“Leadership” is one of those corporate buzz words that are always on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Being a confident woman in a law enforcement organization means being a “leader,” sometimes formal, sometimes informal. In fact, many of the most powerful police leaders have no stars, bars, stripes or other “bling” on their uniforms. You don’t need a title to lead people, but you do need confidence.
Police work is still a very male-dominated profession, but that doesn’t have to negatively impact a woman who wants to be seen as a leader in the organization. It may sound trite, but a huge part of leadership begins how you present yourself. If you’re not a supervisor or a trainer but you want to become one, start acting like one now. Focus on inspiring others, whether you have six months on the job or twenty years. Look in the mirror; do you look “confident,” not just physically and tactically, but do you carry yourself like a leader? Do others consider you a role model in the way you speak, act and work? Would your administration consider you an excellent representative of the agency? If the answer is “no,” then ask yourself “why not?” In fact, ask them the same question. We all love to complain about our agency and our administration, but remember that it’s your job to represent that department and their goals and values, not your own. As I learned from Dave “JD Buck Savage” Smith long ago at my first International Association of Women Police conference, “love this profession, love your brothers and sisters, but don’t love the agency, because it’s not the agency’s job to love you back.” That simple lesson changed my life, and my career; could it change yours?
Confident leaders are also risk takers; and if you’re going to take risks, you’re going to inevitably screw up. Don’t walk around afraid to make mistakes, we all make them, and great leaders know that about themselves and their people. As my old lieutenant used to say, “If it didn’t come out of the end of a gun we can probably fix it.” If you make a mistake, admit it, fix it, accept it and move on. And if someone else makes a mistake, help them do the same. In fact, seek out ideas contradictory to your own; don’t focus so hard on being right or making sure that everyone agrees that you encourage what management expert Jerry Harvey calls “The Abilene Paradox.” When communication breaks down and everyone is afraid of disagreeing with what they think, usually erroneously, the rest of the group believes is the best course of action, we may all end up in a terrible paradox where no one is satisfied, mistakes are made, and everyone is blaming each other. Taking risks also means taking responsibility of the outcome.
Because females are often under-represented in law enforcement leadership roles, once a woman becomes a trainer, supervisor or manager, she may actually “turn” on other women; some call this the “Queen Bee” syndrome, I simply call it wrong. Women in this profession need to support each other, not to the exclusion of their male co-workers, trainees, and subordinates, but in a way that is ethical, appropriate, and benefits everyone.
If you feel the need to “put down” other women in your organization or in this profession because you don’t agree with their lifestyle, their choices, their demeanor and so on, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. People who consistently denigrate others are often looking to mask their own inadequacies. True “leadership” calls for us to lift each other up, not put each other down.
Remember that being “confident” is the not the same as being arrogant. Act like the leader you want to become, and when you work you way into a leadership position, think of yourself as a “coach.” Mentor others and act with integrity. Don’t climb the ladder of success on the backs of other people, and always give credit where credit is due; no one gets ahead without someone else to help them along. Focus on inspiring your people, not ordering them around, and don’t be a workplace bully. Be confident in yourself, your abilities and in your people.
About The Author:
Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith is a 29-year veteran of a large suburban Chicago police department. Recently retired as a patrol supervisor, she has held positions in patrol, investigations, narcotics, juvenile, crime prevention and field training. As a sergeant, she supervised her department's K-9 Unit, served as a field training sergeant, recruitment team sergeant, bike patrol coordinator, the Crowd Control Bike Team supervisor, and supervisor of the Community Education/Crime Prevention Unit.
As a patrol sergeant, Betsy served on the Elderly Services Team, the Crisis Intervention Team, and was a supervisory member of the Honor Guard Unit. From 1999 - 2003 Betsy hosted various programs for the Law Enforcement Television Network and served as a content expert.
A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command, Betsy writes for numerous law enforcement and government publications including and is a regular columnist for many police websites including Police Link. A content expert and instructor for the Calibre Press "Street Survival" seminar since 2003, Betsy also serves as an on-air commentator and advisor for Police One TV and was a featured character in the Biography Channel’s “Female Forces” reality show. Betsy has been a law enforcement trainer for over 20 years and is a popular keynote speaker at conferences throughout the United States and Canada and beyond.
Betsy is the lead instructor for the Calibre Press “Street Survival for Women” seminar and manages Dave Smith & Associates. Together, Betsy and Dave teach courses through “Winning Mind Seminars,” an Illinois based company. She can be reached through her website at www.femaleforces.com.