Thoughts on Leadership

To Members of the YPD,
Leadership is a necessary but elusive quality. Many people, much more eloquent and educated than I, have studied and written about leadership. Are leaders born or made? Can leadership be taught? What are the qualities of a great leader? What is the difference between leadership and management? These are some of the topics leadership research and literature have attempted to define and explain.
As I wrote in my last article, I was influenced by many leaders in my life and career. None of these people will appear in history books. They were just everyday people going about their daily lives, but they all demonstrated great leadership qualities to varying degrees.
No organization lasts very long or is very effective without good leadership. This is especially true in policing because the stakes are so high. People's lives hang in the balance, so effective leadership is imperative, particularly in critical circumstances.
What makes a good leader? What qualities should we look for or try to develop? Is there a difference between leading a project and leading a tactical operation? Why do people follow some leaders unhesitatingly and not others?
Some years ago, I read a book titled "The Stuff of Heroes" written by retired Major General William Cohen. He surveyed military leaders to see what qualities they admired in leaders and developed the "Eight Universal Laws of Leadership." Many of the concepts Cohen wrote about are directly applicable to police leadership and are qualities we should look for and try to develop in our leaders. Here they are:
  • Demonstrate Absolute Integrity: If you ask most people what character traits they expect police officers to have, they would answer honesty, integrity or something along those lines. We should expect nothing less from our leaders. Leaders without integrity are morally bankrupt and are ineffective.
  • Know Your Stuff: Competency, job knowledge, situational awareness and analytical ability are all essential traits for leaders. An incompetent leader is bound to fail.
  • Declare Your Expectations: How can people do what you want if they don't know what you want? Too many leaders fall prey to the "we don't know what we want but we'll know it when we see it" trap.
  • Demonstrate Extraordinary Commitment: Lead by example. If you don't care, why should anyone else?
  • Expect Positive Results: The Pygmalion effect. If you expect failure, you'll get it.
  • Take Care of Your People: Good leaders are the first ones in and the last to leave. They make sure their people are fed and rested before them. They know that people are the organization's most important resource.
  • Put Duty Before Yourself: Do what you need to do. Build your team. Make sacrifices, if necessary.
  • Get Out in Front: By definition, you can't lead from behind. You need to get face time with your people.
This is a good starting point for both aspiring and current leaders. Effective leadership is a critical factor in all organizations but especially in policing. Life-long learning and the study of leadership will go a long way in assuring that the profession advances and meets the challenges of the future.

"The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday!"

Michael Patten, CSSP
Assistant Chief of Police Operations
Yale University Police Department