Leadership development at agencies starts with the hiring process, and continues through the individual officer’s career. The responsibility of leader development is a team effort consisting of the agency, leaders and individual officers. The fundamentals of leader development—training, experience and education—should be institutionalized at your agency.
Hiring Process & Training
Agencies should hire entry level officers to establish the next generation of leadership within that agency. With that goal in mind, agencies should also determine which attributes, characteristics and experience the candidates should possess.
Upon initial entry of officers into agencies, the initial training phase (basic law enforcement academies and FTO programs) is well documented. Agencies must take advantage of this documentation, and gleam from those evaluations and reports for leadership potential for each one of their new officers.
In agency-level, performance-oriented training, understand that each training event is an evaluation—a developmental opportunity for officers. Therefore, agencies should establish standard after action reviews that identifies officer proficiency and areas in need of improvement.
Agencies should also establish performance counseling that supports their evaluation system. Evaluations aren’t counseling and shouldn’t be used as counseling. Evaluations are legal and permanent fixtures in an officer’s career. Therefore, minor areas of improvement, or areas that were corrected in the process of an evaluation period, shouldn’t be used in an evaluation to conduct counseling. This defeats the purpose of counseling and sets subordinates up for failure. Counseling can be established as a quarterly, tri- or bi-annually occurrence. The counseling is used as supporting documentation for evaluations. Agencies are responsible for the set up of the agency counseling program. The plan should, at minimum, establish procedures, formats and record keeping guidelines.
What’s a Leader?
Leaders are the primary trainers in implementing the agencies training programs. Therefore the leader must be a subject matter expert, competent trainer, evaluator and counselor. Again, every training opportunity, whether formal or informal is an evaluation. Leaders need to establish succession of leadership in training to provide training experience in leadership.
The leader’s responsibility in the leadership development of their subordinates starts with some basic principles:
Lead by example
Take responsibility for developing subordinate leaders
Create a learning environment for subordinate leaders
Train leaders in the art and science of mission command
Train to development adaptive leaders
Train leaders to think critically and creatively
Train your leaders to know their subordinates and their families
(U.S. Army FM 7-0 Training Units and Developing Leaders for Full Spectrum Operations. pg. 2–7, Table 2-2)
These leadership principles are applicable to other professions other than law enforcement. A leader is a leader—whether they’re responsible for the protection of the National Security Interests of the U.S., conducting civilian policing or building widgets.
Ideally, leaders should use their authority to delegate tasks to their subordinates in order to give them real-world experience. These can be as simple as administrative duties, trainer duties, patrol tactical duties, etc. Make sure to weigh the complexity and criticalness of the task with the individual subordinate’s skills and experience. Also, understand that as the leader, you can delegate authority, but you’re responsible for the results or actions of the subordinate in that role. Leaders also conduct periodic performance counseling in guidance with the agency performance counseling program.
The subordinate’s personal responsibility in his or her professional leadership development is multi-pronged. The individual officer must utilize the education, training and experience model. One area that the individual officer is almost in complete control of is his civilian education. Officers should establish a civilian education plan that establishes short-term and long-term goals. Officers should also tell their first line leader their areas of interest in advanced professional training, as well as identify specialties they’re interested in, such as bike team, dive team, SWAT, School Resource Officer, etc. Officers need to go into counseling sessions with clear and focused goals. Those goals should be separated into short-term and long-term goals.
Leadership development should be a comprehensive plan established in all agencies. It’s the key in establishing strong, educated, trained and experienced formal and informal leaders.