What it Takes to Lead

One of the biggest decisions an officer can face does not involve whether to make an arrest or what charges to file, but whether or not to take a promotion. In many professions, the idea of turning down a promotion is unheard of. But in law enforcement there is often a stigma surrounding those who leave the trenches to sit behind a desk.

Many new supervisors try to tackle this head on by attempting to change the mindset of the officers they work with. But before you can do this, you must first make sure that you are the best leader possible. This will allow the officers who work with you to accept you then respect you as a fellow officer. So, when you pin on your shiny new bars or button up your bright white shirt, remember the following.

Officers expect a chain of command

The majority of officers have a military mindset, either from personal military experience or at least due to their time in the academy. They are prepared, even primed, to accept that others will be appointed above them. This makes gaining their respect easier than you think, just don’t give them a reason not to give it freely.

Leader vs. manager

There are professions which require strong managers. I do not believe law enforcement is one of them. 99% of the time, cops do not need supervision (except to make sure reports are done, schedules are made and other mundane tasks are completed). At these times a manager can get by, even thrive. The other 1% of the time, cops need a leader – someone to make the tough calls and get the job done when things are at their worst. If you cannot perform during this 1% of the time, you will never survive during the other 99%.

Why is not always a dumb question

Eventually every new supervisor gets someone who asks “Why?” While the situation does not always allow for instant debate or justification, it may be beneficial to address this when the time is right. After all, if someone is asking “why?” there might be a valid reason. Were your instructions unclear? Was there an alternative you did not think of?

Be the supervisor you always wanted

Many of the worst supervisors are simply repeating behavior they witnessed earlier in their careers. Rather than being the supervisor you had, be the supervisor you wish you had.

Set the example

“Do as I say, not as I do,” is a strong sign of poor leadership. A true leader leads; they do not follow behind or watch from the sidelines.

Remember you are still one of “them.”

Leaders, like street cops, can become callous over the years. This often leads to adopting an “us vs. them” mentality, except the “them” are other cops. We are all on the same team and, like any team, the coach or captain can only win with the backing of the other team members.

If you lose track of whether or not you are becoming a leader or a manager try to remember this: Managers get others to do things; leaders get others to want to do things.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.

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