A Roadmap for Leadership
By Kurt Kitzman
Leadership at any level can be a difficult path to navigate. Each of us in a leadership role has a unique roadmap describing how we came to serve as leaders. Some of us were promoted through the ranks and learned along the way. Others may have been thrust into the role, not wanting the opportunity. Still others might come from an outside agency to a new organization, directly into a leadership position. We all are unique people with different upbringings, experiences, and views on life. These contributing factors make us different and distinct leaders.
To be effective, we must open ourselves to humility and vulnerability and conduct an honest self-assessment. As leaders, we must confess that we have faults. We learn more from our failures than our successes. Fooling ourselves or disregarding our flaws in self-evaluation will diminish opportunities to make ourselves more productive and effective.
Understanding Life Dynamics
What personal life dynamics have influenced our leadership style? We all have developed a personal leadership style, which includes both strengths and weaknesses. The people we work with, either by supervision or management, have strong feelings and viewpoints on our leadership. Once we identify and take responsibility for our weaknesses, do we have the ability, motivation, and commitment to change these aspects to make our people and organizations better?
Our personalities are not permanent; we are not born with them. We develop personalities through our life experiences and interactions with others along the way. Personalities can evolve, but deep-rooted characteristics we have established often prove profoundly difficult to change. As a whole, personal dynamics require people to adapt to their living environments and situations they face.
Lieutenant Kitzman serves with the Shawano County, Wisconsin, Sheriff’s Office and is a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 278.
For example, many of my personal traits would label me a type A individual. I think of myself as an organized person who wants things done a particular way. Over the years, people have made specific comments to me about being type A, both personally and professionally. Initially, I took these as compliments to mean I was organized and determined to complete tasks. I wanted to achieve any goal to a high degree of satisfaction.
However, as I learned how to serve as an effective leader, I began seeing my type A personality also as a weakness. Always being the one to speak out and try to get things done my way may cause problems. Frankly, it can annoy others. If left unregulated, other people easily might misunderstand this attribute and think of me as a micromanager.
Recognizing this characteristic, I have learned to control what needs to be controlled and to let go of insignificant details. I still find myself biting my tongue when, in my mind, I want something done in a different way or order. I have learned to remain more affable in certain situations, which I believe has made me a more effective leader.
Identifying the Roads
Navigating the roadmap to effective leadership can prove difficult, but it is achievable. My leadership roadmap consists of five roads: boundaries, expectations, accountability, group cohesion, and understanding of the leadership process. I focus heavily on these five components to strengthen my leadership style. Others may identify or adapt their own individual roads.
- Boundaries: Leaders should establish proper roles by emphasizing that those they supervise must know how to act in certain situations. I explain to every employee on our shift that they must learn when they need to be a deputy and when they can act like my friend. They hold responsibility to determine if I have my “lieutenant hat” or “friend hat” on. If I act as a lieutenant, they need to act as a deputy. If I act as a friend, then they can behave accordingly. However, the same goes for me. I cannot act like a friend if an employee comes into my office in a deputy capacity.
- Expectations: Leaders should establish achievable expectations. I meet with each of the deputies on our team and define exactly what I expect of them.
- Accountability: Setting expectations helps hold employees accountable for their actions. Accountability keeps us centered and on track. If we know we will be held responsible for what we do, we likely will ensure expectations are met accordingly.
- Group cohesion: A solid group of united deputies will work well together. If group cohesiveness is disrupted, a trickle-down effect occurs. Not only are relationships tested but productivity diminishes. To avoid this, our team will get together outside of work, whether at a dinner or a baseball game, to bond and build relationships.
Further, I regularly make what I call “deputy deposits.” I have a reminder set to go off on my phone every 2 days at 1:00 p.m. When I receive the reminder, no matter what I am doing, I force myself to think of every deputy on our shift and what they may be going through personally or at work. Additionally, I may follow up with a text message inquiring about something specific or, perhaps, just their day. Several deputies have commented that they appreciate how I check in on them outside of work and how much it means to them. This small gesture on my part translates to greater gains in group cohesion and higher productivity.
- Understanding of the leadership process: Leadership is nothing more than influencing human behavior to achieve organizational goals that serve the public while developing individuals, teams, and the organization for future service.1
Recognizing Faults and Weaknesses
Even though I focus comprehensively on my five roads to effective leadership, I recognize my faults and weaknesses. Knowing your weaknesses does not mean calling out and emphasizing your negative traits, but understanding your limitations and areas for improvement.
As a type A perfectionist, I often expect the same out of others that I would from myself. In this context, my weakness overlooks where the deputies on our team are in their careers in relation to me. For example, I have written police reports for over 20 years. When I review complaints, I often forget that most of the deputies have 1 to 6 years’ experience and still are developing their report-writing skills.
I also overlook potential and fall back solely on experience, which does not always equal competence. Yet, I see myself choosing seniority over potential when I take a day off from work and select an acting corporal for the shift. I have the option to choose whomever I want, but I always seem to choose the deputy with the most experience. This certainly is one aspect of my leadership I need to address and work to correct.
“...we must open ourselves to humility and vulnerability and conduct an honest self-assessment.”
Some deputies on my team likely will become command staff during their career. I fall short as a leader when I fail to consider the potential leadership of all the deputies and do not place them in a position to show they can handle the job, even if only for a day in my absence. My need to correct this weakness must be a priority for the sake of improvement for the deputies, the organization, and my leadership.
There always will be aspects of my leadership I must and will work to correct and build upon. Leaders should consider presenting these five roads to their command staff and attempt to get buy-in. Perhaps they will be open-minded enough to conduct an honest self-assessment to see where they may need to change portions of their leadership style.
Some leadership perspectives may be more difficult to modify than others, and some will not adjust at all. Still, if all command staff conducted a true self-evaluation of their leadership style and took a different approach to leadership, the results could be staggering. In certain agencies, this is desperately needed and long overdue.
Leaders do not get the opportunity to determine whether they are good at what they do. The people they lead will make this choice for them, whether they want them to or not. It is up to each of us to listen to our personnel and adapt to the environment around us to become better leaders. An open-door policy does no good if the people on the outside of our offices feel uncomfortable walking through it. We are not making ourselves better for us. We are becoming better for them—the organization and the community.
“Navigating the roadmap to effective leadership can prove difficult, but it is achievable.”
Lieutenant Kitzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, and International Association of Chiefs of Police, Police Chiefs Desk Reference: A Guide for Newly Appointed Police Leaders (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008).