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Leadership Personality

Your ego may be stifling your ability to lead

Lt. Jim Glennon | Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What’s the biggest obstacle to overcome in order for you to lead effectively?

It’s not budgets.

It’s not educational restrictions.

It’s not having the wrong people to lead.

It’s not having a lousy boss yourself.

It’s not the money you make or the assignment you’re given.

While all of the above may be challenges, the greatest, most formidable obstacle to overcome in order to truly lead is one thing … your personality.

I’ve written about this before in other venues, but the more I read, learn, experience, and the more seminars I facilitate about leadership, the more convinced I am that personality is the greatest obstacle to becoming an effective leader.

Purpose of a Police Supervisor

In our Finding the Leader in You seminar, at the very start, I ask all in the room to list the primary purpose of a police supervisor, emphasizing that I’m looking for a purpose or reason for the existence of the position—not a trait. I tell them to name three, then prioritize them in one minute.

In most seminars, we have line-level officers/non-supervisors in the class who also complete the exercise.

When all are done, I begin pointing to random people and asking them to give me their law enforcement rank and their answers in priority. Supervisors’ answers go on one flip-chart while non-supervisors’ answers go on another. Responses you would expect are on the supervisors’ list: “lead by example,” “make them work,” “mentor,” “coach,” “counsel,” “make sure paperwork is complete” and “train and discipline” are common. If the supervisor is higher in rank, his answers usually include, “budget,” “manpower allocation,” “vision” and “delegation.”

I love this quick exercise because it starts a conversation especially when I point out the priorities and purposes on the chart from the non-supervisors’ list. Always, and I mean always, the following things make that list: “make a decision,” “train,” “know the job,” “be involved,” “mentor,” “walk-the-talk,” “don’t be a hypocrite,” “lead by example,” “integrity,” “know who I am,” “say positive things,” “give recognition,” “know what’s important” and “tell me what to do.”

After directing attention to that list, I ask this simple question of the supervisors in attendance: What are these people saying? And most always somebody shouts out immediately: “They want to be led.

My follow-up to the non-supervisors: “Is that what you want, leadership?” And their collective response is, “Yes.” Sometimes, someone will add: “The right kind of leadership, not micromanagement.”

At the end of that discussion, I ask the supervisors to look at their own lists, the ones they just completed.  I ask a question and then make a statement:

The Question: How many of you wrote down, “Making sure my officers go home at night?” Who wrote down, “Officer Safety?”

The Statement: It doesn’t matter what you wrote down. What matters is what would the people who work directly for you write down if I asked them to name your top three priorities?

From about 2002 to 2007 I conducted a survey of 15 questions in many of my line-level courses. I had close to 2000 responses to the questions that were, for the most part, open-ended non-multiple choice. My favorite question was question 13: What is the most important thing to your immediate supervisor reference your day-to-day activities and behavior?

To my shock, the number one answer by approximately 45% of those 2,000 respondents was some form of, Stay out of trouble.” Variations were, “Avoid citizen complaints,” “Don’t piss anybody off” and “I don’t want to hear anything negative from citizens today.”

My follow-up question to the group is always: “So what’s the best way to stay out of trouble?” The collective answer: “Don’t do anything.”

The problem with the don’t-do-anything plan is that it runs smack dab into the number two most popular answer: Activity (stats, numbers, tickets, quotas, something-they-can-measure-at-the-end-of-the-month, etc.).

Now look at the conundrum here. What’s the mission of almost half the police officers hitting the street? And I mean mission, not the thing hanging on a wall in an expensive frame that no one can recite. The mission is what officers think they are supposed to be doing when they begin their shifts. And, according to them, what is that? Well, they know they have to do something, but the important thing is not pissing anybody off while doing it.

That’s the mission for a large number of officers patrolling America’s streets: do something but don’t get any complaints while doing it.

And where, pray tell, do they get this mission? Easy: from the people who are supposed to be leading them.

By the way, the other most popular answers in order are:

  1. Paperwork (get it in on time, put the correct paperclip on it, write them this way, etc.)
  2. Something to do with squad cars (gas them, don’t wreck them, keep them clean)
  3. Uniforms (cleaned, polished, sharp)

The percentage of officers who said their safety was the top priority of their immediate supervisors? Approximately 3%. Three percent!

Don’t Let Ego Get in the Way

My father—and I talk about this in every single leadership class—provided me with one of life’s “sliding-door” moments. After making sergeant, I drove to his house to show-off my shiny new gold badge. An ex-Chicago cop and an opinionated Irishman, he took me aside and dispensed some sage advice.

“Listen Sarge, the only reason you exist is to help your officers do their jobs!” he said with more emotion than I could remember him ever showing. “You take care of your people! That’s your damn job now! They didn’t invent sergeants because they needed to put stripes on some sleeves! You exist for one reason and one reason only: to help your officers do their jobs! In order to do that, they have to trust you.”

This is a real conversation that I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but I was taken aback by his emotion and determination to make me understand. He continued, “You work for your officers, they don’t work for you! You’re in charge, you have authority, but you most certainly work for them. Your job now is to help them do theirs.”

He went on to tell me about some of the horrendous bosses he had and that no amount of training, experience or education could change what stopped them from being leaders: their personalities, their egos and their own personal belief systems.

Final Notes

Do you have any idea how many management, leadership, and general supervisory books and seminars there are out there? Never in our law enforcement history have we had more managers holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety, The FBI National Academy, The Southern Police Institute, and many other highly recognized institutions are educating and graduating Police Managers at a record pace. So what’s the problem? Why do we still have so many lousy leaders?

Personality. Apparently, you can’t easily educate the ego out of someone.

I worked with, or for, supervisors that sometimes I hated and sometimes I felt sorry for. Some seemed like they wanted to improve. They were intelligent, driven and deliberate in thinking at times. Sometimes they seemed to care deeply for the people that worked for them, and at other times they seemed to view those same people as a necessary evil. What kept getting in their way was personality.

Personal assessment and evaluation is difficult but has to be done. It needs to be a constant. Ask yourself which parts of your natural personality are an asset and which parts simply make you an ass. Overcome your shortcomings, and recognize what stops you from succeeding. Remember what my dad said: “The only reason you exist is to help your officers do their jobs.” That doesn’t mean you don’t discipline and sometimes fire those who need it. But if your personality stops you from leading, you will never succeed at your primary job: helping them do theirs.


Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is an author, award winning columnist, nationally known instructor and owner of LifeLine Training & the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. Glennon is the third generation in a family of law enforcement officers, and had a 30-year career with the Lombard (Ill.) Police Department. He was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force in 1998. Lt. Glennon has a BA in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Police Management. A graduate of the Staff and Command College at Northwestern University Jim was elected class president, won the prestigious Kreml Leadership award and upon graduation immediately joined the adjunct instructor staff. 

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Lt. Jim Glennon

Lt. Jim Glennon, a third generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He is the owner of The Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. He is the author of Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.


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