A reader called me up once and wanted some leadership tips. This person had recently been promoted in his department out West. Now first of all, I am grateful whenever someone contacts me for advice, but this was a tough call. This supervisor was in a smaller department and had never experienced good leadership. He was young, had read a few books and was geographically isolated from larger venues where some quality training could be obtained. We had a nice chat, and I gave him a few pointers, along with a few Harvey stories. But he must be doing well for himself, because his latest email was positive.
There is one thing about leadership that I learned years ago: great leaders share. They will share little insights and tidbits about life and leadership. If you are in their circle or close enough to absorb these pearls of wisdom, take them and use them in your future. Now, I know that there are a few doubters who will say anything to avoid the boss or be labeled a suck-up. If you believe this, you could be very wrong and limiting your career. Being close to the decision process on how to lead officers can be frightening, but enlightening, too. Don’t pass up a chance to learn, and never relinquish the opportunity. One thing that I am blessed with is good memory; it allows me to go back and apply past experiences (good and bad) to future applications.
Praise in public
There are lessons learned in the pressures of leading others. Some are so simple, but still extremely valuable. Years ago I learned one of the basics from a captain that I worked for. That is, praise in public and chastise in private. Every one of us enjoys being praised, whether it was by your teacher, your parents, a coach or whomever is important to you. When you receive praise before your peers it means a lot to most all of us. Job recognition is a performance enhancer. Again, do not overdo it to where the most insignificant of things are praised, but concentrate on the important stuff. Failure to praise is a critical fault on the part of a supervisor.
Quick story—another cop and I made a rescue of a distraught subject off of a bridge one night. We talked him down to a position where we could hold him and remove him away from peril. A couple of officers who were assisting us praised our efforts.
Peer praise is very important. However the sergeant overseeing this stated we were only ‘doing our job’ and drove off. He later put himself in for a letter for his direction of this rescue; Brady and I are still waiting to hear our praise or letter. Lesson learned here: always praise your staff in public and always seek out occurrences so you can praise them for their efforts. Do not put yourself in on their efforts.
Chastise in private
Nobody has ever enjoyed an “Alpha Charlie” but to have one administered to you in front of your peers, never. Never dress down a staff member before the public; this lessens their confidence in police response and capabilities.
I had one platoon sergeant who could give you the reaming of your life. He never raised his voice, but would do it so privately that you would wish for the earth to swallow you up. Nothing negative in front of others, but in private you would rather die than to hear his evaluation of your poor performance. Learned a lot from George, if you do it, do so quietly (private), but do it very effectively.
Share the knowledge
No book is going to give you insights of application. Nor will some training class in an air conditioned classroom give you the secrets. Sharing the knowledge in the heat of decisions and direction is invaluable. You are there feeling the pressure, seeing the situation and knowing this is the real world (no tapping out). If the supervisor leans over to verbalize the process, it is not for your validation, but to give you insights into the process.
These are teaching moments; stop and seize these opportunities. You are there for a reason with this leader, if you are being groomed or in a shadow stage of your career; pay attention. What is important here is for you to listen and comprehend. Also just do not watch at this point but observe from a higher viewpoint, get a 50,000-foot view, see the entire picture.
Another captain that I worked for in my past would lean over and ask you if you knew what he was doing. At first this seemed strange, for if he did not know what he was doing, then who am I to ask about this scenario? In his own way he was asking if I understood the direction that this situation was going in, and what his thought process was. No, he was not messing up, not wanting my corrective thoughts…he was pretty much on target.
The bottom line is that quality leadership is a “SCART.” It is a combination of science and art. Yes, there is a science to leadership. One must understand how an organization/personnel works under pressure. Leadership requires perception in distinguishing how your staff can stand up to challenges, and finds brilliance under extraordinary demands. The art form of leadership is the how and when to say those words that encourage your staff to achieve maximum performance. This to me is an art within itself.
The real leader knows when to speak to get the job done. My old sergeant major told me leadership is “10 percent telling and 90 percent checking.” If you check to see if your staff is tactically and technically trained, then properly equipped to perform the job, then there is only one order you have left to give. The majority of your task is to position them towards their greatest capabilities. That, too, is only one order to perform. Good leaders are trainers and/or training focused. Well-trained staff perform better, safer and more successfully. Training equates to success.
These are but a few insights that I have gleaned from my leaders of the past. It is important to learn from the leaders you’ve had—good or bad. Take your skills, knowledge and abilities and then add some of your own past leadership lessons to the list.
Make the future for law enforcement a bright one; we need great leaders to ensure our future success.
William L. “Bill” Harvey served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville. He served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and now is the Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). He is on the advisory board of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and other professional associations.