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10 Steps for Teaching Leadership in Law Enforcement – Part 2

10 Steps

This is Part 2 of 10 Steps for Teaching Leadership in Law Enforcement. To read Part 1, click here.

  1. Leadership-Based Promotional Processes

When it comes to promoting higher in rank, every department seems to have their own unique process; usually some combination of written tests, assessment centers, oral boards, etc. Most of these evaluation tools focus more on the managerial qualities of rank rather than leadership qualities. In order to promote the continual learning of leadership, promotional processes must be based upon leadership demonstrated in the past, present, and most likely into the future. That is what a leadership-based promotional process must be based upon; the prediction of continued leadership into the future. I will not try to give a generic process that a law enforcement agency should duplicate, but I will try to make a few points that any agency should focus their process upon in their own way.

(1) How has the promotional candidate represented the definition of leadership as described in Step #2 in their current and past assignments?

(2) Has the promotional candidate contributed to the future of the agency as a Field Training Officer and how have their Officers-In-Training turned out?

(3) Is the promotional candidate an instructor of anything; do they share their knowledge and expertise with others to make those around them stronger?

(4) How has the promotional candidate responded to failure and/or correction in the past?

(5) How does the promotional candidate make others feel around them?

(6) Does the promotional candidate lean more towards being an optimist or a pessimist?

(7) Has the promotional candidate shown an ability to bring a team or squad together?

If an agency creates a process that focuses on these 7 questions, they will identify the future leaders that should be promoting and those who should not.

  1. Leadership-Based Sergeant Training Program

First-line supervisors have the most direct influence on their officers and sworn officers make up the largest percentage of any law enforcement agency. Even though sergeant is typically the lowest rank of official promotion, this influence gives them a great deal of power within the organization and in the development of the department’s culture. Therefore, it is imperative that law enforcement agencies have a well thought out leadership-based sergeant training program. The word sergeant comes from the Latin term “serviens” which means “one who serves” and it is important that a sergeant training program emphasizes this belief for the good of the department and the continuous teaching of leadership. Creating a Sergeant-In-Training (SIT) Program for officers that are seeking promotion which occurs prior to promotion and mimics a Field Training Officer Program, provides the agency with consistency in training among their leadership ranks. A good Sergeant-In-Training Program should be built upon the department’s definition of leadership. As the sergeant-in-training progresses through the phases of the SIT Program, the experienced training sergeant must ensure that the SIT adheres to the department’s definition of leadership in their decision-making, interactions with officers, running of critical incidents, and in all other duties of a sergeant. In these actions they will be evaluated and only upon successful completion of the Sergeant-In-Training Program will they officially promote.

  1. Experience on Rookie Schedules

The most easily influenced officers within an agency are the rookies. They come out of the academy full of piss and vinegar ready to save the world only to realize once they step foot on the streets that they really do not know nearly as much as they thought they did. Upon making this humbling realization, they become the most malleable officers with the entire department. Therefore, if there are schedules (ie. nights and weekends) within the agency where rookie officers conglomerate due to their lack of seniority, then there must be a mechanism in place to exemplify the application of the department’s definition of leadership as they learn to work within their new world as police officers. It is vital to have sergeants and hopefully a couple of experienced officers, possibly FTOs, they can work alongside that represent the highest standards of leadership within the agency. Having these models for rookies to watch and emulate at the early stages of their careers perpetuates both the desired culture and leadership style of the department. If change is sought within an agency, start by influencing the rookies. Over the long run, the rookies will work their way through the years of their careers and possible promotion to eventually complete the cycle of teaching leadership throughout the various schedules and ranks of the department.

  1. Mentorship at All Levels of Command

In order to support the department’s definition of leadership at all levels, there must be a trickle-down effect of mentorship. With a single, consistent message being passed through the ranks, the cycle of leadership will be further disseminated. Experienced officers should mentor newer officers. Sergeants should mentor their experienced officers. Lieutenants should mentor their sergeants and so on throughout the agency’s ranks. The key is that the agency’s definition of leadership must be the one consistent message throughout. (Example “Trickle-Down Leadership”)

  1. 360 Evaluations & Feedback

The final step for teaching leadership in law enforcement creates the guidelines for making sure all involved in the teaching of leadership remain true to the message. Having an evaluation system established that takes into account the perspectives of those above, at, and below each rank in the chain of command will provide the feedback necessary to motivate leaders to stay true to the department’s definition of leadership. True leaders should not fear what they may hear from those they work with and around in their evaluations, if they have been true leaders directed by the definition of leadership put forward by the department. They welcome the feedback and opportunity to learn and improve as leaders. If evaluations of a leader are negative, then that should serve as an arrow pointing out the direction in which additional leadership training and mentorship should take place. If negative feedback continues after additional training and mentorship have been given, then consideration should be made into whether or not the department wants that leader to remain in a leadership position because it will be at the expense of those they are supposed to be leading. These evaluations need to be active and on-going. Receiving feedback once a year is not nearly enough to provide an accurate guide for leadership. Once a quarter would provide a more regular supply of information, but the key is that the evaluation process must be quick and simple. A time consuming evaluation process done 4 times a year would do nothing but add more paperwork to an already administratively burdened profession. The key to having success with this type of process is that the definition of leadership is clear, trust in the process is developed, and an environment of education and learning is supported.

By implementing these 10 steps to teach leadership in law enforcement, the department gains a clear and concise message of leadership throughout the organization. Once all ranks within the department share the same message, the effort needed to sustain this culture of leadership will lessen. Inspired leaders will inspire officers which will improve policing and thus improve the community they serve.

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. 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. Your thoughts or comments on this blog are always appreciated either below or on our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Twitter at @tbl_leadership.

Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!


Defining the Thin Blue Line Leader

The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to share positive leadership tactics with the field of law enforcement. It is undeniable that law enforcement is a unique working environment and one in which the word positive is not always easily associated. Law enforcement is not just about laws and policies. It is about the community – victims, civilians, officers, and even criminals. So, bringing the word “positive” more frequently into law enforcement is a necessity because policing is about people. This belief must be a core value of any Thin Blue Line Leader before even getting into a deeper list of qualities.

Leadership comes in many different styles. When it comes to developing one’s own style of leadership, it is most common to emulate leaders that had a significant and direct influence on you either personally or professionally. These role-models of leadership won your heart and then were able to influence your mind, but only after being respected by you for who they are first.

Here are 10 qualities that define a Thin Blue Line Leader . . .

WINNING RESPECT  – Getting people to listen.

1. Competent – Being competent should be a given. Knowing basic and advanced officer techniques along with any specialty unit knowledge/skills you possess starts building your officers’ views of your competency. Do not assume that reputation alone will carry you. Accurately recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses will assist you in developing your competency across the board. A TBL Leader proves their competency from call to call and shift to shift.

2. Integrity and Honesty – Most people would say that integrity and honesty are the same thing, but let’s define it more specifically. Integrity is when your actions match your words. Honesty is when your words match your actions.  Law enforcement officers are constantly in situations and circumstances that test their integrity and honesty. A TBL Leader exemplifies this by holding themselves and their officers to a standard that is above reproach at all times.

3. Initiative – Do not stand still. Leaders with initiative constantly ask why something is the way it is, can it be improved, and what can I do to help. Just assuming that things are fine because “that’s how we’ve always done it” leads to stagnation and mediocrity. Regardless of the time and effort required, the TBL Leader is always looking for innovative ways to improve themselves, their officers, their department, and their community.

WINNING HEARTS – Getting people to believe.

4. Servant – This is not to be confused with subservient. A servant leader recognizes that as the leader they have taken on the responsibility of being selfless for the good of their officers. It is no longer just about your career, but lifting up your officers in their careers. TBL Leaders find ways to make their officers’ jobs easier by providing them with resources, training, and guidance.

5. Authentic – Be yourself. Arrogance and false bravado will build a wall between you and your officers that will make leading effectively much more difficult. Share your experience openly from both law enforcement and your personal life. Talking about things like your marriage, children, hobbies, or pets allow those you lead to gain insight into your belief structure. If you make a mistake, own up to it and set the example by seeking to improve. You are still human and no one, regardless of your rank, expects you to be perfect at all times. TBL Leaders recognize that when it comes to being authentic, you get what you give.

6. Supportive – Being supportive starts by opening your ears. As a leader, you have to listen, recognize, validate, and only then act. Clear communication with your officers will give you all the information you need to proceed with a course of action. Standing up for your officers, when in the right, is a must because TBL Leaders are the glue that holds a squad together.

7. Passionate – Passion should be encourage and never discouraged as long as it is appropriately directed. By setting a clear vision and mission for your squad, the leader creates focus and defines what winning looks like. Police officers like to win and the more they win, the more passion that is generated. TBL Leaders do not fear passion; they work tirelessly to create an environment that generates it.

8. Rewarding – Catching your officers doing something right should be an on-going goal of a leader. Too often, excessive amounts of time and energy are wasted searching for things that are done wrong and rewarding what gets done right gets overlooked. Obviously, serious malfunctions in officer safety or investigations need to be addressed, but there is always a way to address this so it does not destroy the officer’s morale or belief in the mission. TBL Leaders realize that rewarding officers positively reinforces and defines the behaviors that you, the leader, want to promote.

WINNING MINDS – Getting people to change.

9. Learner/Educator – Learner and educator go hand in hand. A leader must be a life-long learner. Personal experience will only hold out so long before you are just repeating yourself over and over. Taking the initiative to seek out new information and experiences will allow you to continue growing. Then, as the leader, you must be willing to share and teach what you have learned so the development of those you are responsible for can continue. No one is an expert in everything. Use your network of resources within the department to find experts in areas where you are weak. The TBL Leader recognizes the great value of learning, but realizes that it is most valuable only when is disseminated.

10. Translator – As a leader, being a good communicator is vital, but more important than communication is the ability to receive information and translate it into support for the vision and mission of your squad. As a first-line supervisor, you are the translation conduit for information coming from the upper staff and going to the officers on your squad. The way in which you present the information you are given will dictate your officers’ response to it. TBL Leaders recognize the power of translation and are clear and direct in their messages.

These 10 qualities define a Thin Blue Line Leader. Thin Blue Line of Leadership can be reached at for any questions, comments, or suggestions. You can Like us on Facebook now, as well.