Leadership Spotlight

Change Can Be a Slippery Slope

In any industry or profession, change proves difficult. For those of us in law enforcement, it can resemble a vehicle skidding out of control. Yet, a competent driver at the wheel can steer change effectively.

Far too often, employees view change as something forced upon them. Leaders can envision new policies, but not effectively communicating such changes will result in failure. I refer to this as rear wheel drive (RWD) leadership. A better alternative is front wheel drive (FWD) leadership.

Consider a RWD vehicle and its difficulty maneuvering up an icy hill. The engine (management) directs the rear wheels (employees) to move forward. While the vehicle (agency) tries to move up the hill (change), the wheels start to spin (confusion). Based on the spinning, the engine gives more power (commands) to propel the vehicle upward. Typically, this results in the vehicle facing the opposite direction and landing in a ditch.

Stock image of a road sign indicating a slippery drive ahead.

Conversely, picture the FWD vehicle and the same scenario. The engine directs the front wheels (command staff) to move forward. Because they are located in the front of the vehicle, they lead it up the hill. They communicate with the rest of the vehicle by telegraphing what they will do (turn right or left, stop). The wheels need less power and only subtle adjustments to stay on track. The rest of the vehicle typically has no choice but to follow their lead. As a perfect example of this process, former Chief Bill Bratton of the Los Angeles, California, and New York, New York, Police Departments focused on getting his command staff working together toward a common goal. Effective communication and motivation resulted in the successful implementation of the desired vision/goal.

Regardless of the change, leaders need to communicate it—clearly—from the top and model it. Agencies will find changes easier to implement when personnel are led, rather than pushed, by the executive staff. By inspiring others to help implement the change, the process proves smoother and more effective. So, the next time significant change arises, ask yourself whether your actions will lead to the agency ending up all over the road and in a ditch facing the opposite direction or if your leadership style effectively will guide personnel steadily down the road and toward the final destination.

Special Agent Donald Soranno of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, a leadership fellow at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.