June 6, 2019

Leadership Spotlight

Leading by Learning

A stock image of a man in business attire adjusting his tie.

To many people, leadership and supervision can be synonymous. Effective leaders use a variety of tools to make themselves easy to follow, regardless of rank or seniority, and successful supervisors routinely employ positive leadership techniques. However, those of us who work and teach in the criminal justice field consider the two terms vastly different. 

While some leaders eventually become supervisors, most of our influential leaders continually develop and navigate successful careers without ever having an employee report to them. In the field of education, we promote this as lifelong learning and encourage students to recognize and value such a pursuit of knowledge so they can continue to grow and prosper long after their academic experience ends. This concept involves no titles, designations, or destinations. 

For the lifelong learning practitioner, there is no finish line. This also holds true in criminal justice because the environment continually evolves. At no time will our profession become obsolete. We will not solve all of the societal problems that we face throughout our careers. No matter how hard we try to improve our communities, the work will continue long after our tenures end.

However, lifelong leading can dramatically improve our effectiveness and help us appreciate all of the valued members of our profession. It involves an individual’s commitment to lead by example, value organizational role models, and help others become more successful leaders. Lifelong leaders recognize and promote both formal and informal leaders within the organization and strive to achieve harmony.  

If we treat our career as a never-ending journey, we will better prepare those who will replace us to continue the legacy of valuing and promoting quality leadership. So many niches and specialties exist within criminal justice that all practitioners should challenge themselves to look beyond serving as a generalist and assume additional roles and responsibilities, including leading others. Our communities want their public safety officials to lead both on and off duty. Although we must wear many hats, we certainly can train and develop others to embrace lifelong leading as a way to maximize contributions to organizational effectiveness. 

For example, many different specialties of investigations exist. Financial fraud, computer forensics, sexual assault, homicide, elder abuse, drugs, and human trafficking investigations, for instance, all require special skills and training that help employees become leaders in their respective areas of expertise. Patrol officers can pursue specialties such as crisis intervention, drug recognition, commercial vehicles, criminal interdiction, and organized retail theft.

Inevitably, employees will have an interest in becoming leaders in different disciplines. Here, leadership and supervision intersect, and the opportunity to encourage lifelong leading perhaps is most appropriate.

Leaders should strive to understand where they excel and what they want to learn more about. Supervisors, charged with developing leaders, must figure out how to make that happen. And, most important, they must communicate clearly with each other and the department throughout this process.

Creating lifelong leaders might involve providing them with additional training or mentoring to hone their skills. As time passes, these leaders will network with colleagues who have the same specialty interest. Others will see this fostering and nurturing atmosphere in the workplace and become encouraged to find their niche.

While you cannot send all employees to every training opportunity, you should encourage your leaders to continue developing their specialties in ways they can control. Before long, others in your organization will learn what your leaders excel at and feel passionate about and recognize how to put them in positions to be lifelong leaders.

Leadership and supervision represent two different disciplines within the criminal justice field. Some leaders have no interest in supervision, and some supervisors fail to truly lead. When leadership and supervision intersect, there are opportunities to—

  • develop leaders to better serve your organization and community;
  • help leaders find their niche and an even deeper meaning to their role in your workplace;
  • make leaders a valuable resource to other employees; and
  • most important, recognize and support lifelong leaders who will leave a legacy within your organization that the community will benefit from for generations.

Can you imagine any better service to your community?

“If we treat our career as a never-ending journey, we will better prepare those who will replace us to continue the legacy of valuing and promoting quality leadership.”

Captain Nick Francis, who serves with the Apple Valley, Minnesota, Police Department and also as an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Concordia University in Saint Paul, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at nfrancis@ci.apple-valley.mn.us.