In my current assignment, I see talented people who frequently amaze me by their keen observations and insights concerning practical, effective law enforcement leadership models and principles. These individuals have been guided by their own operational experiences, as well as through the knowledge obtained by reading a multitude of books written by various “leadership gurus.” However, after nearly 25 years of proudly serving in the law enforcement community, I have learned to look for three simple behaviors to distinguish a high-quality leader.
The first concerns putting subordinates first. As Ronald Reagan once said, “Putting people first has always been America’s secret weapon…a spirit that drives us to dream and dare and take great risks for a greater good.” Such leadership is exemplified by individuals who take their employees to a buffet lunch and then wait to eat after everyone has been through the line.
My second fundamental rule of leadership relates to the daily greetings of employees. A genuine leader will ask their officers a routine question, like “How are you?” Some individuals seemingly feel obligated to ask the question, yet do not listen to the response. A true leader will actively listen with sincere interest in the answer. Such leaders’ sincerity will be evident to their officers and reinforce their authentic concern for both the personal and professional lives of their people.
Finally, a real leader thanks their employees and gives legitimate praise to them when truly deserved. I can recall in my career working for many outstanding individuals who actually understood this simple concept. Instead of simply thanking everyone for something to make them all feel good, including comments, such as “Thank you for coming to work today!” indisputable leaders understand that their role requires real praise and, sometimes, real criticism of their people.
Certainly, the review and incorporation of leadership doctrines and philosophies from a host of renowned authors will help further develop leadership skills. But, for me, the simple approach is the best.
Special Agent Douglas B. Merel, an instructor in the FBI Leadership Development Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.