Tactical Philosophy 101

When setting up my account, LinkedIn asked me to find a "headline"...one that adequately captured the essence of my professional life. Nothing seemed to fit. That was, until I recalled a moniker jokingly given during hostage rescue training. It was a perfect paradox, representing the two contrasting aspects of my job: Tactical Philosopher.  In the words of a friend, it labels me "a shooter who's a thinker and a thinker who's a shooter!"

The words tactics and philosophy are divergent. Their ideas travel in completely opposite directions.  Tactics refers to the planning and implementation of a strategy. Philosophy gets to the underlying theory, concepts, and ethics of the situation. In short:
  • Tactics asks How?
  • Philosophy asks Why?
And these are two critical, but wholly antagonistic questions.

The framework of The Illinois Model.
(Read Tactics' Most Important Questions:  Why? and How? for background on this theory.)

So who and what got me started with the idea of tactical philosophy?
The above list of books were the ones that began to link together higher-order theoretic principles with lower-order technical skills and tasks. The books delved into problem-identification, supervision, systems development, leadership, preparation, project management, situational analysis, strategy, planning, tactics, and decision-making. But more importantly, the authors demonstrated the value of prioritization.


When I say prioritization, I don't only mean the ranking of isolated problems, projects, or tasks. Another critical aspect is looking at the big picture and seeing how all those problems, projects, or tasks fit within the situation as a whole. Oftentimes these seemingly unrelated issues are extremely connected at higher levels. This common ground pushes us to be "generalists."

Philosophy finds those higher-order laws and analyzes the big picture. It seeks out the concepts and principles. These are the unbending governing rules that lead us in our efforts. Philosophy is all about the WHY.


But those books also addressed certain tactical and technical details. Once missions, solutions, or projects are defined, broad strategies are developed. As the strategies become more detailed, they bring in the control, speed, and size of the plan. Finding these concrete distinctions pushes us to be "specialists."

Tactics is about the efficient and effective formulation and materialization of a plan. They are the methods and delegations aimed at the solutions. The tactics are fluid guidelines that manage us. Tactics is all about the HOW.

My Personal Journey as a Tactical Philosopher

Influences, such the above books, caused me to analyze two aspects of my law enforcement career: police officer/SWAT operator and trainer/instructor. Of course the two are tightly intertwined, but one is as an administrator, policy guy, and educator; the other is using and applying the knowledge and wisdom in my real-life street encounters. I preach. I also practice what I preach.

I bought a leather-bound journal and began a journey. I brainstormed everything I believed about policing, training, fighting, decision-making, planning. I drew pictures, plotted charts, scribbled diagrams, and impulsively wrote one bullet-point after another. I wanted to simplify everything into a universal and adaptable template. The initial mess became more and more organized in the pages that followed. While that journal is still very active to this day, I eventually shared my collected thoughts with some great police minds. The result is The Illinois Model... a "law enforcement operations system." It's a project that will most likely be one I work on for the rest of my career.

The model is embedded in countless slide presentations and has covered many, many chalk and dry marker boards. The system finds its way into every presentation I give. It forms the first block on every training lesson plan I develop. It's the decision-making process I apply on patrol and on SWAT callouts. And it's the format I use while writing reports.

Because when I use it, it forces me to start at what's important now and funnel down to the most detailed technicality. It gives me the confidence and structure to answer those two pesky questions: Why? and How? It transforms me into both generalist and specialist, thinker and shooter, leader and manager..... philosopher and tactician. And that's a recipe that makes me better at everything I do.

Using its ancient Greek root, the headline taktos philosophos captures my mindset, thought process, and attitude like no other can. It's a science and art that's been around for a very long time. I commit my career to ensuring it continues in modern day law enforcement.


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a co-developer of The Illinois Model and moderates custom-built courses and workshops rooted in its theory and concepts. He is an active 20-year police officer, currently assigned as training coordinator. On-duty, he philosophizes over coffee; off-duty, over red wine or wheat beer. Follow him on Twitter at @LouHayesJr.


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