On Leadership 

Lead•er•ship (noun, verb)

-the act of leading a group of people or an organization (verb)
-the state or position of being a leader (noun)

There are a massive number of books on file regarding various forms of leadership philosophies and techniques. They originate from all walks of life, professions, and have different ends in mind. They may be created by scholars, historians, military Generals, CEO’s, and the quacks looking to capitalize on financial gain.

The leadership training phenomenon is not new, but it is a financial cash cow. Seminars tout leadership self-actualization and offer fancy certificates as proof of indoctrination into whatever drivel is spewed for the duration of the session.

In my personal experience, leadership isn’t derived from text or occupying a seat in a room.  No one who goes cover-to-cover on a book or attends a seminar walks away a leader. You can attend the highest rated, most recommended course, but if you are a self-centered prick when you walk in the room, chances are you will leave a self-centered prick with a certificate.

I’m not totally decrying the institution of leadership as a field of study. The books and seminars have a place, and good leadership principles can be gleaned in that way. But the actual act of leading isn’t an academic endeavor. You can’t lead without getting your hands dirty.

I have encountered a good number of folks with plaques and certificates cluttering the space of their offices.  I’ve yet to leave those offices that are covered in “I love me” bullshit with the sense that any of them would be worth a damn when the chips were down. I don’t care what clever leadership quote accompanies your e-mail signature line; if you don’t practice what you preach, you’re no leader.

In my line of work, those in ranking positions are assumed to be leaders by those on the outside.  We wear rank insignia and special badges to be identifiable as “leaders”. At my agency, the patrol cars even tout “Supervisor” decals so the general public can stand in awe of the patrol division’s Lieutenants and Sergeants.  The fact of the matter is that you can polish a turd all day, dress it up fancy and call it by a different name, but if you start with a turd you’ll finish with the same, no matter the accouterments.

This isn’t a law enforcement-specific phenomenon. Our society is completely lacking in the leadership world, just look at the idiot politicians who are jockeying for presidential nominations and my point is made. There has been a shift in our world that has brought us away from personal accountability and true life experiences.

We now march to the beat of a technological drum rather than reveling in personal struggle and sacrifice. It’s no longer a production and results driven world, it’s social media “likes” and public perception that rule.

We safeguard our children from every possible failure and blame everyone else when something doesn’t go our way. When folks get caught doing or saying something wrong, we let them issue statements of apology and pass the buck rather than taking ownership and accountability.

Don’t talk to me about your leadership philosophy that is rooted in buzzwords like “servant leadership” while you sit on your ass and do nothing for anyone on a daily basis. Don’t tell me the funny quip from your leadership seminar because I don’t care if you will do nothing but hang a new certificate on your wall and be proud of your accomplishments in successfully maintaining enough oxygen and blood flow to sit through the class in a semi-lucid fashion.

Real leaders understand that they work for their subordinates, not the other way around. Real leaders don’t talk about sacrificing for their people, they do it. In any group of humans, a true leader isn’t appointed and anointed by virtue of rank. A true leader rises to the occasion and assumes the role irregardless of those things in order to achieve the mission at hand.  A leader may wear a special rank insignia or they may not, being able to convince a promotion board is no indication of actual performance.

You’ll find the leader when everything is going to shit at 100 mph; he or she will be the one who is organizing and leading irregardless of the weight of the shiny stuff on a collar or an impressive “I love me” wall. People naturally gravitate towards the leader.

I’ve had my shortcomings and failures as a leader. I learn from them and do my best not to repeat them. I’ve read books on leadership and sat in classes and seminars, but you won’t find any certificates or plaques on my wall. I lead. I don’t need acknowledgement or pats on the back. It’s my job and I’m pretty good in a pinch.

If you count yourself as a person in a leadership position but feel intimidated by the competency of your subordinates, you’re wrong. Have an “out of office” experience and learn some things on the job to increase your own competence or go away.  Now.

We’re fortunate enough to have folks in blue uniforms that go in the direction of danger while others flee. They deserve the best we, the anointed “supervisors” can offer. They will surely support you if they receive support in kind.  If they don’t receive leadership from the anointed, they will rise to the occasion when the crisis happens, because that’s what cops do.  Some of the best leaders in law enforcement will never be in a car with a “Supervisor” decal.

It’s easily summed up by a phrase on an old t-shirt that I’ve had for nearly two decades:  “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way”.  

Time to go patrol the Donut…


About donutcountycop

I am a husband, father, and coach who began a career in law enforcement at a very small agency in 2003. After a deployment to Iraq with the USMC reserve in 2004, I changed agencies and moved to a “donut county” that borders a major US city in 2006. My current agency is composed of about 50 sworn officers, and is the busiest agency in our part of the donut. I am currently a mid-level supervisor who is in charge of a night shift, and serve the department in many other areas that include SWAT, FTO, and primary instruction. I’ve been around long enough to lose the illusion that I have every answer to every problem and now fully understand that my experiences have prepared me for little else than a life of wearing a badge and pistol.
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