Often, I am asked, what do real leaders do for a living? The easy answer is to read their respective boilerplate job descriptions for definitions. Then reflect what all the HR rhetoric means. However, the best read is to observe them from afar in their natural habitat and then decide. Granted, one must assume what they are doing behind closed doors. One can easily document their facilitation of daily operations. Maybe they occasionally negotiate contracts. Of course, they interact with the public, conduct staff meetings. But I would like to break this down into a couple of key areas that may not make the hit lists.
The first is that of a decision-maker. It is easy to know that a chief or sheriff must make decisions. Those big decisions, the ones they are paid the big bucks for immediately come to mind. They make hundreds of decisions every week and they too can make mistakes. I think when you make that big mistake you must own it and not disassociate yourself from it. I was always told that when there is a mistake, put on your uniform and “dress up”. In other words, by wearing your uniform, it should speak of the integrity and honor of your office. Then while in uniform, make the acknowledgements where your mistakes were made. Here you “fess up”. So, “dress up and fess up”. Do not finger point nor should you blame others under your command. Please recall you may have been the one that placed them there. Also remember this quote
– “the public, more often than not, will forgive mistakes, but it will not forgive trying to wiggle out of one” - Lewis Grizzard.
Great leaders uplift their staff -share the praises to their staff publicly. Give honor to your staff and those who have worked exemplary that way everyone knows who has done the work. They correct their staff in private and with dignity. Easy to remember “praise in public and chastise in private”. I would be amiss if I did not mention disciplinarian. In my eyes, discipline can be like a cut – it hurts but it can heal as well. First rule is to be consistent with discipline. For example, if one officer who has had discipline may be still fuming. But, when they see the next officer is treated as they were, then it heals. Discipline that is fair and balanced is desired. Favoritism and inconsistent responses to infractions will erode the department’s staff confidence.
Great leaders respect the traditions and “the brand”. Police agencies are sometimes guided by traditions. How we respond to several events rarely change. Officers are injured, you go to the hospital. Tragedy falls upon the department; you are the face leading the recovery. As new chief, research what local traditions that your department is noted for. For instance, one department had a great community outreach on Halloween. It was called “Pumpkin Patrol”. One person tried to stop that and the internal as well as public outcry was overwhelming. Pick and choose your battles, but some are not to be tampered with. Sometimes the local traditions become what is expected and your brand.
Facilitator or better yet departmental ambassador is a major talent. A prime example is a staff member may be interacting on committee or in the streets with another supervisor from another bureau. Let’s just say sometimes there may be difficulties or friction between the bureau of police and the bureau of whoever. Sometimes the chief needs to interject their ‘encouragement’ that this needs to get done and is the right thing to do. Is this bullying the others, no. Sometimes, a boss needs to talk directly to another boss to get the mission clear and moving.
Internally, the chief has to facilitate or motivate staff who are not producing or earning their keep. Chiefs will evaluate their direct reports but they also must assess those who are intermediate staff or “run the shops”. It was not unusual to sit in on criminal investigations meetings, especially when there were high profile cases. Be seen and be quiet, but if you do speak be brief. Detectives know you are there, look for opportunities to assist them.
Fiscal overseer – it is your budget after all. You are hired to oversee public monies. You are managing a budget and its performance so review and manage it. Law enforcement is a very unpredictable profession when it comes to budgeting. Responses to major crimes or investigations can be expensive. Overtime and backfill are where most run in the hole. With a steady hand in spending and watchful eye, you should be fine.
There will be times you will have to do the heavy lifting. This is different from the previously mention facilitator. There are many projects, meetings and interactions (both political and public) that YOU have to do yourself. You will have to face the elected officials at budget hearings. You will have to attend the big room nights where the chief or sheriff needs to be there as the true representative of the department. Sometimes it will be only you that can do the job, it is what you are paid the big bucks for.
Solution provider is a title that I like to use. You could have more professional experience and real-life exposure than your staff. Maybe you had more educational opportunities and even attended a finishing school (National Academy, Southern Police Institute or Northwestern). Therefore, there will be times you will be the one that has to administer the Solomonic decisions to handle a situation.
Finally, a good leader must be a cheerleader. With all the negative press and sentiments against the police, they need a cheerleader. Find meaningful times to uplift your department. Be there for quarterly awards, be there for special events both public and personal. Yes, I had two medium size agencies but made the family events, births, and deaths within the family of my officers. Send a handwritten card and next time you see them, speak supportively with them. Being civil and considerate will go a long way.
No, these are not all the skills that should be within your job description. Most of you may already possess these skills, but if there is one or more you need to work on, then do it, that is what real leaders do!
About the Author
William L. "Bill" Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department in field operations, investigations and completed his career as the director of training. Served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and then ten years as Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). In retirement he continues to publish for professional periodicals and train.