Excellence in Law Enforcement Leadership
The #1 Rule of Leadership – “It’s Not About You”
Perform a search of “leadership” on Google and you will find dozens of listed leadership “rules” and “qualities” (most of which are very accurate). But there is one primary axiom of leadership that trumps all others:
Leadership Rule #1 - “It’s not about you.”
While learning and preparing for leadership roles is an inward exercise requiring self-reflection and personal discipline, the actual practice of quality leadership is entirely an outward exchange. This change in perspectives is often the biggest challenge for leaders, and it is what makes Leadership Rule #1 so simple, and yet so effective.
From the leaders’ perspective, leadership is about influence. Effective leaders seek to influence others by changing expectations, altering perceptions, and creating a motivational arena in which everyone within their reach is inspired to work towards common organizational goals. The most effective leaders focus on the development and growth of others, and in helping others reach their full potential. After all, it is the results of the follower that are important, not the leader.
From the follower’s perspective, the best leaders are those that inspire, lead by example, and put people above power. Followers can certainly recognize and respect a leaders ability to practice self-reflection and personal disciple. But in the end, followers don’t care how strong of a leader you are inwardly; they want to see where your leadership can take them.
Both of these perspectives have one critical element in common, and it’s not the leader. In order to be effective, leaders must transfer the focus of their leadership from themselves to their followers. In the bigger picture of leadership, it is that transference that gives it value and endurance. Much like money, leadership can only gain in value when it is invested somewhere else.
The most effective leaders follow Leadership Rule #1, and return to it during those leadership challenges that require the very best of their leadership abilities. They understand that you cannot change expectations, alter perceptions, and motivate others unless you maintain the ability to influence them in a positive manner. When followers sense that your leadership decisions are made with other priorities, they will not trust you. Without trust, you will lose the ability maintain the positive influence necessary to motivate and inspire others, and you will have limited the value of your leadership investment.
Whether you are a brand new leader, or someone with years of experience, the next time you find yourself faced with a leadership decision, pause and remind yourself of this:
“It’s not about you.”
Follow Leadership Rule #1 and you will see that leadership that is focused on the follower can give you a double return on your investment. It will not only develop stronger followers, it will also develop a trusted and stronger leader.
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It's not always the big things that count the most
While leadership and leaders come in many different forms, nearly all strong and effective leaders have at least one thing in common: they pay attention to the little things that matter to their followers. Of the many leadership traits that are frequently mentioned as most admired, communication and engagement are nearly always present. In order to know what matters to people, you have to communicate with them. And you can’t communicate with people if you are not actively engaged with them on a regular basis.
Paying attention to the little things is important, and it can go a long way towards building trust and commitment among members of an organization. In the context of dealing with organizational issues, it is sometimes easy for leaders to lose perspective on the relative value of certain issues and problems, or to misinterpret their impact on others within the organization. We all have a tendency to focus on larger concerns because that’s where we feel our leadership skills should be applied. But it is important to remember that leadership is about influence, and without building that trust and commitment through communication and engagement, the degree of influence will always be diminished.
If you want to be a more effective leader, if you want people to follow you with passion and dedication; find out what is important to them. Find out what problems they deal with and what is preventing them from doing their jobs. And then do your best to fix it.
We Must Own Our Ethical Failures
“If every law enforcement officer and agency must suffer in loss of credibility from charges of unethical behavior by other officers, we cannot afford to take a passive view, shrugging the matter off as if none of our business”
Recently, while teaching a class on ethics to law enforcement officers, I showed this quote to the class and asked how many students agreed with the sentiment. Not surprisingly, nearly everyone did. They were a bit shocked to learn that the quote actually came from a report written by The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, which was published in 1967. Does that say something about the evolution of ethics in the law enforcement field? If a quote taken from a report nearly fifty years ago can still have relevance today, have we really come very far in our pursuit of professional ethics?
While I take some solace in the fact that the class members at least identified with the purpose of the quote, it is still a bit unsettling that we still find our profession struggling to overcome the ethical lapses of our own members. And these aren’t minor ethical lapses either. If you need a reminder of just how far we need to go to achieve the ethical and moral ideals of our profession, pick up a newspaper or turn on the news. On second thought, don’t. It won’t help your blood pressure.
The point of the quote, then and now, is that our cultural passivity to unethical behavior must be defeated from within, or it will never be defeated. We must stop looking the other way, as though these self-inflicted insults upon our profession are none of our business. Yes, members of other professions within our society also have ethical lapses. And yes, those ethical lapses don’t seem to undermine the status of those within those professions in the same way that our ethical lapses cause us all to lose credibility. It might not seem fair in comparison. But then, the very nature of our purpose and position within society has no comparison either.
We, as police professionals, exist to serve the public. We offer to do so with honor and with an ethical code that we use as evidence of our worthiness to serve. In return, we are entrusted with an unmatched level of authority and power over the very people that we serve. But the issuance of that authority comes with a contract, and inherent in that contract are certain expectations. Those expectations include adherence to those professional values, morals, and ethical behaviors that we hold high and claim to be our own. If we own them, so must we also own our corresponding ethical failures.
The myth of "Command and Control" Leadership
The supervisory environment in law enforcement agencies has long been dominated by what is commonly known as the “command and control” culture. While the evolution and development of this type of supervisory culture could be endlessly debated, its origination is no doubt rooted in the semi-militaristic structure of police agencies and the necessity of supervising police officers that, in the first decades of American policing, were often poorly qualified and critically under-trained. In its most simplistic form, “command and control” is an authoritarian style of supervision that survives almost exclusively through the practice of positional and coercive power. Decisional authority rests almost entirely with a few at the apex of the organizational chart, and neither initiative nor professional development are necessarily encouraged and, in its worst form, are ardently discouraged.
As the law enforcement profession has evolved, and as officers have become better educated and trained, more autonomous, and more capable of exercising effective decision-making; the need for “command and control” has steadily diminished, and is slowly being replaced by quality leadership practices. While there are a variety of forms of quality leadership strategies, nearly all embrace the concepts of the effective and ethical leadership practices that are recognized as paramount to organizational success and maintenance. Although the momentum and success of quality leadership programs is accelerating, there still lies within the profession a conflict between the new and the old; between the innovative, and the (supposedly) tried and true methods of command and control leadership.
The single largest contributing factor to this conflict is that many within our ranks still equate leadership with control, and they assume that to always exercise leadership over others they must also exercise control over others. While control in its time and place is necessary, leadership is not about control. To exercise control over something or someone requires the application of power to obtain a desired result. The most significant fault with this approach is that if the wrong type of power is used, or when the use of power is taken away, the results will always be less than satisfactory. Too often when this happens we revert back to our first nature of management and we try to make improvements by exercising even more control, usually with little resulting change.
Leadership, unlike control, is not about power; it is about influence. The use of control over others has inherent limitations, and requires that power be retained and focused on the leader in order to be used again later. Effective and ethical influence, on the other hand, can be achieved through countless quality leadership strategies, and empowers others by transferring the locus of leadership from leader to follower. After all, it is the results of the follower that are important, not the leader. From the followers perspective, the best leaders are those that inspire, lead by example, and put people above power. Evaluate any list comprised of the best traits of leaders and you will likely not find two words which have dominated the supervisory culture of law enforcement for decades; power and control.
The power of command and control, ultimately, is a mirage and is becoming less and less effective in contemporary law enforcement. Like a mirage, it is not power at all, it is only the appearance of power and it eventually evaporates along with its impact. The real power of leadership comes from the influence that a leader develops through quality leadership practices and from the amount of control that is given, not kept. Today’s law enforcement ranks are filled with followers that thrive under the influence of approval and encouragement, they deserve more than the myth of command and control leadership.
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Leadership is about passion, not power. It is about elevating and crediting others, not seeking credit for your self. It is about learning from those around you, not lecturing them. Never in history did a great leader ever say, “I did it myself.”
Police Leadership Resources
PoliceLeaders.com and Police Leadership Resources are dedicated to the development of quality leadership practices in the law enforcement profession. Utilizing the best of contemporary law enforcement leadership and organizational development strategies, we provide instruction, training and consulting services to help develop stronger leaders, teams, and organizations. Thanks for visiting Policeleaders.com and for your interest in the future of leadership in law enforcement.
Barry A. Reynolds
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Police History Photo
This month's Police History photo comes from the Dayton Ohio Police Department. Dayton has been credited with issuing the world's 1st speeding ticket in 1904. Harry Myers was traveling 12 miles per hour on West Third Street when he was ticketed. It happened four years before Harry (real name Henry C. Myers) became a hollywood actor. His career would include appearing in 257 silent and "talking" films as well as directing 48 films. Myers most famous role was with Charlie Chaplin in City Lights.
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— Russell H. Ewing
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