Leadership Spotlight

What Works for You?

A stock image of an older business man.

After 31 years in law enforcement, I have seen the good, bad, and downright ugly concerning leadership. Many books have covered this topic, often highlighting something like four principles, eight tenants, or six pillars to success. Many of these concepts overlap. Yet, how does one decide what works? What is the “secret sauce” to being an exceptional leader?

Certainly, leadership is not a one-size-fits-all concept. What works well for you may be terrible for your peers. It often is not the principle, tenant, or pillar we use that counts as much as the way we use it. How we do things matters more than what we do.

Keys to Successful Leadership

Leaders must remain true to themselves and never try to be something or someone they are not. Subordinates will see right through it. We always should remember we have been tasked with being a leader of leaders, not a leader of followers. By nature, police officers are leaders, so they are more likely than others to question the decisions we make, and they do not let us forget the ones we did not make. Of course, leaders are human. We will make mistakes because no one gets it right 100 percent of the time.

My experiences have taught me four keys to successful leadership.

1) Be Firm

Leaders must be firm in their actions and how they speak with people. Firmness demonstrates confidence. Whether dealing with the public or subordinates, being firm will minimize miscommunication, allowing you to stay focused. My father always said, “Mark Alan, walk with a purpose and speak with authority—you’ll go far in life.” However, do not mistake firmness with being curt or rude. Specifically when making decisions, gather the facts and then decide. People do not want to work for leaders who cannot decide what to do or, worse yet, who constantly change their minds.

2) Be Fair

Many departments suffer from the us versus them mentality. Treat all people fairly, regardless of their rank. Leaders cannot allow a different set of standards to exist between command and patrol. This matters most if you need to use discipline. Be fair always, remembering that correcting the behavior is what you are striving for.

3) Be Honest

Practice honesty with yourself and others. Be willing to admit you may not know the answer but that you know where to find it. Constantly remind yourself you are not the subject-matter expert on everything. Your subordinates will have skill sets you do not have. Never tell someone you are going to do something if you have no intent to do it. Dishonesty is the quickest way to lose your reputation in this line of work, and in this business, your reputation is everything. Nothing is more important than being honest.

4) Be Consistent

Consistency is what we all look for in people, especially our leaders. When employees come to work, the last thing they want to do is guess what kind of mood the boss is in. Work very hard at being consistent with your mood and temperament. Your staff will crave this—we all want to know where we stand. Consistency is critical in stressful situations. Remember the truth in the adage “never let them see you sweat.” No matter the circumstances, leaders must remain the level-headed professional.


Leaders must find what works for them when it comes to leading their agency and employees. It may take years of gathering experiences and gaining knowledge for them to determine what works, and this likely will include errors with lessons learned. Whatever keys you incorporate to find success also must include in-depth consideration of how best to use them.

Firmness, fairness, honesty, and consistency have proven effective in my career. While every situation will vary and each employee will respond differently, finding success as a leader is contingent on you discovering your leadership keys—the future of our profession depends on it.

“...finding success as a leader is contingent on you discovering your leadership keys—the future of our profession depends on it.”

Deputy Chief Mark Coil of the Shelby Township, Michigan, Police Department, a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 264, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at mcoil@shelbytwp.org.