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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:

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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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