Leadership is derived from influence, but not just any influence . . . true influence.
Leadership is not born out of a title, a position, financial well-being, or seniority. While those factors may force someone to listen and do as you say in a particular moment, without influence they will never go above, do anything extra, or show true selflessness for those around them. In short, leadership from position only breeds mediocrity, short-sightedness, and selfishness.
When I say true influence, I am referring to influence that inspires others to work hard because it is the right thing to do, put “we” before “I,” and to think of themselves as being a part of something greater. As in most professions, but especially in law enforcement, if you lead a team or squad with true influence, then they will do amazing things when it comes to saving the world one call at a time.
There are 4 keys to building true influence with your officers – contact, communication, connection, and contribution.
CONTACT: Contact is time, nothing more. While time may seem like the simplest of things you can offer, remember that it must be focused and consistent. Here are 4 opportunities to build contact into your everyday routine as a law enforcement leader . . .
- Be purposeful in your briefings by finding ways to make them worthwhile for your officers.
- Get out of the office and go handle some calls with your officers.
- Find time to meet informally with each of your officers just to chat, see how things are, and grab a coffee.
- Schedule department required trainings together with your whole squad or at least as many as possible.
COMMUNICATION: Two people can sit in a room for hours, but without communication during that time it means nothing. This is where building true influence starts to require foresight, vision, and patience on your part. Communication by definition is a two-way street. It requires that you not only have the ability to speak with meaning, but just as important you must be able to listen. Sometimes the most difficult part of communicating effectively is being quiet and listening to what your officers are telling you through both their words and actions. Here are 4 opportunities to increase your level of communication with your officers . . .
- Consistently repeat, reword, and incorporate your squad expectations into everything you do. The more they hear the message, the more they will believe in it.
- Be specific when praising your officers for a job well done. Don’t just say, “great job” and walk away. Say something along the lines of, “The way you were handling that interview with our victim was awesome, you really showed some compassion and empathy. Thank you!” Not only have you praised them, but now they know exactly what you liked about what they did. Remember, what you reward will be repeated.
- Before leaving from a call, make it a habit to go up to the case officer on scene and ask if there is anything you can do for them to help. This quick moment of communication shows that you are not above getting your hands dirty and shows that police work is a team effort. Of course, if they ask something you better be willing to do it.
- Create a feedback form and give it to your officers to complete anonymously. Be specific about the traits you want them to evaluate you on and provide space for open-ended comments. This must be done in an environment of trust where the officers know that any advice they give will not be taken personally, but as constructive criticism. If you cannot handle open, honest feedback from your officers, then you need to reevaluate your leadership style and the environment you have created.
CONNECTION: Consistent contact and effective communication lead to the development of a connection. Connection is a bond developed in which there is mutual respect, honesty, and confidence in one another regardless of rank or position. Both sides of a connection trust that the other person has their back, will hold them accountable, and wants what is best for them as a team. Here are 4 opportunities to increase connection with your officers . . .
- Build mentoring relationships with your officers. Have meetings with them regularly to discuss their career goals and give them ideas regarding things they can do in their current position to reach their career goals.
- Know your officer’s strengths and put them in positions of leadership to make the most of them. If you are weak in a particular area of policing (tactics, investigations, traffic, etc.), empower an officer with those skills and defer to their expertise. If a call comes up that would give them some valuable experience in their area of interest, call them over to handle it.
- Admit when you are wrong or could have done something better. When in briefing going over the latest hot traffic, do not let position or ego stand in the way of you admitting that there could have been a better way to handle it. Policing has many moments that force a leader into making quick decisions with limited information. Thus, we are bound to make mistakes. Treat mistakes, both yours and your officer’s, as learning opportunities so long as they are not injurious or a violation of rights.
- After receiving feedback from your officers, show them that you have read them and are willing to improve in the areas they identified as your weaknesses. Inevitably, they are going to see things about you that you do not; recognize it and learn from it.
CONTRIBUTION: Contribution is when your officers show that they have bought into your influence through their wording, actions, and attitude. They are willing to not only follow your leadership, but they are also spreading your leadership themselves. Contribution is your confirmation that true influence has been established and if nurtured properly will be self-sustaining. Here are 4 examples of contributions you might see from your officers that reinforce your true influence in a positive way. . .
- When discussing how to handle a call, they are exemplifying the same values and beliefs in policing that you have been instilling in them through your contact and communication.
- When your officers are on a call with officers from an overlapping squad, they are confident enough in their knowledge, skills, and your leadership support to step up and take the lead on the call when others are hesitant or indecisive.
- You will see your officers making the effort and taking the road that has more work because it is the right thing to do; not because it is the easiest.
- When new officers arrive on your squad, your officers will immediately help them to feel like a part of the team, get them involved, make them feel comfortable, and teach them the culture of the squad.
The road to building true influence is not an easy one and it cannot be circumvented; the same 4 steps will always apply – contact, communication, connection, and contribution. If you want your team to excel and your officers to reach, not just their career goals, but their true potential as law enforcement professionals, then it is incumbent of you to build true influence with them and deliver the right message. This will then build the right concepts of leadership into the department’s next generation of leaders.
The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement supervisors to be the best leaders they can be by providing positive leadership tactics and ideas. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time and Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have ideas to share or suggestions for improvement.