Do you put the Leader in Leadership?

June 6, 2017
What concerns me most is the turnover within law enforcement. If some data is true, most leave the profession because of bad bosses and poor management of personnel, not because of the work.

I have never professed to be an expert in leadership, let us agree that I am a student of leadership. Staying amazed with all of the quotes and maxims about leadership that people put on their email signatures makes one wonder. Are they admiring, subscribing to this maxim; do they put the ‘leader’ in leadership?  I have stated in my past articles, “Police supervision is a practice, like medicine and law. Because we can’t ever get it right we just keep practicing at it”. Seems kind of basic but on target, each generation of police supervisors keep reinventing it and we stay where we are now. The question beckons, what are we doing to grow as leaders?

What concerns me most is the turnover within law enforcement. If some data is true, most leave the profession because of bad bosses and poor management of personnel, not because of the work. Of course, a few do not fit in the vocation or receive the true callings. Still the largest part of our budget and the great asset we have is our personnel and some leaders still do not get it. Law enforcement wastes millions of public dollars a year and most attributed to bad bosses (not leaders) who are clueless of their interactions with personnel. We need to reassess our position and stop the hemorrhaging of staff and monies. We are battling two major fronts already; let us not make this more difficult that it already is. One is shrinking police applicant pools, the latest generation (their title unknown) does not want to enter this job. Their reasons vary from study to study, job market and other factors. Second issue is the phenomena of ‘de-policing’ or diminishing police productivity for a litany of reasons. Lack of support of politicians, public, media and you know the rest of the lyrics. You can either subscribe to one or both phenomena’s but the hard fact is we are losing veteran staff members and their efficiency.

We temper our hardness or worth just like metal. It is a blend of critical times (the heat and the forge) and good times (quenching the metal and the polishing). However, how do real leaders treat their staff is the question? Many like to beat their officers into submission with over stringent working conditions, these people will break in due time. Poor leadership is easy to spot; you do not need a looking glass. You see, players know the real players. The spectators are duped easily; they watch the game but do not play on the field. 

When I poll officers about what they want from their leaders, there are two very distinct answers; trust and creditability. Trusting the officers is a misunderstood statement. Police supervisors are not working on a production line where they can oversee every bolt turned and widget packaged correctly for the customer. Instead, we trust the officers after roll call to go to their beats. Answer the radio calls and serve the public, as we would want to be cared for. Entrust them with thousands of dollars of public fund equipment, some of which is hazardous by design. We trust them to investigate with integrity and depend on them to provide the truth to the criminal justice system. In my eyes, this is immense trust. When I hear a supervisor tell me he or she does not trust their officers/deputies I shake my head. You cannot ride every call with officers, trust starts with you. Trust their training, the system and trust your personnel. Hard to do but it will build on your foundation of creditability.

Creditability in a leader is four elements. Do they do what is legal at all times? Do they make the proper ethical decisions? Do they have a moral compass to keep them and the squad away from the dangers off the pathway? Finally, do they have the ability to prepare their press statement when they fail? If I fail the first three, what would I tell my wife, my mother and/or my priest?

The question is, can you pass the bathroom mirror test? When I prepare for my day I have a daily preparation routine just like you. When I look into the bathroom mirror to shave, I ask myself the following questions. Today, will I treat my employees like crap? Will I do something unethical to get me indicted and bring shame upon my department? No, we do not do this. What is important is when the day is over and you sit on the edge of the bed reflecting, what are you thinking? It is our hope we are saying, “I did well today; I made a difference in some folks lives”.

A longtime friend, police officer and instructor Phil Messina wrote, “Loyalty is a matter of choice. Honor is a matter of character.” Leaders, we all need to be loyal to our family, friends and staff. We need to have the mindset to become honorable leaders, built upon our character. Recall the three-pronged test of is it legal, ethical and moral.  Take a good look in the mirror, in the cold, gray light at dawn. This is the day you make that difference and put the leader in leadership.

About the Author

William L. Harvey | Chief

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.        

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