“No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair” – General George S. Patton Jr.
Leadership in a law enforcement organization is every bit as important as it is in the military. Men and women in both organizations are asked to do hard things that most people shrink away from. A leader can motivate his or her people to act without hesitation in the face of grave danger.
The term leader is not synonymous with supervisor. A supervisor is someone who holds rank, but not necessarily the respect of his or her subordinates. A leader inspires people to act, where a supervisor can only get people to act to avoid the consequences of disobeying an order. Too many police organizations find their administration staffed with supervisors, rather than leaders.
General George S. Patton Jr is considered to be one of the most successful leaders of men in combat. He was able to motivate his troops to accomplish objectives on the battlefield where other men would have failed. He did not supervise his people; he led them.
Part of leadership in a law enforcement agency is preparing officers for the harsh reality of the street. General Patton understood this principle, and applied it to his own people, once stating “a pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.”
How can you, a member of your department’s command staff, exhibit leadership in training?
Why do executives need to be involved?
Law enforcement executives, such as the chief, sheriff, deputy chief and captains, deal with a completely different set of problems than the patrol officer does. Budgets, meetings, organizational goals and public relations are just some of the headaches an agency head and other executives deal with. It is understandable that some of their training would be different.
However, the law enforcement executive is still a cop. He or she has to maintain his or her basic safety skills, weapon proficiencies and legal knowledge. Beyond personal proficiency, there are additional benefits for an executive being more involved in the training process, both as a student and a trainer.
Let’s take a look at three areas where leadership can be demonstrated in training, and the benefits of each.
Planning – An executive who takes a leadership role in the development of the training program will have a much keener understanding of the budgetary needs of the training unit, the strengths and weaknesses of department policies, and how much time is really needed to ensure his or her officers are developing the skills they need to stay safe and serve the community.
A leadership role means more than just approving what is dropped on his or her desk. It might mean the command staff member has to take an active role, such as researching the legal issues on a use of force topic, talking to officers about what they experienced in a critical incident or personally carrying some new piece of gear into the field for a shift or two.
When the members of command staff help with the research and planning of training, it helps make them more aware of the problems that his or her staff is having: both on the street and in the department bureaucracy. Understanding these problems first-hand will give executives the knowledge on how to improve the organizational work process to be a safer, more efficient department. Streamlining the department and cutting through the red tape will also have a positive affect on officer morale.
As part of the planning process, command staff can ensure a coordination of disciplines. Sometimes different training areas will have specialized instructors who emphasize the skills they teach to the detriment of other skills. When an executive has assumed a leadership role in the planning process, he or she can ensure that different elements of training mesh together rather than be at odds.
Teaching – Teaching a block of instruction takes a significant amount of time that many executives may not want to invest. However, putting the chief and other members of command staff into the classroom will give the officers a better sense of the department’s commitment to training. It gives the officers a chance to see the executive as a leader, rather than an administrator “riding a desk.”
Instrucing classes will also allow the command staff member to gain a greater insight into how the officers are responding to the issues covered in the training block. An executive will see first hand how many hours are needed to build proficiency in a skill.
For example, if an executive teaches an eight-hour block of training on handgun skills, he or she may discover that much more time is needed to bring the officers up to a reasonable level of competence. Conversely, when teaching a four-hour block on domestic violence, the same executive may discover his officers do not need that much time to cover the information due to their established level of competence.
With instructing, the executive can team teach with another instructor to make it easier to step out for meetings or other unexpected events. Through co-teaching more executives can participate, yet still have the flexibility needed to work around busy schedules.
Learning – Leaders are not afraid to learn new information or to ask questions. When a member of command staff sits in the same class as his or her officers do, there are a variety of positive things that can happen.
First, there is a great deal of camaraderie that can be built in training classes. Working through tough scenarios together can build bonds, just as talking about family or joking around during breaks can. Good leaders know their people – who they are and what motivates them. Spending time in a classroom together will help an executive get to know his or her subordinates.
Second, leaders don’t ask officers to do a job that they themselves will not do. When the officers see captains and chiefs out running the obstacle course or working an active shooter scenario, it enhances their trust in the department’s leadership and respect of the individuals in those command positions.
Third, the executives will get a refresher on what their people actually do. It is easy for command staff to get bogged down in reports, meetings and budgets. These are necessary tasks, but also serve to pull the executives away from the primary functions of their agency. Participating as a student in training classes can refresh the executive’s perspective on the department’s roll in the community.
Lastly, the fundamental purpose of training is to learn or enhance skills and knowledge. An executive sitting in a class can not only learn something, but also evaluate:
- Is the information presented useful to the officers?
- Is enough time allotted to the training class?
- Does the information being taught enhance the department mission and goals?
- Are the instructors excellent or just getting by?
A leader wants to know the answers to these questions and fix any problems that may exist.
Downfalls of not being involved?
More involvement in the training process does require a time investment. However, much like childhood education, the time spent can yield very valuable results. Failing to make the time investment ensures the ignorance of command staff to the realities of their department’s training and operational processes.
What officers are trained will be reflected in how they handle calls. Poor training can produce catastrophic results. If department executives take a laissez faire approach to the training program, they effectively consign how the department handles all functions to the single person or unit conducting the training. Unfortunately, the hands-off approach of supervision, instead of leadership, frequently filters down, spreading mediocrity through the entire training process.
By being involved in the training process, the agency executives have a greater hand in shaping how the department responds to all types of calls and handles criminal investigations.
Failing to participate in the training function, executives are less likely to know when department policies are violated, and perhaps even why the violations occur. If the training program fails to properly teach important policies to the officers, the likelihood of the policies being violated increases. Leadership by command staff through active involvement would help minimize policy violations.
Another important thing to consider is what role the command staff plays in critical incidents. At many agencies, when a significant event unfolds, some member of the command staff becomes involved. If a captain takes over command of a critical incident, does he or she have the hands-on training necessary to know what the tactics are, and what the officers are capable of accomplishing?
A leader will know the capabilities of his or her officers and specialty units. This knowledge will allow the leader to properly deploy officers, making sure each is used in the areas best suited for their skills and experience. A supervisor, on the other hand, is ignorant of the procedures and special skills of the officers. A supervisor is more likely to make a tragic mistake.
Consider these words written by General Patton in a 1944 letter to his son:
“The troops I have commanded have always been well dressed, been smart saluters, been prompt and bold in action because I have personally set the example in these qualities. The influence one man can have on thousands is a neverending source of wonder to me.”
How will you influence your officers: as a supervisor or as a leader?