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Effective police leadership: experiences and perspectives of law enforcement leaders.

Leadership represents a crucial determinant determinant, a polynomial expression that is inherent in the entries of a square matrix. The size n of the square matrix, as determined from the number of entries in any row or column, is called the order of the determinant.  of police organizational efficacy. Supervisors and others in formal positions of power must engage, motivate, and guide subordinates, community members, and other local officials. The evolving vision of patrol officers has led to a rethinking of the role of leadership even among those not possessing conventional supervisory control Supervisory control is a general term for control of many individual controllers or control loops, whether by a human or an automatic control system, although almost every real system is a combination of both. . Contemporary discussions about patrol personnel suggest that "every officer is a leader."(1) Agencies desire frontline front·line also front line  
1. A front or boundary, especially one between military, political, or ideological positions.

2. Basketball See frontcourt.

3. Football The linemen of a team.
 employees who can lead citizens during chaotic situations, facilitate and direct problem-solving activities, and make neighborhoods safer.


Despite the centrality of leadership within policing, the vast majority of what is written about the subject uses data developed in other occupational and professional contexts, especially the military and corporate worlds. While some aspects of organizations and leadership may translate easily into public safety settings, not all transfer universally. Consequently, most information about police leadership is based on anecdotes and case studies; little comes from systematic and broad research efforts.

This knowledge gap results in the presumption A conclusion made as to the existence or nonexistence of a fact that must be drawn from other evidence that is admitted and proven to be true. A Rule of Law.

If certain facts are established, a judge or jury must assume another fact that the law recognizes as a logical
 that what works in the military and corporate worlds also will apply to the law enforcement profession. Such supposition, however, leaves many key questions about police leadership unanswered.

* What is effective leadership in policing? Is it the same in agencies of different sizes and cultures and in other professions? How can it be measured and evaluated?

* Are leaders born or made? How can departments recognize officers who display leadership ability? How can they develop this quality?

* What are the barriers to the expansion of effective leadership? What factors prevent officers from being more effective leaders? What traits and habits do effective police leaders exhibit?

To help answer these questions, the author offers the findings from his recent study on police leadership. By asking law enforcement leaders what they thought effective leadership involved, he hoped to gain further insight into an area of great concern to the profession.


While serving as a visiting researcher in the Behavioral Science behavioral science
A scientific discipline, such as sociology, anthropology, or psychology, in which the actions and reactions of humans and animals are studied through observational and experimental methods.
 Unit at the FBI Academy The FBI Academy, located in Quantico, Virginia, is the training grounds for new Special Agents of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was first opened for use in 1972 on 385 acres (1.6 km²) of woodland. , the author surveyed National Academy (NA) attendees to assess their views of and experiences with leadership.(2) Over a 12-month period, he gave these command-level law enforcement officers the opportunity to complete a brief questionnaire during their first week in residence.(3) Out of about 1,000 NA attendees, approximately three-quarters completed the survey, which asked them to describe effective leadership, discuss how it could be measured, consider their experiences with leadership, suggest how to develop it, and identify the traits and habits of effective and ineffective police leaders. Additionally, the author interviewed some of these officers individually and in groups to further assess experiences and perceptions.


These NA attendees comprised an interesting research population. Although they did not meet strict scientific standards as a random sample, they represented a range of law enforcement organizations from across the country and around the world. They served in agencies of all shapes and sizes that had diverse missions, budgets, selection and training procedures, and operational styles. They brought a variety of experiences, educational backgrounds, and career histories to the study. While all had some level of supervisory authority, most did not head their employing agency. This proved particularly interesting when considering leadership: not only did they hold positions where they were expected to exhibit sound leadership but they also confronted the leadership styles and skills (or lack thereof) of both supervisors and subordinates. Viewed in this way, NA attendees provided a rich cross section of perspectives into aspects of police leadership. The remainder of this article summarizes the key sentiments that NA attendees expressed regarding a range of leadership topics.


A large portion of the study focused on developing a deeper understanding of effective leadership in policing. Discussions concerning leadership efficacy, however, first require a definition of that concept. In general, NA attendees felt that effective leadership is the achievement of organizational and unit goals, objectives, and missions. It involves moving a group of employees in the proper direction to achieve these desired outcomes. At times, this means influencing others to do what they otherwise would not do. The attendees kept this definition in mind when answering specific questions concerning effective leadership in policing.

What Is Effective Leadership in Policing?

To NA attendees, effective leadership is the process of setting a proper example for other officers by showing them how to police in a manner that is fair, service oriented o·ri·ent  
1. Orient The countries of Asia, especially of eastern Asia.

a. The luster characteristic of a pearl of high quality.

b. A pearl having exceptional luster.

, professional, and within the standards and expectations of the community. Effective leadership involves a set of actions and initiatives to better the agency and the community it serves while also protecting the welfare, well-being, and interests of employees and the citizens they protect.

Is the Definition Universal?

Defining and discussing effective leadership in policing can raise a number of important secondary questions that consider how policing relates with other professions and how law enforcement organizations vary based on size, type (local, county, state), and culture. Is the definition of effective leadership generally universal across different agencies? NA attendees felt that little about the definition of effective leadership changed based on a department's size, type, and culture. Instead, they believed that the specific tactics and styles used by leaders, the agency's mission and goals, its resources, and the constraints and demands under which it operated could vary. Overall, the study showed that while the core definition of effective leadership generally did not change across departments, differences did occur in agency context, such as the nature of the community and local culture.

A second consideration related to the extent to which effective leadership in policing was the same as effective leadership in other occupational contexts. NA attendees felt that effective leadership, in general, was achieved through the use of common leader traits and habits. They believed that in policing, versus other contexts, organizations tend to have a more rigid structure and are significantly different because of the capacity to use force and deny freedoms. They also thought that the nature of police work and the legal and symbolic importance of trust and ethics embedded Inserted into. See embedded system.  in the profession require leaders to demonstrate more honesty and integrity than those in many other occupations.

How Can It Be Measured and Evaluated?

NA attendees felt that a number of indicators could determine whether a leader is effective. First, as implied by the definition, effective leaders demonstrate the achievement of organizational and unit goals and objectives. Next, they recruit and retain employees who become successful and productive, generating quality work while demonstrating a positive attitude toward the job and the agency. Finally, effective leaders and their departments have a favorable fa·vor·a·ble  
1. Advantageous; helpful: favorable winds.

2. Encouraging; propitious: a favorable diagnosis.

 image within their communities and among their peers and employees and do not generate a high volume of formal complaints or informal dissatisfaction.

Are Leaders Born or Made?

This age-old question found within leadership literature frequently is answered through biographical bi·o·graph·i·cal   also bi·o·graph·ic
1. Containing, consisting of, or relating to the facts or events in a person's life.

2. Of or relating to biography as a literary form.
 examples of recognized leaders. The leadership sections of libraries and book stores often contain a number of texts that offer accounts of great military, political, and corporate leaders.(4) Other examinations of this issue consider whether cultural and social events forge great leaders within the crucible crucible, vessel in which a substance is heated to a high temperature, as for fusing or calcining. The necessary properties of a crucible are that it maintain its mechanical strength and rigidity at high temperatures and that it not react in an undesirable way with  of adversity ad·ver·si·ty  
n. pl. ad·ver·si·ties
1. A state of hardship or affliction; misfortune.

2. A calamitous event.
, such as seen in World War II.

NA attendees tended to believe that both explanations held some truth in understanding the emergence of leaders. While most people have some innate leadership traits and skills, the attendees felt that leaders step up to challenges and seek ways to better themselves and others. Leaders pursue education, training, experiences, opportunities, and mentoring that allow them to build upon and further develop their natural skills and abilities. Although not necessarily born as strong leaders, these individuals possess a work ethic work ethic
A set of values based on the moral virtues of hard work and diligence.

work ethic

a belief in the moral value of work
, drive, and desire that push them toward self-improvement. Perhaps not forged in the crucible of war, effective leaders tend to rise to the challenges of their local environment.


What Prevents the Expansion of Effective Leadership?

Regardless of the wealth of material about the importance of strong leaders, a deficiency of such individuals exists in most organizations. NA attendees reflected on the aspects of police organizations that seemed to prevent the growth of effective leadership within the profession. They felt that those in positions of formal authority tend to engage in more management than leadership; the relationship between these two concepts proves fundamental.(5) Even more problematic, some in positions of authority micromanage micromanage Administration A popular term for excess oversight of lower management by upper management , not allowing subordinates to exercise discretion and freedom in the performance of their duties. This stifles the emergence of leadership skills. Having the chance to practice being a leader and, perhaps, encountering some failure represents a significant element in developing future leaders Future Leaders is a UK schools-led charitable organisation that aims to widen the pool of talented leaders especially for urban challenging secondary schools. It was founded in March 2006 by Nat Wei, a former founder of Teach First. . This opportunity, however, requires current leaders to grant freedom to subordinates, something micromanagers rarely do.

In addition, NA attendees thought that leaders may encounter resistance from those they seek to influence. While the process of leading includes finding ways to convince others to do things they would prefer not to do, it also assumes a certain degree of compliance and cooperation on the part of the "others." Capable leaders can encounter difficulties in the face of poor followership fol·low·er·ship  
1. The act or condition of following a leader; adherence: "It was not a crisis of leadership. It was a crisis of followership" Christian Science Monitor.
, egotism Egotism
See also Arrogance, Conceit, Individualism.

Baxter, Ted

TV anchorman who sees himself as most important news topic. [TV: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in Terrace, II, 70]

, and resistance to change from those they seek to influence.

Finally, the attendees felt that those external to the police organization can affect its leaders. District attorneys, city and county officials, legislative bodies, judges, and citizens all make decisions that relate to a department's budget, policies, and procedures in a way that limits the range of choices available to leaders. The attendees cited interpersonal in·ter·per·son·al  
1. Of or relating to the interactions between individuals: interpersonal skills.

 dynamics and politics (broadly defined) asinfluencing the choices leaders, especially those elected or appointed, can make. Determining the correct action to take in a given situation can be a complicated process because of limited resources. It may prove easier to identify a proper course of action than to secure the necessary money, personnel, materials, training, and approvals. To this end, the attendees thought that inadequate opportunities for training and education and insufficient mentoring can prevent officers from practicing and improving their leadership skills.


Many of the questions posed to NA atteendes dealt with issues of academic and philosophical relevance that appeared somewhat removed from the everyday environments of police supervisors and leaders. Although important in understanding leadership and its development, such topics offer limited assistance to those currently seeking to provide quality leadership within a modern law enforcement organization. Of greater relevance is consideration of effective leaders, in particular the traits and habits contributing to leadership success.(6) Some attendees were asked to describe the traits, habits, and routines of police leaders they considered particularly effective. Conversely con·verse 1  
intr.v. con·versed, con·vers·ing, con·vers·es
1. To engage in a spoken exchange of thoughts, ideas, or feelings; talk. See Synonyms at speak.

, other attendees were asked to comment on ineffective leaders and detail what they did or failed to do that caused inefficacy in·ef·fi·ca·cy  
The state or quality of being incapable of producing a desired effect or result.

Noun 1. inefficacy - a lack of efficacy

Effective Leader Responses

Although law enforcement agencies A law enforcement agency (LEA) is a term used to describe any agency which enforces the law. This may be a local or state police, federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  vary in their missions, goals, and strategies, effective leaders set an example of how to carry out policing and embody em·bod·y  
tr.v. em·bod·ied, em·bod·y·ing, em·bod·ies
1. To give a bodily form to; incarnate.

2. To represent in bodily or material form:
 the tone, tactics, and philosophy within a given organization. NA attendees repeatedly identified leadership by example as a key personality trait trait (trat)
1. any genetically determined characteristic; also, the condition prevailing in the heterozygous state of a recessive disorder, as the sickle cell trait.

2. a distinctive behavior pattern.
 of effective leaders who possess a high level of honesty and integrity. Unlike other career fields, the trust and legal responsibilities associated with law enforcement make these two traits key factors in the efficacy of all employees. Leaders who exude ex·ude
To ooze or pass gradually out of a body structure or tissue.
 honesty and integrity not only set a proper example for others in their organization but also demonstrate their trustworthiness trustworthiness Ethics A principle in which a person both deserves the trust of others and does not violate that trust . Attendees indicated that trust was central to leadership efficacy. The physical, legal, and other risks associated with policing make trust a central concern; trust ensures that officers will follow the vision and direction of their leaders.

Other traits that NA attendees considered important included valuing input from coworkers, subordinates, and others. Though decisive in action, effective leaders recognize that improvements always can be made. They know that strong communication and listening skills are crucial and that sometimes they must explain their decisions and actions to ensure compliance and support. Effective leaders also understand the human aspect of being a leader. They show concern for the emotional well-being of their coworkers and subordinates by demonstrating compassion and respect.

Fairness and courage also were of key importance to NA attendees. Officers are expected to treat citizens with fairness, respect, and dignity while showing courage in the performance of their sworn duties. Likewise, effective leaders must exhibit these same traits. They display courage by sometimes making unpopular yet correct decisions. They perform their duties ethically and appropriately and never ask others to do more than they will do themselves. While they do not shy away from Verb 1. shy away from - avoid having to deal with some unpleasant task; "I shy away from this task"
avoid - stay clear from; keep away from; keep out of the way of someone or something; "Her former friends now avoid her"
 becoming involved in situations requiring their leadership skills, they also recognize when to allow subordinates to handle incidents commensurate com·men·su·rate  
1. Of the same size, extent, or duration as another.

2. Corresponding in size or degree; proportionate: a salary commensurate with my performance.

 with their skills and level of authority.

Using appropriate information to form sound decisions ranked high with NA attendees. Effective leaders research situations (or delegate that task) so they can base their decisions on reasonable assessments of relevant data. This requires them to be knowledgeable, aware of current innovations, and willing to try new ideas and tactics. To achieve efficacy, leaders must continue to educate themselves through reading, research, and attending conferences and training.

Finally, to be effective, leaders must understand the crucial importance between leadership and management. Though management skills are helpful in some aspects of the profession, NA attendees indicated that policing needed more leadership from supervisors and others throughout the organization. In particular, effective leaders avoid micromanaging the actions of subordinates and coworkers. They set a proper tone, show how the job is to be done, and give others the freedom to find ways to complete assigned duties within those parameters.

Ineffective Leader Responses

NA attendees felt that ineffective leaders tend to be motivated by their personal self-interests. They seek positions of authority because they enjoy the power, prestige, status, or money and not because they have a desire to serve the needs of the organization. Ineffective leaders generally have poor communication skills. They may hear the views and perspectives of others but do not truly listen. They often lack strong interpersonal skills "Interpersonal skills" refers to mental and communicative algorithms applied during social communications and interactions in order to reach certain effects or results. The term "interpersonal skills" is used often in business contexts to refer to the measure of a person's ability  and show little concern or compassion for others. This failure to connect limits their ability to convince subordinates to follow their lead.

Another trait that NA attendees described involved a rigid leadership or policing style. These leaders unwillingly adopt new methods, procedures, or ways of thinking. Although leadership involves moving individuals and organizations toward new and better ways of operating, ineffective leaders remain tied to current and past objectives. Often not grounded by known beliefs, ineffective leaders can be unpredictable. Consequently, their actions appear capricious capricious adv., adj. unpredictable and subject to whim, often used to refer to judges and judicial decisions which do not follow the law, logic or proper trial procedure. A semi-polite way of saying a judge is inconsistent or erratic.  and arbitrary. Subordinates suffer because they are unsure how to act in a manner consistent with the leader's vision, typically because the leader has no vision. The past actions of ineffective leaders may have resulted in the loss of respect from subordinates who now view them as incompetent incompetent adj. 1) referring to a person who is not able to manage his/her affairs due to mental deficiency (lack of I.Q., deterioration, illness or psychosis) or sometimes physical disability. , shortsighted short·sight·ed
1. Nearsighted; myopic.

2. Lacking foresight.

, arbitrary, vindictive, or incapable of making critical and difficult decisions.

NA attendees also thought that ineffective leaders spend their time and energy managing and micromanaging, instead of leading. They dictate to others and make unilateral unilateral /uni·lat·er·al/ (-lat´er-al) affecting only one side.

On, having, or confined to only one side.
 decisions, rather than involving others and seeking their input. Such actions often frustrate subordinates and limit the development of future leaders, including likely successors.

Finally, NA attendees deemed leaders ineffective for failing to act. Because they have not embraced the notion of leadership, they do not seek to inspire and motivate subordinates. Ineffective leaders may exhibit a double standard in their work ethic, expecting more than 100 percent from their employees while appearing to do little actual work themselves. Failing to set a proper tone of professionalism, dedication, and vigilance VIGILANCE. Proper attention in proper time.
     2. The law requires a man who has a claim to enforce it in proper time, while the adverse party has it in his power to defend himself; and if by his neglect to do so, he cannot afterwards establish such claim, the
 makes it unlikely that subordinates will exhibit these desired work habits. Most critical to NA attendees, some ineffective leaders fail to act altogether. When they must make difficult, complex, and important decisions, these leaders delay, defer de·fer 1  
v. de·ferred, de·fer·ring, de·fers
1. To put off; postpone.

2. To postpone the induction of (one eligible for the military draft).

, or ignore the matter.


Increasingly, law enforcement organizations are recognizing the importance of leadership development and evaluation. Moving into these new domains requires that agencies develop definitions of what effective leadership means in their own communities and organizational context. Equipped with this definition, they can begin to consider how to evaluate leadership potential among newer officers. This process also enables departments to work toward the improvement of leadership skills among current and future leaders.

A variety of new and innovative development programs have emerged in recent years, though clear evidence of their efficacy remains elusive. The key is to continue to strive for leadership development, both individually and organizationally. At the end of the day, effective leaders may be those individuals who continually strive toward self-improvement. This ongoing pursuit undoubtedly will ensure that others emulate em·u·late  
tr.v. em·u·lat·ed, em·u·lat·ing, em·u·lates
1. To strive to equal or excel, especially through imitation: an older pupil whose accomplishments and style I emulated.

 this quality, strengthening not just the skills of the leaders themselves but also elevating the leadership performance of those around them.


(1.) Terry D. Anderson, Kenneth Gisborne, and Patrick Holliday, Every Officer Is a Leader: Coaching Leadership, Learning, and Performance in Justice, Public Safety, and Security Organizations, 2nd ed. (Victoria, BC: Trafford, 2006).

(2.) Operational since 2004, the Futurists in Residence (FIR fir, any tree of the genus Abies of the family Pinaceae (pine family), tall pyramidal evergreen conifers characterized by short, flat, stemless needles and erect cylindrical cones that shed their scales rather than dropping off the tree whole. ) program is part of the Futures Working Group, a partnership between the FBI and the Society of Police Futurists International ( It affords researchers and practitioners an opportunity to conduct original research. See the April 2008 edition of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin is published monthly by the FBI Law Enforcement Communication Unit[1], with articles of interest to state and local law enforcement personnel.  for the recent FIR effort on recognizing laser threats.

(3.) The FBI hosts four 10-week sessions each year during which law enforcement executives from around the world come together to attend classes in various criminal justice subjects. Between 200 and 250 officers from a mixture of small, medium, and large organizations attend each session.

(4) Two recent books have taken this approach in studying police leadership: M.R. Haberfeld, Police Leadership (Upper Saddle River Saddle River may refer to:
  • Saddle River, New Jersey, a borough in Bergen County, New Jersey
  • Saddle River (New Jersey), a tributary of the Passaic River in New Jersey
, NJ: Prentice Hall Prentice Hall is a leading educational publisher. It is an imprint of Pearson Education, Inc., based in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA. Prentice Hall publishes print and digital content for the 6-12 and higher education market. History
In 1913, law professor Dr.
, 2006); and Renford Reese, Leadership in the LAPD 1. LAPD - Link Access Procedure on the D channel.
2. LAPD - Los Angeles Police Department.
: Walking the Tightrope (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2005).

(5.) For a discussion of how these two concepts relate to one another, see Gary Yukl, Leadership in Organizations, 5th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002), 5-6.

(6.) For two of the seminal seminal /sem·i·nal/ (sem´i-n'l) pertaining to semen or to a seed.

Of, relating to, containing, or conveying semen or seed.
 discussions of these matters in nonpolicing contexts, see Warren Bennis Warren Gameliel Bennis (born March 8, 1925) is an American scholar, organizational consultant and author who is widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies. , On Becoming a Leader (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
, NY: Basic Books, 2003); and John W. Gardner John William Gardner, (October 8, 1912–February 16, 2002), President of the Carnegie Corporation, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson, was subsequently the founder of two influential national U.S. , On Leadership (New York, NY: The Free Press, 1990).

RELATED ARTICLE: Traits of Effective Leaders

* Set a proper example and demonstrate trustworthiness

* Consider input from others

* Accept responsibility and admit mistakes

* Make informed decisions based on appropriate research and study

* Treat all employees fairly and with dignity

* Allow subordinates to handle duties commensurate with their skills and level of authority


The author thanks the members of the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy for their cooperation and hospitality, particularly its chief, Special Agent Harry Kern Kern, river, 155 mi (249 km) long, rising in the S Sierra Nevada Mts., E Calif., and flowing south, then southwest to a reservoir in the extreme southern part of the San Joaquin valley. The river has Isabella Dam as its chief facility. ; Dr. Carl Jensen, a retired special agent; and Dr. John Jarvis John Jarvis is a notable karateka from New Zealand. He is Shihan, 5th Dan. His first instructor was Steve Arneil in 1967. Later, John Jarvis was a personal representative of Masutatsu Oyama and Kyokushinkai chief instructor in New Zealand. . He also thanks all of the participants from National Academy Sessions 226 through 229 for their cooperation and candor can·dor  
1. Frankness or sincerity of expression; openness.

2. Freedom from prejudice; impartiality.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin, from
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Author:Schafer, Joseph A.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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