough issues but I have one rule. Leave your opinion at the door and let’s talk facts so I have always focused on facts, and I discuss that in the book. There are hundreds of citations in the book, and I think I made a very strong case against a myriad of issues but the enemy so to speak doesn’t care much about facts so destruction is their method of operation and it’s been pretty disgusting.
I once wrote about the problem with fatherless homes and how that contributes to juvenile crime and police interaction. I quoted President Obama and brought in a ton of research, but one news outlet said I was advocating for racial profiling. That is absolute insanity but that is what leaders in law enforcement are having to deal with. I dedicated an entire chapter in my book to the lie that police are systematically racist. There is no debate on this by the way. The research is clear and convincing but if you say that, you go against a narrative that has unfortunately become mainstream and I certainly paid for that one. Leaders need to understand that this is not going to stop because often times it works. No one, including myself wants to be called these horrible things but you have a choice as a leader. Do you shut up, run and hide and let evil lies ruin this profession or do you stand up and do what is right regardless of the potential consequences.
Dr. Chaix: This leads to my next question. Is that the concept behind Courageous Leadership?
Travis: We can know all the leadership theory and all the great management techniques but ultimately, if you don’t use those when it matters the most, it’s not good for much. We are long past when doing the right thing gets you some award or grace. Doing the right thing will sometimes get you fired or blasted in public but that does not change the fact that you are doing the right thing and frankly, that is the most important aspect in anyone;’s life. At the end of the day, police leaders have to decide. Are they going to lead only when it is convenient or comfortable or will they lead no matter the consequences? If you know history, none of us would be in this great country called the United States of America today if we didn’t have Courageous Leaders.
Everything good and bad comes down to leadership. I think back to slavery and Jim Crow Laws, and I wonder, how could we let that happen and I’ll tell you how it happened. Leaders at the time took the road of comfort. The prevailing narrative from our government endorsed those evil concepts and many leaders of the day went along with it. After all, it was easy. Thank God, some leaders didn’t and while some so called leaders permitted it, it was Courageous Leadership that ultimately destroyed it.
So today, we are fortunately not dealing with the horrors of slavery, but we still have right and wrong, and every generation has this struggle and that is proven through time because we can always look back and see what was wrong and wonder why that generation didn’t see it that way. I would say that some did see it as wrong but there weren’t enough of them with the courage it took to change it in a timely enough manner.
So when I talk about Courageous Leadership for law enforcement, it’s not hard to see where we have failed and that’s because our ultimate job is community safety and on many fronts, we aren’t leading and doing enough of the right things to succeed in that area.
Dr. Chaix: Thank you Travis for your time here and I have one more question for you. Where do you see this idea of Courageous Leadership in the future.
Travis: I don’t want to be an alarmist here but it’s going to get tougher, and the foundation is already set for that. As Courageous Leadership builds and we begin making a difference, the attempts to discredit, smear and destroy will only increase and that is done to stop leadership and stop leaders from doing the right thing. I’ve also found that when someone doesn’t have the facts on their side, they only thing they have to use is this cancel stuff. It should be a red flag to everyone but too many just aren’t paying attention to what is happening.
Moving forward, Courageous Leaders need to know that when others try to make them uncomfortable, that likely means they are on the right path. If you are being attacked without evidence and without facts, that means you have all the facts and the truth, and it is in that moment that you cannot back down. I know it may not be easy but nothing great was ever accomplished without it being hard and I think that is a message I’m trying to give here in Courageous Leadership.