Are You an Effective Leader?
Regardless of our rank or assignment, we all are potential leaders. Most of us talk about, aspire to, learn of, and, at times, fail at leadership. You may picture it in your mind’s eye but be unable to explain or describe leadership. We all know various types of leaders, including those we would follow into the worst of situations, expecting success. However, others we probably would not want even to accompany across the street.
The positive and negative attributes that encompass a leadership style vary just as we do. For some individuals, leadership comes naturally. Others must try many styles and approaches before finding the one that works for them. Some never may find the right fit. Ultimately, there are good, bad, and weak leaders.
All such personnel can be grouped into three categories: leaders, evil managers, and ineffective managers.1 “Leaders tend to generate commitment in most people they supervise. They lead by example, both professionally and personally. Though they fail on occasion, overall they consistently discipline themselves to demonstrate recognized leadership behaviors in their dealings with others.”2 You will remember these leaders when you look back on your career as a police officer. Such high-quality leaders may have confronted you from time to time, but they also listened to you and knew more about you than, perhaps, some of your friends.
“Evil managers are the antithesis of their leader counterparts. They are consistently destructive to the organizational culture and to employees, and they are widely distrusted and despised throughout the agency. They are egotistical and self-centered, and they have a predatory perspective on others. They may have strong ethical and character problems and often engage in inappropriate behavior.”3 You will remember these individuals and swear that you never will treat others as they did.
“Ineffective managers…are basically ethical and caring people like their leader counterparts; however, they do not consistently practice and demonstrate good leadership behavior with their subordinates. They are not disliked by the rank and file, but neither are they respected. They are perceived by most as wishy-washy and inconsistent. Employees cannot trust them to stand behind them.”4 These individuals may know something about good leadership, but they cannot accomplish it. On a positive note, they basically are good people who can improve if they so desire. Such personnel may be new in their positions and have much to learn. Perhaps they have lost their way and, with proper guidance and support, can turn their leadership abilities around.
Leadership is an individual matter. What works for one person may not work for someone else. Also, leadership encompasses many things: knowledge, skills, attitude, presence, perseverance, humility, adaptability, and creativity. You can follow strategies that may help improve your leadership abilities.
- Find a mentor. Locate someone you trust and learn from them. Ask them what has and has not proven successful. Explain your thought processes and how you made some of your decisions. Hopefully, these conversations will expose you to new thoughts and experiences without the firsthand pain of someone else’s mistakes.
- Seek feedback. Find other people willing to provide honest, critical feedback. Seek it at various times and for different reasons. Do not ask for feedback only when you want positive reinforcement. Some of the most effective feedback comes after unsuccessful decisions. It also may prove ideal to have this feedback from a variety of levels or perspectives. If possible, find someone above your rank, another at your level, and a third below your rank—perhaps, the most difficult source from which to receive honest feedback.
- Read. Some of the most successful leaders have been avid readers. Writer and politician Joseph Addison wrote, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Discover different points of view on all sorts of topics. Read about things you like. Learn about things unfamiliar to you. Become a student of learning.
- Be empathetic. People around you want to know they can bring things to your attention—both good and bad. Be a listener. You do not always have to be a problem solver. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” How do we move organizations forward if the people around us are afraid to talk with us about critical issues?
Ultimately, your leadership style is up to you. Maybe you still are figuring out your leadership style. Or, perhaps you already are a top leader. Chances are you are not there yet, but, you can get there. Like many other important things in life, being a good leader takes hard work and continued effort.
1 Jack Enter, Challenging the Law Enforcement Organization (Dacula, GA: Narrow Road Press, 2006).