Leadership Spotlight

Development Is a Question Away

Stock image of a male and female talking in a business setting.


Modern law enforcement agencies recognize the importance of leadership development and offer formal programs to employees. Such efforts may involve tuition reimbursement for advanced education, travel and admission money for short-term seminars, honorarium payments to guest speakers at in-service training events, and funds for employee participation in long-term command academies and schools.

These endeavors have helped enhance employees’ leadership skills to varying degrees but depend on such variables as budget constraints, participant availability, staffing resources, and internal processes that can limit accessibility.

In addition, adults often shy away from taking part in formal education programs. “The two most often cited reasons for nonparticipation are lack of time and...money. These are socially acceptable reasons for not doing something, of course, and probably very legitimate reasons for adults…trying to become or stay economically solvent and take care of their families and themselves.”1


Perhaps an alternative to outsourced development lies within employees’ capacity simply to learn from each other. A typical law enforcement agency’s structure—where personnel often work in units, groups, and teams—provides this communication opportunity. “Horizontal Communication flows among coworkers and between different work units, and its main purpose is coordination. During this sideways communication employees share information.”2

Throughout my employment as a law enforcement officer, I have worked with some great people. During casual conversations, they share compelling stories about accomplishing goals in the face of overwhelming odds. Whether such communications included a few statements about pursuing formal education despite growing up in poverty or showing perseverance and resilience while battling an illness, these personnel have impacted my learning profoundly.

While listening and empathizing, I have felt inspired and motivated by these stories. These short conversations cause me to not only think about how fortunate I am but realize the valuable development benefit from understanding someone else’s experiences. Such accounts cause me to evaluate myself and appreciate my own encounters that I either had forgotten or never valued in these terms.

Communication and subsequent reflection improves “Interpersonal Intelligence: Potential to understand, connect with, and effectively work with others.”3 The benefit to the individual also applies to the organization at this point.


People with vast life experiences surround those of us in public service. Interpersonal communication, although sometimes not easy to employ, is not hindered by organizational constraints or the most common factors prohibiting participation in adult education programs. I have realized that we can open the door to personal development with just a question to one of the many professionals we encounter every day.

Special Agent Dan Bradley serves in the FBI’s Buffalo, New York, office. He can be reached at dmbradley@fbi.gov.


1 Sharan B. Merriam, Rosemary S. Caffarella, and Lisa M. Baumgartner, Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, 3rd ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 65.
2 Robert Kreitner and Angelo Kinicki, Organizational Behavior, 10th ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2013), 413.
3 Ibid., 138.