By Billy Grogan, M.P.A.
In most of today’s police departments, the head of the agency rarely speaks on behalf of the organization. Instead, many agencies employ a public information officer (PIO) who speaks publicly for the department. This practice proves acceptable in most circumstances. However, too many occasions arise when department heads become overly dependent on the PIO and fail to step out front on an issue that requires their leadership. When this happens, confidence, trust, and support of the organization and the leadership can become negatively impacted. Fortunately, leaders who understand and recognize the three leadership moments organizations face can avoid these costly mistakes.
First, many leaders fail to assume a leadership role when their community suffers the shock of a high-profile crime. Such incidents can affect the community’s perception of crime, as well as erode citizens’ confidence in the department. Unfortunately, too many agency heads take the easy route and let the PIO handle the situation. When the agency head takes the lead in addressing a major crime, it gives the community a sense of calmness in the middle of a storm and underscores the priority the agency places on the successful resolution of the case.
A second instance occurs when a member of the department is accused, suspected, or guilty of an act that erodes the foundation of support from the community and raises questions about the fairness and impartiality of the organization. By standing out front and speaking about such an issue, the agency head assures the community that the department is taking the incident seriously and provides transparency, inhibiting accusations of cover-ups. Of course, leaders carefully must weigh what they say.
Chief Grogan serves with the Dunwoody, Georgia, Police Department.
The third leadership moment is equally important but much more difficult to define. Every community served has unique qualities and characteristics while placing value on different norms. In the midst of a controversial policy, new law, special event, or other circumstance, the agency head must recognize the opportunity to lead and make a difference. It is easier to lead when everything is as it should be, but more difficult in times of controversy or turmoil.
Leading a police organization presents challenges even in the best of circumstances. Personnel issues, politics, and building of community trust can be difficult and, at times, almost impossible to manage effectively. During a crisis, agency heads’ ability to lead is put to the test in ways sometimes unimaginable. A true leader recognizes those leadership moments and acts on them quickly and effectively.
Integrity is what people do when no one else is looking. It is total commitment to honesty in every aspect of a person’s life. Integrity goes to the core of conduct, what people believe in their heart of hearts. It cannot be bought, claimed, or bestowed. It does not come with office, title, or appointment. It simply exists. The person who has integrity rarely claims it. The person who claims it rarely has it. Integrity is best manifested quietly in day-to-day living and in the workplace. It cannot be stolen or taken away; however, it can be lost. Integrity is more valuable than riches, awards, or world acclaim. It should be treasured above all things, for after integrity comes decency, honor, trust, and principle.