Leadership Spotlight

Leadership Etiquette and Common Sense 

Recently promoted or transferred supervisors can find effectively leading a new unit or group challenging. Throughout my career in law enforcement, I have encountered exceptional supervisors embodying a number of positive leadership characteristics; I also have seen some ineffective individuals. A brief discussion of both types can provide some positive messages to future law enforcement supervisors, managers, and executives.

I recall one supervisor whose insecurity and arrogance caused him to order his trusted subordinates to monitor their colleagues for derogatory discussions about him. Another supervisor was so inexperienced and paranoid that when a frivolous complaint was levied against a subordinate, he personally interviewed all parties, creating needless chaos and impacting his credibility. I also remember receiving an excellent yearly evaluation from a second-line supervisor I worked with for a number of years. Also present at my appraisal was a new first-line supervisor who, despite my great evaluation, said to me, “I heard you have problems with women and that you’re a hot head.” Both my second-line supervisor and I were shocked, and I was offended. In a professional manner, I firmly denied these false, hurtful allegations, which contradict my character and life circumstances.

My interaction with extraordinary leaders, tempered by my contact with unsuccessful managers, has led me to compile a list of valued leadership traits and skills. Cultivating the behaviors and qualities on this list simply requires exercising leadership etiquette and common sense.

  • When leading a new team, do not fall prey to assumptions based on gossip. Sit back and evaluate your subordinates’ talents. Review their strengths and weaknesses. Assess their training and equipment needs. Proactively try to understand both your challenges and theirs. Always be professional, honest, and truthful in your interactions. Your credibility means everything.
  • Mentor your personnel to ensure they are well prepared to safely execute the mission. Value and respect seniority. Have senior personnel help train and develop junior officers. Formulate reasonable goals for your people with clearly defined objectives. Always lead in a manner toward accomplishing the mission.
  • As an agent of affirmative change for your personnel, you are their conduit to upper management. You serve as the ethical compass guiding their ambassadorship to the general public. Represent the department with distinction, pride, honor, and civility.
  • True leadership is not bestowed based on a promotion. You earn respect for your leadership abilities through servant leadership, trust, and mutual understanding. As a leader, your best moments will occur when you relish in the background of your team’s success.

Resident Agent in Charge Thomas J. Karabanoff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, northern Texas/Oklahoma district, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.