One of the more important things for me to do when I was promoted to a supervisory position at an urban sheriff’s office was to educate myself on management issues. Since I was to supervise law enforcement professionals, I also wanted to make sure I was using good leadership practices so I could get the best out of my people. As I began taking classes, I was taught the seven affirmative links to civil liability so that I could manage these and thereby reduce the chances of my agency being held liable. I was also taught to always do things with the protection of the agency as a paramount concern. The focus was solely on managing potential liability for the agency and nothing about leadership.
Managing liability is important but I decided that I would do a little more research into leadership and resolved that I would look into the military, paramilitary, and corporate aspects of this topic. I began by taking law enforcement (paramilitary) classes and found some really good training. I especially liked the Leadership versus Management course put on by the Public Agency Training Council. I really hadn’t thought much about a common resource cited in this course, which was Sun Tzu’s The Art of War but I decided I would read it and apply many of the philosophies described in it.
Some of the ideas expressed about leadership in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War were learn as much as you can about your opponent, know when to engage and when no to, have a plan, and be cunning in your deception of that opponent. I could easily apply those to dealing with the criminal element on the street but I wondered how I would apply those techniques when supervising other law enforcement officers that I did not view as an opponent. Well, the ideas also expressed in this book that helped me were to treat your men like you would a family member and they will follow you anywhere and that do not lead through force but by example. Other ideas that seemed to go hand-in-hand with being a law enforcement officer and translated easily into leading these public safety professionals were self-confidence, and being mentally prepared to win before engaging your opponent to name a few.
I enjoyed learning the ideas expressed by Sun Tzu and decided I should expand my reading. I read prolifically in the areas of military leadership such as Carl von Clausewitz, Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Personal Reminiscences of Robert E. Lee, the biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Stonewall Jackson’s Book of Maxims. I read further into philosophy such as The Republic and Other Works by Plato, Khalil Gibran: The Collected Works, and The Essential Marcus Aurelius. I find very many of the principles expressed in these texts to be very similar when it comes to leadership and when I boil it down simply, they tell me to be strict when I need but develop my people to the point that they take ownership in their jobs with a clear vision of the mission. I determined that I need to both encourage and support employees but hold them to a high standard. When I read The One Minute Manager, I learned to basically train mentor those I supervise to one day take my place.
I know this sounds funny to most supervisors schooled in the old autocratic method of management but it is a better method of getting the best out of your subordinate officers. I have found that so many of the upper management in law enforcement agencies such as chiefs, deputy chiefs, sheriffs, chief deputy sheriffs, Majors, Captains, and even many Lieutenants feel that after they reach a certain rank, they don’t need any management or leadership training. Those that entertain this belief are those who need the most basic of training in leadership. I had a friend and co-worker who had been a chief at a smaller agency admit to me that chiefs and upper level supervisors often forget what it is like to be a street officer. This often clouds judgement and takes decision makers out of the loop with what is going on with the rank and file. Good leadership practices can offset this but all too often this is a lost priority.
I highly encourage agency managers to make leadership in your agencies a priority and develop future managers into leaders.
Aurelius, M. (2008). The Essential Marcus Aurelius . New York: Penguin Group.
Gibran, K. (2007). The Collected Works. New York: Random House, Inc.
Jones, J. W. (1875). Personal Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee. New York: Ton Doherty Associates, LLC.
PATC. (2000). Leadership vs Management. Indianapolis, IN, USA: Public Agency Training Council. Retrieved from http://www.patc.com/
Plato. (1989). The Republic and Other Works. New York: Anchor Books.
Robertson, J. I. (2002). Stonewall Jackson’s Book of Maxims. Nashville: Cumberland House Publishing Inc.
Tzu, S. (2012). The Art of War. New York: Chartwell Books.
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