The "secret" of Self-made Leadership

The coming of the New Year often brings new beginnings, resolutions, and promises of changes to come. While this year is no different for many of us, the turn of the calendar also brings an opportunity that could result in the most important change of all. This year you could have the opportunity to learn a secret, and to become something that you’ve always wanted to be. You can become the type of leader that you have always looked up to and admired; the type of leader that inspires others and changes lives; and the type of leader that you’ve always thought you might become someday; perhaps next year or the year after.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait another year. There is nothing to prevent you, and no one to stop you, from becoming the leader that you have always thought you could be. All you need to know is this:
the secret of leadership is that there is no secret. You don’t need a new position or title, there are no membership dues, and you don’t need anyone’s permission. In fact, no one can make you a leader. No one, that is, except for you.

Leaders are self-made, and they only do two things that most other people don’t do. First, self-made leaders decide that the time to be a leader is now. Not next week or next year. Now. Second, self-made leaders maintain the drive and determination that is needed to never allow themselves to be less than the best leader they can be. While that sounds like a daunting task, true leaders don’t see it that way. If a leader is who you are and who you want to be, the second task is actually much easier than the first.

In our chosen profession, we need leaders (which also isn’t a great secret). We can either keep waiting (and hoping) for the leaders we have always wanted to see finally show up; or we can become the leaders that we have always hoped to see within our ranks. The coming New Year is more than just a turn of the calendar, it is the year that we add strong, transformational leaders to the profession of law enforcement. If you already are a leader, then you understand the importance of self-made leaders, and you will be a better leader by the end of the year. If you have never been a leader before, this is your year.

Putting together the leadership puzzle

Like a puzzle master, leaders are most effective when they show us how the pieces fit together.

Regardless of the type of organization, the first and primary purpose of leadership influence is to achieve organizational goals. We know that every organization has goals, or an organizational mission, which is essentially the reason that the organization exists. The role of any leader within an organization is to apply influence in the effort to improve the motivation and performance of those within the organization, which helps move the organization toward the achievement of its mission. The more effective we are in the application of our leadership influence, the closer we will come to achieving our goals for the organization.

The key link between leadership influence and the organizations mission is the leaders understanding of the essential human need we all have to belong to something greater than ourselves. Whether it is as a part of a team, a group, or a multi-national organization; we all want to be a part of an effort that aspires to do great things. Whenever we are a part of a sports team or a group of community volunteers that comes together to achieve their goals, we feel inspired and satisfied. The same is true for organizations. With a shared mission, and with effective leadership to motivate us and show us the way, we will try harder, work longer, and do more.

It is critically important, however, that we don’t confuse organizational goals with other ancillary outcomes of the organization. For example, making a profit is not an organizational goal for a private business; it is the by-product of the achievement of the organizations goals. Similarly, attaining a certain arrest or conviction rate is not an organizational goal for a police agency, it is an outcome that can be achieved through the pursuit of the mission of the organization. The purpose of the organizational mission is to take the organization to a higher level, and to inspire its members to reach for more than just measured outputs.

As an example, in 1980 Steve Jobs created the first mission statement for the Apple Computer Company. That mission statement read, “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” (Imagine being hired in the early days of Apple Computer and being told, “This is your goal.”) With a mission statement that provided a visionary goal, and with Steve Jobs’ guiding leadership influence, is it any wonder Apple stands as one of the world’s most innovative organizations, and has defined the use and market of personal electronics? (By the way, they also make a profit.)

Apple is a great example of how an organizations mission statement establishes the vision and purpose for its members. But the mission statement alone is simply a lofty ideal without the influence of leadership. Much a like a puzzle in the box, the mission exists but can’t be clearly seen by everyone until we start to put the pieces together.

Just like the late Steve Jobs, effective leaders are puzzle masters. They create a puzzle picture of the mission for the organization, then they hand a few pieces of the puzzle to each member and show them what the picture would look like if they all put their pieces in the right place. When the picture is finished and the goals are reached, they applaud those that put it all together and made it work.

Using Power in Leadership - Why Less is more

Many people tend to equate leadership with power, yet the two are vastly different. They are so different, in fact, that to be an influential leader you have to be willing to let go of power.

Lets start by defining leadership. The IACP defines leadership as,
The process of influencing human behavior to achieve organizational goals that serve the public, while developing individuals, groups, and the organization for future service.” If we compare this to other contemporary definitions of leadership we see many similarities. Kouzes and Posner (The Leadership Challenge) define it as “The art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” The common theme among these and other definitions of leadership provide us a fairly simple definition of the term: Leadership is about influencing others.

How do we influence others? To answer this, lets do a compare and contrast to another form of managerial influence. I have previously written about the characteristics of “Command and Control” organizations and how many of these characteristics undermine the impact of positive leadership. Command and control organizations use the most basic form of motivational influence over organizational members. They rely on either punishment or reward as a means of motivating others to perform their duties. These organizations often use positional power to provide rewards, or coercive power to exact punishment for performance “failures”. The hallmark of the command and control approach is that, while performance rewards may or may not be realized, consequences for poor performance are assured.

This dual application of power as a means of influence supposes that all employees will think, react, and behave exactly the same in response to these basic efforts to motivate. In essence, it assumes and requires that our organizations are filled with “cookie-cutter cops” who are incapable or unwilling to have individual thoughts, goals, and values. When it is applied on organizational members who actually DO have their own thoughts, goals, and values, it tends to result in resentment, distrust, and fear. As a leadership approach, command and control is about effective as a ruler whack on the back of the hand.

The goal of every organizational leader is to pursue and achieve the long-term goals of the organization. This is our very reason for existence, and the reason why we have people within our organizations. Our people are not made with cookie-cutters. They don’t all have the same needs, values, and goals. Creative, thoughtful, and inspired employees can do remarkable things within our organizations, with proper and effective leadership influence. The effective methods used to influence others are as varied as their individual needs, values and goals. If you get to know them, you will know how to influence them.

It takes a leader to understand that, and leadership to make it work.

Why do our leaders struggle with leadership?

The supervisory environment in law enforcement agencies has long been dominated by what is commonly known as the “command and control” culture. In its most simplistic form, “command and control” is an authoritarian style of supervision in which decisional authority rests almost exclusively with a few at the apex of the organizational chart. 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 more autonomous and more capable of exercising initiative and effective decision-making, the need for “command and control” has steadily diminished. In its place, we have slowly evolved towards contemporary quality leadership practices in our organizations. Among the key components of quality leadership are the delegation of authority and the empowerment of others within the organization.

Unfortunately for our profession, many of our leaders were left in the abyss during the transformation from “command and control” to quality leadership. With few mentors and fewer role models, we too often depended on our organizational leaders to “find their own way” and develop for themselves those characteristics of quality leadership that our organizations now needed. To make things worse, we sent our supervisors to “leadership” schools and then assumed that their development as leaders was complete because they came home with a certificate. It is no wonder that when their under-developed quality leadership skills failed, many leaders reverted back to the comfort and expediency of “command and control.”

When leaders struggle, keep in mind that they are only as good as their development has taken them to that point in time. Command and control leadership is easy to learn and easier to do. Quality leadership practices take time to learn and are difficult to apply effectively. Learning leadership is a process, and like any process worth doing, there will be struggles along the way.