The majority of Law Officer readers have some type of leadership role in their organization. Included in that group are FTOs, special unit supervisors, range masters, patrol supervisors and mid-level managers. We have a number of chiefs (the more progressive ones) who read our magazine, but for the most part, we specifically target the change agents in an agency the people in the middle of an organization who get things done. It s been my experience that very important responsibilities are often handled by someone with only two stripes positions like running the K-9 unit, managing the drug recognition expert program or overseeing the school resource officers. Make no mistake, these are positions of leadership and with them come a responsibility to go beyond punching the clock.
This month, I want to challenge you to self evaluate: Are you a transactional leader or a transformational leader? Transactional leaders do the basic job, providing their required part of the organizational operation and pretty much routinely delivering the expected work product. Example: The patrol sergeant who shows up for briefing, reads the logs from the preceding shift, calls out the beat assignments, and tells the officers to hit the streets or maybe offers a cautionary be safe out there. This supervisor is reliable and can be counted on to take care of the basics day in and day out. Some are satisfied with this level of performance, reasoning they do what they re paid for, and there s nothing wrong with that.
Transformational leaders are those who move forward every day, improving themselves and those around them by looking for ways to improve effectiveness and facilitate change. They enable, empower and encourage others to do the same. To use the patrol supervisor example, a transformational leader would frequently come into briefing with information gleaned from an analysis of crime trends or intelligence bulletins, not just a reading of what happened on the last shift. This would be followed by a challenge to officers to target specific areas and focus their efforts accordingly.
The transformational leader would provide such meaningful information as a criminal law update and might assign three-minute training presentations on a rotating basis to those assigned to the watch. (Before you dismiss the idea of the rotating training assignments, consider this: Depending on the length of the shift, most cops show up for about 200 briefings a year, and that means those three-minute sessions equate to an extra 10 hours of training per year for everyone on the watch, not to mention the skills and knowledge built by preparing and presenting the training.)
An Awesome Responsibility
Leaders should consider the responsibility they have to prepare those who are literally walking point for our society. You must ensure their heads are in the game and that they have the equipment and skills to get the job done safely and effectively. A football team would never consider putting a player on the field who hasn t been practicing, isn t physically ready or hasn t been properly equipped. Why would we consider doing less for our officers? It isn't my intent to minimize the seriousness of police work by comparing it to football. Police work can be life changing and, at times, deadly. But the sports analogy is appropriate; leaders must sometimes be coaches. They must analyze the opposition, call the plays, direct the team and ensure accountability. Celebrate success and, when a fumble occurs, recover quickly if needed. Think of that briefing room or training session like the locker room or scrimmage before a big game.
Remember the patrol supervisor whose briefing consists of reading the activity log of the past shift and providing the beat assignments? How effective would a coach be who came into the locker room and provided the basic stats from the last game and read the position assignments to the team? If you're thinking that coach would be one step above worthless, then you re probably getting the point.
Leaders even if leading only one person have an awesome responsibility, especially in police work. Virtually every officer can remember specific lessons gleaned from an FTO, even if the training took place 25 years ago. Many officers who have survived critical incidents are adamant that their training saved their life and can recall specific words of a trainer or mentor who equipped them with the skill that made the difference.
Every organization has both transactional and transformational leaders. The best organizations will have more of the latter and will challenge those who are just checking the boxes to start investing a little more effort in our most valuable resource our people.
Note: Special thanks to Pastor Mark Foreman (Carlsbad, Calif.) for the inspiration that prompted this month s Editor's Note.