DEFUND THE POLICE!  A battle cry of anger and a demand for change coming from thousands, perhaps millions, of demonstrators and citizens who have risen up to decry the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis.  The incident has been widely reported and will be sorted out over years of legal actions, administrative review, and political wrangling.  But, the subsequent demand to “Defund the Police!” provides an opportunity to explore several concepts of social and organizational leadership – not just within the realm of professional policing, but in the context of understanding any sector of our society where professionals – doctors, teachers, licensed craftspeople, etc. – are at work.


FIRST…Moving Beyond Inflammatory Rhetoric!

It has been difficult to engage in meaningful discussions around this push to “Defund the Police”, because the phrase itself is notoriously inflammatory and very poorly worded.  Since the majority of the public had never heard this term prior to the George Floyd killing, it is understandable that many people take the term at face value – protestors demanding that governments “eliminate funding for the police”.  And since the term is not compromising – i.e., there are no protesters in the streets who are yelling “Reduce Funding for the Police” – it is also logical that many people assume that protestors are demanding the total elimination of police departments across the country.  This has given rise to a predictable “Stand for the Blue” counter-movement with people proclaiming their respect and their support for law enforcement officers and for local police departments.  The social media wars around this “Defund” vs. “Stand Blue” battle have, therefore, become a predictable battle of Chaos vs. Order, Brutality vs. Safety, Protestors vs. Oppressors, and Criminals vs. Communities.   This social and verbal battle is a useless confrontation with no compromise in sight.   Which begs the more thoughtful question of, “What do protestors and citizens actually mean when they ask their government to “Defund the Police”?

Although there might be a few avowed anarchists who want no police force at all, the vast majority of social activists who support the concept to “Defund the Police” are actually pushing for a rethinking of how local governments should meet the social needs of their communities.  More specifically, how can money be better spent to eliminate or address the causes of social problems rather than on police forces which deal with the unfortunate results of social problems that have been left unaddressed.[1]  Respecting this latter definition, a better term would be something more akin to “PREFUND the POLICE” – how do we spend money upfront to eliminate social problems long before police interaction becomes necessary.  In short, how do we appropriately spend money “upstream” to eliminate social problems before disturbance, crime, and violence happen “downstream”.

A common example of Prefunding the Police can be found in many places around the world where police departments have partnered with mental health institutions and addiction programs to help troubled individuals get medical help and social support before police interventions become necessary.  In Melbourne Australia, for example, domestic abuse counselors have been placed in hospitals to respond to suspected abuse situations without having to call for police or request a violent confrontation within the home.  Likewise, mental health professionals often serve as the first responders to situations involving a disruptive or disturbed individual without needing police officers to become involved.  Whether it be nutrition and social support programs that eliminate the drivers of petty theft, addiction programs that reduce the incidents of violent crime, or mental health programs that reduce cases of domestic violence, the concept is the same – fund useful social programs before (i.e. prefund) community policing becomes necessary.

Once we shift our discussion way from “Defunding the Police” to Prefunding Social Concerns, an easy argument can be made that this is actually a call to support local law enforcement efforts – enabling properly skilled and trained professionals to address social needs while allowing traditional police officers to be redeployed where they are more desperately needed.  Undoubtedly, this concept would require a significant shift in training, staffing, and deployment of current law enforcement professionals.  But, in the long run it promises to be the right deployment of the right professionals at the right time in the right circumstances in order to achieve the right outcome.

Therefore, for the purposes of this discussion, let us jettison the inflammatory terminology of “Defunding the Police” and replace it with the more proactive terminology of “Prefunding Upstream Concerns”.


SECOND, Moving Beyond the Police Station

To fully explore the leadership issues underneath this call to Prefund the Police, it is also helpful to actually “De-Police” our observations and conclusions – detaching the issues and leadership opportunities from the emotional overlay of policing, crime, and violence.  Thus, embracing what can be learned and what leadership opportunities can be embraced from the recent concerns over police violence to a broader spectrum of challenges and social concerns far beyond law enforcement alone.  Therefore, let’s consider two specific situations where “prefunding” leadership could potentially prove beneficial to both individuals and the community…

  • Prefunding Health Care – The vast majority of health care costs in the community are incurred by a small minority of the population. That said, research has concluded that for most of these frail, high risk individuals, it is non-clinical interventions that are most needed to improve their health outcomes – nutritional support, transportation, mental health and loneliness support, housing support, and so on.  Unfortunately, just like law enforcement, the health care system is not designed to intervene “upstream” with social support.  In essence, the health care system ignores the underlying causes of poor health, waits for an individual’s health to deteriorate into crisis, and then expects our highest cost and most clinically intensive facilities and professionals to care for these frail individuals.  Therefore, these individuals become frequent users of the emergency room;  they are often hospitalized multiple times across the year;  and busy doctors are tasked with managing the day-to-day health of these individuals.  As a result, more and more researchers are calling for “Prefunding Health Care” – moving money upstream to address the social determinants of poor health, in order to avoid the poor outcomes and high costs that are incurred when doctors and hospitals deliver care.   If successful, the prefunding of social support would reduce the demand and need for high intensive health services – thus “Defunding the Health Care System” as we know it today.


Case Study Example:  In one small town, the Fire Chief of the local volunteer fire (and rescue) department noted that when a local café began participating in a Federal Government program that provides low cost, balanced nutrition meals for seniors, the number of emergency calls plummeted to almost zero for the department.  Prior to the food program, most emergency calls were for a small subset of the population who suffered from hunger, poor nutrition, and loneliness.  The food program – at a modest cost of a few dollars per week per person – combats these societal dysfunctions and elevates the health outcomes for participants.  Prior to the program, the Fire Chief noted that many of these seniors would eat nothing more than a “piece of bread and a glass of water” during the day.


  • Prefunding College Graduation – It is well known that many students who enroll in college never graduate. In fact, “35 percent of students who enter college…drop out during the first year”, and “according to The Education Trust”…only 63 percent of students who enroll in a four-year university will earn a degree, and it will take an average of six years to do so.”[2]  Once again research shows that it is “upstream” challenges” that lead to poor graduation rates, rather than the intelligence of the student, the difficulty of the classes, or the relevance of the education credential being pursued.  Some of the specific social issues that deteriorate graduation rates include the overall cost of college itself which is an umbrella for many non-educational business factors, a lack of credit solutions (loans, grants, etc.) for students with no credit rating or family resources, a lack of child care availability, poor study habits learned in high school, the unavailability of health care insurance, conflicts with work schedules, and more.  In short, college student retention is driven by a complex array of factors, but many of them are societal in nature and “upstream” from the traditional activities of learning and teaching within a university.  As a result, more policy makers are beginning to ask whether addressing the societal factors of work, health care, child care, etc. might actually be better investments in promoting higher college graduation rates – essentially “Defunding Colleges and Universities” in order to prefund other forms of social support.


  • In short, this concept of “Prefunding” any current activity, business, or government function with “Upstream Investments” could be extrapolated and applied to almost any leadership opportunity.  For example…


–>  K-12 Education – Shifting funds to community services, nutrition programs, and after school programs can create a better learning environment and better prepared students who are more likely to thrive within their schools;

–> Employee Retention – Research has shown that shifting focus to onboarding new employees more effectively with interventions that include more intensive training, cultural indoctrination, peer support, and job planning will lead to greater employee satisfaction and less employee turnover;

–> Contingency or Disaster Planning – Business leaders who spend more time investing in contingency plans and contingency response infrastructure have been found to be more adaptive in their responses to crisis and faster to recover from both external and internal problems that might arise;

–> Environmental Protection – The entire concept of “Reduce, Re-use, Re-cycle” is predicated on this concept of how to make smart inventions “upstream” in the waste cycle in order to reduce rubbish and landfill demands “downstream”;

–> Pandemic Response – With the recent Covid-19 pandemic, many public health officials have begun to ask whether public health money should be shifted from traditional education, monitoring, and research to simple concepts such as sinks and handwashing at the entry of every restaurant, cough screen barriers as a normal architectural design, and/or widespread cleaning interventions even in the absence of an identified contagion.

By looking at different industries and professions – not just law enforcement alone — through this lens of prefunding “upstream interventions”, the emotional baggage that is attached to the “Prefund (Defund) the Police” debate begins to dissipate.  What is left behind are thoughtful questions such as…

–>  How does a lack of investment in one sector of society become a hidden drag or tax on another sector of society?

–>  How much value is lost – or how many costs are incurred — when government, business, and/or society delays support and/or interventions until outcomes are so unacceptable that they are seen as crisis?

–>  What role do leaders play in perpetuating systems and norms which ignore upstream problems in favor of downstream solutions and interventions?

–>  How do leaders break the cycle of sub-optimal norms and become proactive and visionary advocates for Prefunding Upstream Investments?

–>  What are the pitfalls and potential limitations to the concept of Prefunding Upstream Investments?

Without question, it would require a long debate to discuss either the wisdom or the foolishness of specific proposals to Prefund (Defund) Law Enforcement, Health Care, Education, or any other sector of society.  But, at the same time, with a new definition of what “Defunding” actually means, combined with the realization that this discussion should not be limited just to law enforcement, healthy discussions can begin to surface new approaches and new concepts in the delivery of community and commercial services that can elevate quality of life, improver organizational performance, and provide better stewardship of human and financial resources.


THIRD, Moving Beyond Ourselves

Moving resources and shifting our collective focus upstreamto the causes or exacerbators of our downstream problems — requires a monumental shift in leadership thinking and stance.  Specifically, a leader has to be three times humble…

  • A leader must first be able to confront the limitations of the status quo – admitting that the current state is insufficient and incapable of delivering best results, even if that leader has been instrumental in crafting existing systems and solutions.
  • Next, a leader must confess that that the answer to long term improvement and success is likely to be about someone else or something else that is beyond their leadership realm.
  • And finally, a leader must consider that their entire profession, no matter how cherished or storied it might be, could become obsolete in a re-prioritized world.

A leader who advocates for upstream solutions will have to swim upstream themselves…against the currents of tradition, inertia, and self-preservation.  These leaders will need to adopt seven shifts in perspective – shifts in how they view themselves, their organizations, and their work.  A summary of those seven shifts in thinking are below…


I.  Move Front Line Professionals to the Back

Professionals – doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, police officers, etc. – are justifiably proud of their training, their work, and their status.  This pride is rooted in both the reality and the belief that a professional has been trained to do things that others cannot.  However, that belief system often turns into territorial creep – the list of tasks that only certain professionals can perform growing ever larger and more exclusive.  Doctors believing that only an MD can write a prescription;  teachers believing that no one else can manage a classroom;  lawyers arguing that their expertise is required on even the simplest agreements, and so on.  This territorial creep is sometimes the result of custom and tradition;  in some cases it is protected by legislation and licensure.  Often this creep is justified – the public is truly protected when a professional is deployed.  But, often this creep is self-serving – the professional being protected from competition, from critique, and from loss of stature.

Over time, this hoarding of responsibilities leads to two negative outcomes.  On one hand, the professionals who have protected their terrain become a bottleneck of service – too few professionals able to deliver too few services.  On the other hand, by hoarding specific responsibilities, innovation becomes difficult.  If only police officers can respond to a domestic crisis, then innovations around mental health, family support, and addition treatment become harder to introduce – all of these social issues funneled through the criminal framework which policing is designed to address.  If only doctors can prescribe drugs, then pharmacological care is excluded from community based services, self-monitored care, and lower level provider care such as that provided by health care coordinators or nurses.

The opportunity that a shift to upstream services will provide is to unburden professionals from their lower level tasks and to re-deploy those professionals to more difficult and more specialized functions.  The Healthcare Advisory Board calls this “performing at the top of license” – healthcare professionals deployed against the most difficult clinical tasks for which they are trained while other more generally trained staff take care of simpler, less critical work.  Undoubtedly, this decompresses demand – high end professionals will be smaller in number.  For a police force this might mean fewer tactically trained officers, but those high skilled professionals would accordingly not be tasked with functions that do not require their high end training.  For teachers, this would be more time spent teaching subjects that are challenging and less time helping students with personal issues, nutritional needs, and so on.  For doctors, this would mean far less time spent managing the general health and social needs of a patient population and far more time on the challenges of diagnosing and treating difficult to manage conditions.

In many ways, the most highly trained and specialized professionals should be relegated to the “last line of defense” – with jobs designed to specialize their work while other tasks are eliminated through the prefunding process.  In other words, high end professionals should be called upon only when all other – less intensive and less costly – interventions have been exhausted.  To do this, leaders need to actively review job assignments and staff deployments and begin to determine which job functions should be outsourced beyond the profession – police departments asking what tasks should be assigned to other agencies, medical professionals eliminating social support functions, teachers relying on community volunteers to enhance the educational experience, and so on.  If done well, professionals will essentially become “more professional”, but the profession itself will become less centric to the work of the agency or the organization.


II.  Form a Loyal Opposition to the Professional Collective

Shifting the focus and the centrality of a profession will surface an unlikely barrier to the redesign of community and commercial services.  Historically, professionals have formed associations to support their work and their professional growth, while also using those associations as the ambassadors for their professions to the rest of society.  Lawyers join the bar;  doctors become fellows of their clinical colleges;  teachers join their unions; and so on.  These associations often provide critical resources to individual professionals – ranging from economic support such as the provision of health insurance to training and development support to legal help and more.

But, as associations become invaluable to their professional members, these associations also become a detriment to innovation and to society writ large.  The Shirky Principle[3] states that…

“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”.

Professional Associations are the mechanism by which professions try to self-perpetuate.  These associations prosper only if the professions they represent grow and become more irreplaceable in society.  Therefore, when leaders – within or beyond a specific profession – call for Prefunding the work of that profession, the professional association will react to those leaders as a threat to be extinguished.

This self-protective stance was seen on full display in law enforcement as the Fraternal Order of Policy was quick to defend the officers in the George Floyd tragedy and perhaps even faster to attack the concept of “Defunding the Police”.  In health care, the American Medical Association has been resistant to computerized medical records, to virtual health care delivery, and to the licensure of auxiliary medical staff.  In education, Teachers Unions have been slow to embrace performance metrics and distance learning.

Although Professional Associations do, in fact, provide valuable services and play a critical role for their professional members, leaders must recognize that these associations will always be a drag to innovation and change.  It may be sacrilege to suggest, but bold innovation – such as prefunding upstream services – will happen only outside of professional associations.  And more pointedly, professional associations will always work against innovations that might diminish their influence and/or the professions they serve.  Professional associations are positioned and inclined to always minimize the impact on the status quo.

Therefore, leaders must see their professional associations as anathema to change and will need to strategize how to move forward without their support.  In other words, much of the opposition to be encountered will come from within the profession – not necessarily from individual professionals, but from the “capital P” Profession writ large.


III.  Extend the Time Horizon for Success Beyond the Norm

Without a doubt, the prefunding of a public service or a profession such as law enforcement or health care takes time.  Not only would massive changes need to be made in upstream service delivery, but there would also need to be massive shifts and changes in the downstream professions as wellIn healthcare, for example, launching the appropriate services to support frail seniors in the community is a monumental task involving nutrition, housing, home care, and more;  conversely, shifting the care focus of current service providers such as geriatric physician practices would also take time as patient pools are reallocated and services are recalibrated for a different population.  And, even if you could instantly change service providers across the spectrum, it would still take time for improvements to happen and filter across society.

Additionally, as critical upstream services are launched or upscaled, current services would need to continue unabated until those new upstream services deliver actual results.  In law enforcement, this juxtaposition is at the crux of the public debate.  For example, you cannot defund law enforcement services that are needed to address violent crime caused by drug trafficking, until upstream services are successful in reducing drug demand, and thus reducing drug related crime.  Likewise, in education, you cannot reduce funding for remedial learning that might be required for college students to succeed until improved high school programs begin to deliver better prepared high school graduates.  Therefore, a fundamental shift in the basic delivery of services, such as law enforcement reforms, will legitimately take 3-7 years to make happen.

This time lag between upstream and upfront investment versus downstream and future cost savings poses a significant problem for progressive leaders.  Stakeholders tend to have short memories and little endurance for long term efforts.  Stakeholders want to see immediate results and they quickly tire of a singular focus, always eager to turn their attention to the next pursuit.

Leaders who are trying to champion a tectonic shift in the delivery of professional services will need to set a distant time horizon for completion of their work.  They will also need to communicate that timeline to stakeholders and keep those stakeholders motivated and committed over a long period of time.  This requires a leader to become a Visionary Storyteller – able to articulate a plotline and an end of story that captures the attention of stakeholders and that enflames commitment and passion for the journey.  Without a clear, consistent, and constantly retold vision for the future, transformational reforms that shift focus to upstream problems will falter and traditional service models will become re-established as the norm by default.


IV.  Hardwire an Expiration Date on the Current State of Affairs

Extending the time horizon for stakeholders is critical, but may be insufficient for ensuring that transformation happens and remains in place for the long term.  As said above, stakeholders loose interest quickly and are easily distracted by the next “new shiny” thing that captures their attention.  When you add the disincentives of professional organizations resisting change and the need to totally revamp the status quo, a vision alone may not be enough.   In addition to the “carrot” of a compelling story for the future, leaders need to embed a “stick” that forces stakeholders to complete the journey upon which they have embarked.

One of the best ways to enforce transformational change – the “stick” – is to embed unyielding expiration dates on the current state of affairs.  To sunset the status quo which will create a vacuum if upstream transformations and services have not been launched successfully.  These expiration dates effectively become the cliff that an organization is rushing towards – embedding urgency for the leader and for staff members to compete their transformational work and hardwiring intolerance for anything but success.

Sunsetting the status quo can take many forms.  Naturally, more dramatic and more unchangeable tactics will be more effective in creating heightened urgency and elevated expectations.  For example, eliminating a funding source – such as sunsetting future reimbursements for physician appointments that are nothing more than low level care management check-ins for elderly patients – will be more effective than simply reducing future budget forecasts for those services because budget forecasts can be easily reversed.  In law enforcement, shifting professional staff mix within a precinct – i.e. replacing traditional officers with family counselors or mental health consultants – would be more effective in forcing long term change than simply revising job descriptions or contracting with independent consultants on an “as needed” basis.

Regardless of the tactics chosen, transformational leaders need to forecast what a reimagined professional service will look like and then must eliminate the enablers or the systems that might keep the status quo in place as an alternative.   To guarantee that bold transformation will be successful, leaders must ensure that the status quo will become permanently disabled at some definite point in the future and that a return to the current state of affairs will be impossible.


V.  Pursue Interdependence Rather than Collaboration

It is a well known fact that most corporate mergers fail or underperform.[4]  From 50% to 80% of all mergers fail outright, and some studies have shown that the total value of all M&A[5] activity is negative.  In other words, when two or more organizations try to work together formally – i.e. becoming one corporation or one agency – those new, larger, merged organizations normally fail to deliver results.  This offers a grim outlook for less formal arrangements such as partnerships or collaboratives between government agencies or between public or private organizations.  If these formal arrangements – which are hard to reverse – do not work, how can one expect informal arrangements  — which can easily be abandoned – to be successful?

There have been volumes written on why mergers fail, but some of the key reasons that have been surfaced include…

  • Separate Governance Structures – Some organizations merge in name only and keep the management and governance structures for each previous organization intact. This means that the two organizations are incented to remain separate and that each organization retains its original identity and purpose.  Any collaboration between the previously independent organizations remains superficial and tends to just add bureaucracy rather than true value.
  • Distinctly Independent Cultures – Even when governance is merged, newly formed organizations often remain separated by the distinct cultures that each previously independent organization brought to the table. The public rhetoric often proclaims that a new culture will combine the “best of both” previous cultures, but this is almost never the case.  As a result, stakeholders remain separated with different views of purpose, ethics, priorities, and expectations.  Collaboration becomes difficult because each interaction represents a potential clash between cultures and history.
  • Old Guard Leadership – Even if an organization changes, the common wisdom that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” takes on major significance. Managers and leaders within merged organizations are often slow to adapt to the change – having been trained, and having been successful, in their careers, they cling to the “way it has always been done before”.  This bias towards the past taints not only how managers view their jobs, but how they interpret new directives from their new organization.  New organizations, therefore, often find processes and people being managed with old thinking.
  • Duplication and Redundancy – Many organizations that merge spend most of their time and effort combining the business attributes of the new organization – budgets, org structure, branding, etc. These organizations then assume that mid-level and front line managers will merge operations and backroom functions.  But, these front line leaders are often incented to “keep things running” during the merger, and resources are rarely provided to redesign, rethink, and reimagine new processes and systems within the new organization.  As a result, many midlevel managers will apply quick-fix patches to their operations – keeping core processes unchanged and then just adding some sort of bridge or patch to other systems.  The end result is greater bureaucracy, slower processes, and significant operational redundancy.

 Health Care Example — This has happened in health care with the introduction of hospitalists – inpatient specialists designed to manage care for those patients who have been admitted to the hospital.  In many health systems, the hospitalist tries to manage care while a primary doctor also tries to manage care and the result is often conflict, redundancy, and complexity.  The only hospitalist programs that work well are those where there have been totally new care protocols designed and put in place.

The concept of prefunding upstream services is analogous to a merger – two or more organizations coming together to serve a shared purpose with the expectation that overall outcomes will be higher in quality at a lower cost of delivery.  Therefore, the cautionary lessons of failure are equally applicable.  Leaders hoping to move services upstream will need to consciously overcome these potential barriers.  Traditional forms of partnership or collaboration – where two organizations remain separate and work together only when convenient for both — will need to be reconsidered.  There is nothing wrong with collaboration, but it has severe limitations – collaboration almost always protects the participating collaborators from shrinkage and change.  In fact, most organizations will collaborate only when it elevates their stature and conversely will halt any collaborative effort that diminishes the organization’s size, importance, or activities.

Leaders who are striving to transform their professional organizations must shift away from traditional collaboration and embrace a theory of true interdependence – with each organization or agency contributing specific and unique services or support that are part of a larger blueprint for the delivery of services and outcomes.  Furthermore, true interdependence implies that these unique services are valuable only when combined with other services and virtually worthless or deeply limited in value when standing alone.

The most effective way for a leader to create true interdependence – and to eliminate unnecessary duplication and bureaucracy – is to cede control of systemic redesign to an outside System Czar – an agency or a leadership team with overarching responsibility for high level outcomes and for overall system design.  This requires the leader to cede control, relinquish authority, and step back into a role of advisor and expert.  True redesign will mean that some professionals may lose their positions and/or have their roles significantly changed.  Only a System Czar can make the difficult and necessary decisions required to truly transform an entire spectrum of interdependent services.  Only when leaders can truly step back and cede control for the greater good, can the transformation of services move forward at full speed, unencumbered by parochial concerns and conflicting agendas.


VI.  Cast a Wider Net of Support to Meet Narrow Needs

Common wisdom in both business and government is to always target services and support on a narrow range of clients, customers, or stakeholders.  This traditional logic is well founded – that to focus resources on the areas of greatest need will deliver the greatest return.  The assumption is somewhat built on the 80/20 theory that if you can focus efforts on 20% of the population or client base, you will get 80% of the benefits.

Although this makes sense, this is not the calculus to be used when trying to move services and support upstreamThe entire purpose of prefunding professional services is to focus on eliminating a problem before it escalates and requires high cost, high intensity interventions.  By definition, it is cheaper to provide services upstream and there will be a significant financial (and social) return for every downstream intervention that can be avoided.  Therefore, rather than limiting upstream investments, leaders should seek to maximize upstream services – providing upstream services in rich supply for as many clients, citizens, or customers as is possible until no incremental downstream benefits can be realized.

Hypothetical Example — Assume that an initial $1,000,000 investment in mental health services could eliminate $2,000,000 in traditional community policing services.  Then assume that spending another $1,000,000 in mental health would save an additional $1,100,000 in traditional policing services.  Traditional wisdom would argue that the second $1mm investment was not worth the effort and that upstream services should be narrowed to a $1mm investment.  When it comes to upstreaming support services, this would be an unwise limitation of investment.  The better investment would be to maximize the lower cost, earlier investments in order to permanently reduce the highest cost, greatest intensity downstream services.  This is where “defunding” becomes an accurate definition – that you defund expensive services in order to invest in less costly, and thus easier to expand or adjust, upstream services.  Furthermore, for social services there is a benefit of reduced suffering in the community by stopping severe issues before they mushroom into significant concerns.

The challenge for tenured leaders – who are part of the downstream infrastructure – is that this requires strong advocacy for eliminating as much of one’s own service area as possible, rather than advocating for more modest reductions or changes that many leaders might label as “acceptable” or “appropriate”.  This push for maximizing downstream reduction requires strict adherence to the long term vision of what a leader is trying to accomplish.  Leaders who are most dedicated to transformation should embrace and adopt this calculus of maximizing upstream investments at the beginning of transformation, embedding this as a core principle of design before, rather than after, it becomes a painful and politically more difficult reduction in staff and services.

Case Study Example — The Chicago Public School System boasts a great example of maximizing upstream services with their school breakfast program.  The breakfast program is part of the U.S. Federal Government’s nutritional support program for students that addresses an upstream focus on hunger and nutrition in order to build a downstream environment for learning and success.  But, at the same time, the Federal Government follows the traditional wisdom of narrowing this support to low incomes students.  The Chicago Public Schools have earned a waiver within this program that allows them to offer breakfast for all students, regardless of income – thus widening the net of this upstream service.  The advantages are many…  FIRST, it is actually cheaper – and simpler – to provide breakfast for all, rather than implement onerous application and review processes for low income students alone.  SECOND, the stigma of poverty is eliminated as the breakfast program is not about wealth, but about learning, and the focus is on all rather than a few.  And THIRD, but perhaps most importantly, is that casting a large net benefits a large population – wealthy students can also suffer from poor nutrition and hunger because of difficult or unique at-home situations, and this program helps build a healthy learning environment for all.

VII.  Sacrifice Personal Ego to Advantage the Greater Good

The final shift in thinking is perhaps the most important and the critical foundation for the other six.  To move services upstream requires the leader to swim upstream against the currents of self-preservation, professional associations, common wisdom, accepted norms, and even time itself.  All of this requires that a leader sacrifices their personal ego in service to betterment of the greater good.  This is, and this sounds like, a mighty and noble calling for any leader.  But, in truth, it means the swallowing of pride, the potential sacrifice of personal advancement, and an uncertain future.  Undoubtedly, transformations as large as changing how police departments work, how hospitals function, or how universities teach will unfold in ways never imagined today.  It means that a leader must embrace uncertainty, instability, and turmoil.

To psychologically and emotionally prepare oneself for this level of change, a leader must start this journey with the expectation that at the end, the leader herself or himself will be out of job and/or will be expendable.  If a leader moves forward assuming that they will be richly rewarded or that they will be kept safe from the negative impacts of transformational change, they will inadvertently, but significantly, minimize their chances of success.  A leader who thinks that transformation will result in a bigger or more important future job will twist the design and the implementation of new services to make room for that job.  A leader who expects to profit will undermine anything that threatens that prosperity.  A leader who expects to be held harmless during change will work to minimize the far-reaching innovations that could be disruptive.  To be successful in the fundamental redesign of critical services – law enforcement, health care, education, etc. – a leader must accept their role as finite and must work towards eliminating their position, even if they hold it dear.



The potential of prefunding social services in order to improve the quality of life within our communities and our society is massive.  Moving services and interventions upstream from the professional institutions and agencies that are currently at the center of the delivery of health care, public safety, and education offers the promise to avoid suffering, lower costs, and elevate quality of life…

  • Investing in social support for the frail and the elderly promises to reduce hospitalizations, physician services, and expensive treatments.
  • Combatting poverty and substance abuse promises to reduce violent crime, police officer interdiction, and mental health complications.
  • Better supporting students in their studies promises to reduce dropouts, elevate academic success, and to decrease long term financial burdens for new graduates.

 But, massive transformations to core societal services will be anything but easy.  It will take dedicated leaders who are able to substantially shift their thinking and their perspectives away from the status quo, away from themselves, and away from their professions in order to strive towards a much greater good.  If there are leaders who are willing to embrace this challenge and swim upstream against all odds, the benefits can be great.  Without transformational and selfless leadership, we will continue to flow in the direction of the status quo, regardless of how ineffective, inequitable, and expensive that status quo might be.





[1] Ryan W. Muller; USA TODAY (; “What does ‘defund the police’ mean and why some say ‘reform’ is not enough”; Published 9:51 a.m. ET June 8, 2020 / Updated 3:02 p.m. ET June 8, 2020.  Below are a few excerpts from this article…

What does it mean to defund the police?  In one sense, the movement to defund the police is quite simple: It means taking funding away from police forces across the country…  The larger push to defund the police is about more than taking money away.  It’s a push to reallocate those funds into social programs…  In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Christy E. Lopez, a Georgetown Law professor  and co-director of the school’s Innovative Policing Program, wrote… “Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need.”

 [2], accessed August 11, 2020 at 2:31 pm.

[3] Named for Clay Shirky (born 1964), an American wrriter, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of internet technologies and journalism.

[4],concluded%20that%20total%20returns%20on%20M%26A%20were%20negative., accessed on August 13, 2020 at 7:30 am.  “Why mergers fail”; Margaret Hefferman; April 24, 2012 / Moneywatch, “Depending on whose research you choose to rely on, mergers have a failure rate of anywhere between 50 and 85 percent. One KPMG study found that 83 percent of these deals hadn’t boosted shareholder returns, while a separate study by A.T. Kearney concluded that total returns on M&A were negative.”

[5] Mergers and Acquisitions