Principles of Effective Law Enforcement Leadership

By Dan Willis
Two rows of police professionals at attention.

Developing into an effective law enforcement leader is a continuous, personal learning process. Leadership is a career-long journey of self-discovery and learning from others. It involves subjugating personal interests to the greater good of others through self-giving and mentoring, developing and promoting those who work for us. It is a process of steadfastly working to fulfill the purpose of our organizations to develop effective law enforcement leaders capable of combating crime and protecting the innocent.

Managers do not merely hold a position but possess a distinct responsibility requiring persistent efforts to proactively develop themselves and motivate, inspire, train, and develop others. Through personal self-analysis and self-discipline, managers can develop those principles that have proven effective and influential with others.

Eight principles of effective law enforcement leadership—if consistently developed and improved upon—can enable any manager to become more influential. Our challenge as managers is to continually self-evaluate to see what we proactively can do to develop and enhance these qualities within ourselves.

1) Service

The effective manager exemplifies service, self-giving, and selflessness. The core purpose of coming to work every day is to serve, to give our complete attention and effort toward developing and enhancing the abilities and interests of others. Our primary objective is to motivate others to work to their greatest potential toward preventing crime, ensuring professional and compassionate service to the public, and apprehending those who prey upon others. The essence of our profession is to serve and give of ourselves toward a greater good with the highest work ethic possible.

2) Honesty

Honesty is essential in both our personal and professional lives. Those who work for us depend upon our honesty with them in guiding their development and providing objective, constructive feedback on their work performance. Managers’ written and oral communications always must be honest and forthright, without ever hiding or minimizing anything from those we work for and never undercutting their authority. Most important, leaders must be honest with themselves, honestly evaluating areas for growth and personal

Honesty also means having the courage to professionally tell your commanders your opinions when you believe they have done or are about to do something not in the best interest of their position or that of the department. Such honest communication is essential in a healthy organization.

3) Integrity

Developing and demonstrating integrity is essential for all law enforcement managers. Integrity depends on consistently doing what is right, meaning that which is in the best interest of the organization and of others. When others see that our motives are geared toward their own growth and development and in serving the purpose of the organization before any thought for ourselves, then they readily will trust and follow us.

4) Humility

Humility is a most vital principle in effective leadership. True humility is the quality of always looking for ways to learn from others and improve ourselves. Humility allows others to feel comfortable to come to us with ideas and initiative. Humble managers actively seek the thoughts and advice of others and look for ways to use ideas from others to make the organization more dynamic and responsive to the needs of the employees and the public. Humble managers must realize that the organization will be there long after they leave, and it is essential for them to develop the experience and expertise of those around them.

5) Purpose

Effective managers must find ways to tap into the understanding and core beliefs of their employees to get them to identify with the central purpose and nobility of our work. Through frequent and personal interaction with employees, managers can find ways to pass on our passion for the purpose of our work and enable our subordinates to define within themselves a basic understanding of the importance of what we do and how we have the potential to affect so many lives for the good. Getting employees to understand that there is no more noble work than protecting and serving the public well is vital for effective management.

6) Mentoring

“Developing into an effective law enforcement leader is a continuous, personal learning process.”

If they are not looking constantly for ways to mentor and develop their employee, managers are not truly leading. Managers have a duty and responsibility to pass on all that they possibly can to those they supervise. Effective leaders know how much they are in debt to so many people for their own development, and each has the moral duty to teach and develop others in return. The more managers can teach and mentor others, the more effective the organization will become. The effective manager’s most persistent endeavor is to find ways to guide, develop, teach, train, and provide experience for those they supervise.

7) Positive/Constructive Attitude

Managers who genuinely portray a positive and constructive attitude are like a magnet that draws others toward them. Always contagious, a positive, optimistic attitude enables employees to look for the good and to try to be constructive working to change things for the better. Effective managers consistently should portray the attitude of moving forward constructively, always looking for positive improvement and the willing cooperation of others.

8) Trust

Effective managers need to trust their employees. Initiative is crippled when they do not. And, without initiative, an organization becomes stagnant and unproductive. Through delegation, follow-through, and setting reasonable and clear performance expectations, managers can mentor and develop their employees while giving them the trust that everyone needs to feel. Managers must recognize that it is possible for an employee to perform a job differently or not as well as they do. Such performance is an integral part of the learning and development process. The more an employee feels trusted, the more they will take the initiative and work harder for their manager.


Effective law enforcement managers should be persistently looking within themselves to honestly evaluate how they can work proactively to develop each of these principles of leadership. Effective managers always look for ways to learn from others and to actively train and develop them to become future leaders of the organization. Through the cultivation of an attitude of service, selflessness, giving, and devotion to our core purpose as law enforcement officers, we as managers can learn how to become more influential with our employees and to guide them in providing the most effective and professional service to the public.

“Effective managers always look for ways to learn from others and to actively train and develop them to become future leaders of the organization.”