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Leading by Example

You're unlikely to truly inspire fellow officers unless you're willing to toil in the trenches alongside them.

November 18, 2011  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Photo: Amaury Murgado
Photo: Amaury Murgado

Anything I ever needed to know about leadership I learned serving in the U.S. Army prior to becoming a law enforcement officer. In my 22-year Army career (active and reserve combined) I attended leadership schools required for promotion, including graduating from the Sergeants Major Academy. The Army takes leadership seriously and makes it a training priority. In fact, its battle cry (no pun intended) is to lead by example. It's a credo taken to heart by privates on up through the chain of command. I wish those in law enforcement had the same mindset.

It seems to me that in law enforcement circles there is a great deal of talk about leadership but you seldom see the things preached about put into practice. Take for example a typical promotional exam. It usually includes memorizing some type of management/supervision book. And although most of these types of books have one section on leadership, you seldom find a book devoted entirely to leadership included in the required study material.

In practice, agencies give leadership principles mystical qualities because they seldom appear in real life. What most agencies do well is produce managers; it helps with short-term goals but exasperates long-term ones. Please don't tell me you are part of that innocuous group of lost souls that think managing and leading are the same thing, because they're not.

Business icon and former '90s presidential candidate Ross Perot made the difference clear when he said, "Lead and inspire people. Don't try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be led." Over time, this sage wisdom has evolved into a simple message that we should all take to heart: "You manage things, but you lead people."

The Problem

This problem statement is very simple to write: Law enforcement lacks leadership training at all levels. It's such a common problem I can't blame those often placed in leadership positions for the way they act; they really don't know any better. Think about it, one day you're sitting with this guy at the academy and five years later he's your lieutenant. In seven years he becomes a captain because he's buds with the head of the agency. It wasn't long ago that this guy was your zone partner asking you questions on how to do things. Now he is making decisions that directly affect your career. In reality, without the proper training, he is no better prepared for the position than you are. The only differences between the two of you are a jump in pay, a day job, and an office with a view.

Let's be fair and say the same guy has a few schools under his belt that should help him be both a good manager and a proper leader. He has several plaques hanging up in his office for everyone to see. And they hang there, collecting dust, because they don't mean anything. You see, he never attends training. He comes to work late, takes long lunches, and leaves early. When he is at work, he fills his day with gossip or looking things up he wants to buy on the Internet. On the rare occasion that he is given a task to complete, he sends it down range to someone else. It's not that you dislike the person; you dislike what he does. Or better yet, what he doesn't do. He may be your supervisor, but he is as much of a leader as you are an ancient time traveler.

What Not to Do

Leadership begins and ends by setting the example. It's not about doing something right every once in a while, it's about doing what's right all of the time. It becomes a philosophical question in which your actions become the answer. Let me give you some examples you might be familiar with.

You are a road officer and part of your duties entails traffic enforcement. On duty you're fair about your enforcement but you do have a reputation for stroking people with multiple tickets on a regular basis. Off duty, however, you have a lead foot. Every month you write people tickets for the very infractions you commit. You're not leading by example but rather teaching by example; you are teaching others that it's OK to speed as long as you don't get caught.

CONTINUED: Leading by Example «   Page 1 of 2   »

Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

Lt. Robert Tester @ 11/22/2011 7:28 PM

Well written article my friend. Need more like it.

Semper Ductor

AusFost1 @ 11/22/2011 7:44 PM

Yup: agree! But the sad thing is, the people who need to read it, won't, and the people who don't need to read it, will. Good leaders are always looking to improve and bad ones never think they need to, and definitely don't take advice from "the workers". I had tons of them at my last off-street posting, all in positions of power, all answering the profile in this article. None of them ever asked us how they were perceived. But you can't give up, so keep writing, Amaury!

DaveSAM25G @ 11/22/2011 11:53 PM

EXCELLENT!! In order to learn you must listen and follow the right leaders! This is one leader I would be right along side...And This is music to my ears and out front motor officer..."Remember the tiny acorn under the right conditions it will become a massive oak. People can create their own condtions and grow infinitley in the leadership and leader realm (Choice) choose your mentors and examples who cast their shadow wisely!! "DJV"

DaveSAM 25G @ 11/22/2011 11:57 PM

Corrected typo's: Now if I could just learn to spell!

EXCELLENT!! In order to learn you must listen and follow the right leaders! This is one leader I would be right along side...And This is music to my ears and out front motor officer..."Remember the tiny acorn under the right conditions it will become a massive oak. People can create their own conditions and grow infinitely in the leadership and leader realm (Choice) chooses your mentors and examples who cast their shadow wisely!! "DJV"

crispianranger @ 11/23/2011 5:41 AM

As an senior officer in the Royal Hong Kong Police, I was always reminded that you "can't teach leadership" The chap either has got what it takes, or he doesn't! As an LE advisor in four SE Asian countries now, years later, I see it still on a daily basis as I deal with individuals in various senior posts who really dont cammand the respect of their troops.

Adrian Stroud @ 11/23/2011 8:13 AM

Very well written and sorely needed. It has been my experience that promotions are based many times on politics and who is buddy buddy with who. Have you ever been shown your actual test after the promotions are over ? (not just them telling you your score). I have seen VERY few natural leaders in police work actually make it to a leadership role. "Lead by example". How many times do you see a Captain or higher actually leading officers at a bad scene? It is easy to sit in the safety of the PD and bark orders over the radio on your desk. How about inspiring officers in the field? I have seen politicos soar upwards in rank while simultaneously being the laziest street cops. That is a sad and common state of affairs in Law Enforcement. How about the cop who does nothing while on the street then overnight becomes Adolph Hitler when they put stripes on him/her? Now they want YOU to do all the nasty jobs/assignments/career risky arrests that they NEVER did.

Al Owens @ 11/23/2011 8:59 PM

Great article. I could not agree more. When an LT. or above trains with the troops, the morale goes up. Unfortunately it does not happen enough.

steve @ 11/25/2011 6:38 AM

Great article, and could not have said it better then AusFost1.

Keep up the great work.

K Randolph @ 12/2/2011 5:57 PM

Superb article, may I add. In today's society we need leaders to accomplish the day to day assignments. I also retired from the army/national guard. I've worked in law enforcement for 17 years. I've learned one thing that college and technical training don't offer. The private sector don't spend a lot of time training employees on principles, ethics, and values. This is the center piece needed in order to become an effective leader in today's society. I try to lead by example and train my supervisor how to enhance their professional and interpersonal skills. Nevertheless, some supervisors refuse to change. Officers desire "Outstanding" leadership. As long as I'm in charge, my supervisors will provide that leadership. No exceptions! Once again, great article.

Roy Wilbourne @ 5/8/2012 12:48 PM

Great article, to bad the people that need the information are to busy buying off ebay....

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