Principles of Effective Law Enforcement Leadership
By Dan Willis
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Developing into an effective law enforcement leader is a continuous, personal learning process.”
“Effective managers always look for ways to learn from others and to actively train and develop them to become future leaders of the organization.”