As a student of leadership, throughout your police career you will be expanding on your education, training, and experience, and building a "leadership toolbox." I like to use the analogy of a carpenter. Carpentry has many facets; everything from building furniture, which is very detailed, to framing a house and dry walling, which is more large scale.
During a carpenter's career he collects various tools, each of which has its own function and is best for certain types of jobs. He doesn't use a screwdriver as a hole-punch and he doesn't use a wrench as a hammer. Furthermore, he understands that even similar tools are meant for different jobs. Try to think about your leadership toolbox in the same way.
Maybe you have been a training officer for quite awhile and you have trained a series of new police officers fresh out of the academy. How have you been leading them? You probably oversee their work quite closely. You probably direct most of their activities, scrutinize and kick back their reports, and carefully explain your expectations and the requirements of the job. Now imagine that you get promoted and get the juicy assignment of supervisor of a narcotics squad. The officers are seasoned and hard working. Are you going to lead them in the same way? Of course not, because they are going to need a different type of leadership. They will need someone who is looking at the big picture, focusing their efforts on the mission, getting them realistic training and making sure they are a tight team.
In the first scenario, you may have picked up tools to lead new, young officers from your experiences in sports, teaching, tutoring or counseling. Your department may have given you specific training on leading individuals. You may have emulated more experienced training officers who had been through similar situations. Now as a narcotics supervisor, you are a small-unit leader; you may be applying lessons learned from coaching a team, military boot camp or schools, and the police academy. You picked up techniques from watching other small-unit leaders. When you apply techniques learned from other people, from books, from training and education, or from your own experiences, then you are adding to your leadership toolbox.
I would like to share two examples of some leadership tools I have borrowed from former bosses. I had a boss that was always very personable with his subordinates. He never just came into a meeting and sat down, but he took the time to greet each person, shake their hand and look them in the eye. When I asked him about it, he told me he wanted everyone he encountered to know that he knew they were an individual and that they were important to him. I loved it! Now I try to use it.
Another boss of mine, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, used to say, "I am a Marine rifleman, temporarily assigned as the Commandant." I had heard him say that before, but I was reminded of it by a local police chief who uses it. He says, "I am a police officer temporarily assigned as the chief." Even though I am a sergeant, when people ask me what I do, I say, "I am a police officer." I try to remember that rank is temporary, but I am a cop at heart. That is important to remember because all police supervisors are there to support the officer on the beat, not the other way around. It is a very subtle way to let your subordinates know you support them.
I have had some great bosses and I have learned from them. I have also shamelessly stolen from their leadership styles if it fit with my leadership personality. Believe me, they didn't mind and were even flattered when I told them about it. Real students of leadership will love the fact that somebody is copying their style. After all, imitation is the finest form of flattery. Leadership styles are not copyrighted. There are not going to be major changes in the leadership basics, but there will constantly be new situations to employ the tools that you pick up along the way.