“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven….”
In Band of Brothers, Stephen A. Ambrose recounts the story of what happened when the recently promoted Dick Winters saw his previous command, Easy Company, imperiled from a lack of leadership in the heat of battle. Ambrose noted, “Winters grabbed an M-1 and started to run across the field, headed for the stationary company and its pinned-down 1st platoon. He intended to take command, get those men moving. But as he ran down, he thought, ‘Geez, I can’t do this. I’m running this battalion. I can’t commit myself.’ He turned and raced back.” Upon his return, Winters quickly located a capable subordinate and ordered him to take charge of the company.
Like Dick Winters, after a promotion, many law enforcement leaders find it difficult to adjust their passion for and perspective on the subordinate units they previously led or comprised a part of prior to their elevation in rank or responsibility. This holds especially true for those newly knighted front-line leaders who only recently were “just one of the troops.” Larger agencies may address this challenge by reassigning the newly elevated leader to a completely different geographical or functional area. In most agencies, however, this not always is an option, and the new leader still has a level of responsibility for the previous unit. And, such a move does not always address the challenge individual leaders face in adjusting their mind-set to more quickly and successfully handle their expanded roles in the organization. Without such an internal adjustment to see the “bigger picture,” effectiveness is jeopardized, and leaders cannot sufficiently fulfill their broader mandate.
One way to mentally prepare or adjust to a position of increased responsibility is to view it in terms of a new season of life. As in the natural world, a new season of leadership brings irrevocable changes. The previous season prepares the way for the new one. Yet, although the landscape still may be familiar, new challenges and opportunities come with the change, and new responses are required. The most successful leaders continually expand their horizons while never forgetting the lessons learned in those previous seasons.
One critical caveat differentiates law enforcement leaders from individuals advancing in a similar manner outside of the criminal justice world. As long as they carry a badge and a gun, leaders at all levels in law enforcement continually must maintain a high level of tactical readiness and technical proficiency with their equipment. Neither the citizens protected by the leaders nor the “bad guys” readily differentiate among the recent academy graduate, chief, sheriff, or bureau commander during an in extremis moment.
In the young and eager years of their career, most sworn members of a law enforcement agency frequently prepare for and seek “doors” to go through and bad guys to catch. In their later seasons, leaders find that, frequently, their focus moves away from directly seeking those situations to leading and supporting others who do. However, the obligation of law enforcement leaders to remain prepared and ready for encounters with such a door or bad guy remains. Throughout their career, every law enforcement leader should be prepared to respond in a tactical manner when duty requires it. The need for such readiness transcends all seasons.
Special Agent Jeffrey C. Lindsey, chief of the Law Enforcement National Data Exchange Unit at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.