Front-line leadership, Part II

Talk of front-line leadership is something we hear all the time lately, but what does it really mean? We think these four principles provide a solid foundation for those who aspire to lead from the front.


As we’ve studied leadership, morale, and organizational dynamics one thing keeps coming back to the forefront:  Real leadership is about relationships

One of the most common flaws of the would-be leader is assuming the values, desires, and perspectives he holds are shared by those under and around him.  Look around your squad or agency, however, and see if such an assumption holds water.  Dedicated, hardworking cops can collectively share certain core values and philosophies about policing, criminal justice, and what it means to be a cop while simultaneously harboring unique individual values and philosophies that may distinctly set them apart from many of their peers without ever compromising shared core values or their effectiveness as officers.  There is nothing wrong with that, and diversity of thought and interest is actually important to the profession and within individual agencies. 

Do you think those cops who gravitate toward narcotics and vice enforcement may hold different values, interests, and motivations than those who work traffic, schools, sex crimes, or patrol?  They may, and that’s okay.  And, in fact, if you took flourishing officers from each of those units and tried to force them against their will into a different unit or assignment, they might not flourish.  They might flounder, fail, or even rebel.

Finding and understanding how those under you are motivated is key to actually leading them.  You should know whether they prefer a lot of direct supervision and frequent input from you, or do they operate best with minimal direction and then getting out of their way?  And learn as much about them as you can beyond the job. What are their hobbies and interests, or their educational backgrounds and work prior to joining the department?  All these will help you better understand your people, and might even help you understand all the intangible skills and experience you might someday have opportunity to tap into.

Develop both your team and your confidence in them

“Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork”.

“Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their job. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination and creativity.”

-       From Maj Dick Winters “10 Principles of Leadership”

The term “Subject Matter Expert” (SME) is one we hear frequently to describe members of an organization who have experience, interests, or education giving them unique knowledge that sets them apart, and police departments are filled with them.  Their status as SMEs may have come from either training provided by the agency or from their own interests and initiative.  Either way, SMEs are all around you and, if you are a front-line leader worthy of their respect, generally happy to share their knowledge and experience for the good of the team you lead. 

But sometimes you have raw material with an interest in learning more or expanding their skill set.  Are you, as a leader, aware of what your people want to learn or how they want to grow?  Have you taken the time to understand the directions they would like to go, or to encourage their professional and personal development?  Are you taking the time to find them the educational and experiential opportunities to reach their goals? 

Are you the type of leader who holds tightly to the reigns of control, or do you prefer a looser grip?  Delegating responsibility is not the same as leading from the rear, or taking a hand-off approach.  It is about developing both teamwork and the team members.  Cops are often natural, confident leaders in their own right who join a paramilitary organization that stresses a hierarchical, top-down command and decision structure.  Over time, they can begin to feel their own skills are downplayed or dismissed and even if they respect the hierarchy they may chafe under it.  Good front-line leaders recognize the potential of the other leaders in the room, whether they have rank or not, and understands developing them is a key function of their role.  How are you doing at this?  

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