This March is the one-year anniversary of Leadership 101. I would like to extend my thanks to all of you who have supported me, sent in some great e-mails, participated in the policemag.com Website Forum, and generally kept me motivated to write something every month. The three objectives of this column are 1) promote the idea of leadership as a way of life for police officers (and really all citizens); 2) promote leadership discussions between officers and supervisors; 3) foster the concept that leadership MUST become the foundation of our education and training as law enforcement professionals from academy to retirement.
I do not believe that there are born leaders. I subscribe to the Vince Lombardi theory that leaders are made like everything else, "through hard work." You don't see someone walking into the gym for the first time throwing around 300 pounds, so why anyone should be expected to jump right into a leadership position and do well is beyond me. Yet time after time, we in law enforcement are promoting officers to supervisors with little or no leadership training and no practical experience. "Here are your stripes, here are your bars, now go forth and do good things!" Is it any wonder why officers are frustrated with supervisors? Is it any wonder that our departments have major personnel issues, that use/abuse of sick time has skyrocketed, or that officers have lawsuits against their departments? It all comes back to a lack of leadership.
Leadership training needs to begin at the academy. I believe that these no stress or low stress, collegiate-type academies are doing the law enforcement profession a disservice. First it means that physical fitness is at an all time low. I abhor out of shape officers. Now I am seeing recruits fresh out of the academies that are overweight and slovenly. Without doing any empirical research, I would hazard a guess that it will cost our departments more financially in the long run in sick time, injuries on duty, and medical pensions. Secondly, we need to reinstate a heavy dose of discipline. Disciplined officers show up to work on time, in uniform, and ready to work. This would take care of half our personnel problems before they even start. Going back to discipline, have you ever seen a Marine Corps Drill Instructor? Discipline is synonymous with command presence, bearing, and professionalism. These terms go hand in hand. Officers with these traits have fewer complaints and more positive citizen contacts.
All recruits at the police academy should be given leadership positions among their peers, such as squad leader. These positions should rotate at least weekly and instructors should grade them, just as in any other class. There is no way to learn more about leadership than trying to get your peers to class on time, inspecting their uniforms, taking responsibility for their actions, etc. Along with classes on leadership, this type of practical application is invaluable. I think peer evaluations have value as well.
Every time an officer promotes there should be an intensive leadership school that goes back to the basics. Classes on leadership, physical fitness, practical application tests, shooting, and scenario driven exercises should all be included. Classes should be on morals and ethics, leadership principles, written and oral communication skills, counseling, and mentoring. We need to promote frank discussions of leadership problems within our departments and how to address them. Going back to the basics before each promotion may put our supervisors back in the right mindset to go out and lead officers on the street. From what I see, too many supervisors are hanging out in the station. I will go as far as saying that maybe we should consider that it be mandatory to pass such a leadership school before being allowed to promote.
I can hear it now: "Sending everybody to these schools would be expensive." "We might lose too many recruits in the academy if we make it too hard." I contend that right now we are losing too many officers to stress, frustration, mediocrity, and poor leadership practices. The real question should be: Can we afford not to revamp our leadership training?