Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Good to Great

In my second novel, The Sheriff’s Wife, the antagonist is a fictional Los Angeles County Sheriff. When a main character is also a bad guy, adding layers is crucial to creating authenticity. To achieve this, I need to understand how a sheriff might think and feel.

Such an opportunity arose on Monday, April 23, 2018, when I attended a Women’s Networking Meeting where Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens was the keynote speaker.

Having interacted with Sheriff Hutchens on multiple occasions, including eating lunch with her in her corner office after a tour of the Orange County Jail in 2013—a privilege I’d “won” at a charity event and used as research for my first novel—I was especially interested in hearing her speech.

She talked about her career, how she started as a secretary in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, applied to become an officer, began in patrol, and rose through the ranks of detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander, chief, and ultimately became Orange County’s top cop. Her achievements are inspirational, and I admire her ability to succeed in a militaristic, male-dominated environment.

And, for the record, every time I’ve encountered her, she’s been gracious—even after my first novel did not portray the Orange County Jails in a positive manner.

Fascinated by her perspective, I took notes. The following are some of my takeaways. (Forgive the summaries; each topic could be a blog.)

-Police need to be respected, and the police need to be respectful.

-How the police work and what they do is vital. Developing relationships within the community is crucial.

-Wearing a uniform symbolizes government.

-The homeless problem is not a law enforcement issue—it’s a community problem.

-School safety: Need a resource officer at every school. Teachers have too much on their plates and are not trained to deal with violence. Kids can have an app on their cells that alert the officer to problems, i.e., fights, guns, weapons, bullying, etc.

-Use drones for law enforcement.

-Sheriffs (or any leader) will always be criticized; people will tell you how to do your job.

During the course of her presentation, she recommended Good to Great, a non-fiction book by Jim Collins.

Thinking the book might provide insight into her philosophy, I read it over the weekend.

I wish I’d discovered this book when it was published in 2001. While the good-to-great companies that were identified have changed, the core concepts are valid and apply also to agencies, the government, non-profits, and sports organizations.

Mr. Collins and his research team found the most successful companies used a strategy of “First Who…Then What. They get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. Then they figured out where to drive it.”

He said the right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by their inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great. Mr. Collins advocated taking as long as necessary to find the right person.

While several concepts were presented, another one that resonated with me is called, “Level 5 Leaders.” These are the people who channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company (organization).

Mr. Collins wrote:
“It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.


“Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck.)

“At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly. Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It’s one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.”

During her presentation, Sheriff Hutchens shared that when the Orange County Board of Supervisors appointed her to replace the previously elected (and incarcerated) sheriff on an interim basis, (before the next election), she was pressured to make “quick changes.”

Instead, she sought to understand the situation and staff first, before making judgments, decisions, and reorganizing.

During the Q&A, someone asked: “How do you know when you’ve changed a culture?”

She responded, “When people parrot things that I’d said, and they don’t remember that I’d said it.”


Hearing Sheriff Hutchens speak and reading Good to Great has given me valuable fodder for my second novel.

What about you? Do you agree or disagree with Sheriff Hutchens’ philosophies? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you worked or are you working for a great company and a Level 5 Leader? What’s your experience?

If you’d like your observations to be public, please type in the Comment Box. If you’d prefer to keep your replies confidential, please email me at

Thanks for reading.

Warmest Regards,

P.S. If you’re interested in reading my novel, Busted, which shows both sides of the drug debate, please click here to go to Amazon.

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