“The rank of office is not what makes someone a leader. Leadership is the choice to serve others with or without any formal rank. There are people with authority who are not leaders and there are people at the bottom rungs of an organization who most certainly are leaders. It’s okay for leaders to enjoy all the perks afforded them. However, they must be willing to give up those perks when it matters.”
~ Excerpt from Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
A couple of weeks ago, I received a direct message on Twitter that asked the following: “I was in the military and have been a police officer for 10 years. I would love to hear how you teach leadership. I’m not trying to be a doubter, but I work for some non-leading people who don’t know or understand leadership or how to lead.”
First, let me say how unfortunate it is that you are currently working for “some non-leading people.” I can empathize with how you are feeling and guarantee you are not alone in that feeling. In fact, most law enforcement agencies have their fair share of “non-leaders” who are in positions of higher rank. Policing is a noble profession with an amazing purpose and plenty of fun, exciting moments; but all of that can be overshadowed by working for a “non-leader.”
Law enforcement agencies hire people from many different facets of life. Some come from the military, some come from the business world, and others come straight out of college. Every one of these people enter the law enforcement profession with many different prior experiences and therefore different definitions of leadership and what it should look like. To teach leadership within a law enforcement agency, this fact must be addressed.
It is imperative that law enforcement agencies develop a strategy for teaching leadership and developing leaders within the organization from the moment an officer is hired and throughout the entirety of their career. Only then can an agency begin to achieve leadership excellence throughout every level of rank.
Here are the first 5 steps for teaching leadership in law enforcement:
- Hire Leadership Potential
Teaching leadership starts by hiring the right people. In order to develop leaders, an organization must identify people in the hiring process that are self-reflective, values based, and authentic. They must possess the capability to assess themselves and their actions honestly. An ability to identify both strengths and weaknesses is vital in the development of a leader. Their values must be clear because as a police officer they are going to be given great power and we all know that with great power comes great responsibility. Clear values also make decision making easier and good decision making is a key characteristic of good leaders. Authentic people know who they are. They are comfortable with themselves and can therefore withstand the pressures of the job; both inside the organization and out. If this were easy, every law enforcement agency would do it. In order to find these people in the hiring process, the true leaders within the agency must be involved in the process at all levels. This is key because those that are true leaders and have seen true leadership possess the unique ability to spot other leaders.
- Define Leadership
In order to define leadership, a law enforcement agency must start by defining its desired culture. Culture should answer questions like the following: Who do we want to be? and What are we all about? As mentioned in previous blogs, culture is made up of an agency’s prevailing actions and attitudes over time. Defining desired actions and attitudes creates the culture. (Example “Culture in Just 4 Words”) Only when a clear vision of the desired culture exists can specific leadership characteristics be defined. Defining leadership means thinking about the desired culture and asking the following question: What specific actions and attitudes do leaders within the organization need to be exemplifying in order to promote the desired culture? (Example “The 10 Law Enforcement Leadership Commandments”) Do not confuse this with a generic department vision or mission statement. Defining leadership means to identify specific actions and attitudes that leaders and developing leaders should be applying to everything they do and every decision they make.
- Learn about Leadership
True leaders are lifelong learners. They recognize that there will never be a point in their career when they can just relax, stop learning, and become stagnant to knowledge. To create this atmosphere of lifelong learning, law enforcement organizations must encourage and provide leadership education. In the same way officers train regularly in defensive tactics, firearms, and legal updates, leadership training should be just as regular. Too often, leadership training is left up to individuals to seek out their own learning. If an agency takes the time to define their own style of leadership, then they should be supporting it with training that builds off of their leadership definition. Departments can encourage discussion groups at each level of rank where similar challenges and successes can be shared with each other. Develop a preferred leadership reading list that contains books that support the definition of leadership chosen by the department. Here are some books that have defined my definition of leadership: Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, You Win in the Locker Room by Jon Gordon, The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon, First Fast Fearless by Brian Hiner, EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey, QBQ! by John G. Miller, Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet, Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni, and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. I have personally read all of these books and this same list is given to anyone within my department that has a desire to learn more about leadership.
- Identify Informal Leaders
If a department adheres to Step #1: Hire Leadership Potential, then it is imperative that the current leaders within the organization keep a constant watch for officers that are demonstrating leadership potential from informal positions. Here are a few key behaviors that identify informal leaders: They teach others how to be better officers. They learn from their mistakes. They take the lead on calls for service. They absorb learning about the job. They do not fear hard work. They find ways to help others. They bring others together. They are not scared to give or take advice. They are active participants in briefings. They are always looking to be the best officer they can be. They stay positive and seek solutions when issues arise instead of mindlessly complaining. Once identified, find ways to recognize and reward their leadership behaviors. This will not only reinforce the leadership behaviors of the informal leader, but will also spark other officers to follow their example. (Example “A Law Enforcement Recognition Idea”) It is also necessary to keep these informal leaders stimulated by involving them in discussions about leadership or introducing them to the department leadership reading list – See Step #3: Learn about Leadership. Finally, challenge these informal leaders to start planning and doing what is necessary to move into more formal leadership roles within the department such as testing for a specialty unit or becoming a field training officer (FTO).
- Leadership-Based Field Training Officers
Creating a leadership-based FTO program starts with going back to Step #2: Defining Leadership. Basing the testing and selection criteria off of this definition is key. The defined actions and attitudes that the department identifies as the qualities it wants its leaders to exhibit should be used to create test questions, oral board questions, and/or scenarios. The candidate pool should primarily be filled with the informal leaders identified in Step #4: Identify Informal Leaders. Once selected, FTO School should not only be based upon reinforcing the defined leadership characteristics, but also on instructing/evaluating in one-on-one situations, progressive trial/error based learning, positive engagement, and situational decision-making. Unfortunately, many FTO schools spend the majority of their time on administrative tasks, documentation, and strict policy adherence to mitigate liability. While these are important, leadership-based FTO programs should be built upon the belief that a trainee does not care how much the FTO knows until the trainee knows how much the FTO cares. This belief is most easily ingrained into new FTO’s if they have had it exemplified to them by their FTO’s and experienced the success that can be had from it.
These are the first 5 of 10 Steps for Teaching Leadership in Law Enforcement. The next blog post will continue with Steps 6 through 10.
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. Inspired leaders, inspire cops, improve policing, create better communities. It’s just that simple! Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help.
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Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!