Leadership by Jason Hopkin
About ASCT
2018 Conference Classes
2018 Free Online Classes
Therapy and Service Certifications
Law Enforcement Certifications
Public Trainer Certification
K9 Certifications
Articles: United States
Articles: Scandinavia
Articles: South America
K9 Training Referrals
Humane Society of the United States
London Hanover University

There is a reason that when one enters “Leadership” into the Google search engine that several hundred million results show up.  There are whole collegiate degrees dedicated to leadership and numerous answers to what leadership is because it is such a crucial part of an organization.  Leadership is especially important to me because I serve as a commander for an US Army Military Police Detachment and have served over 14 years as a military officer and 7 years as a civilian Sheriff’s Deputy.  I draw on many types of leadership styles, but I believe that a leader is a person that can adequately and confidently identify the needs of the organization or group and motivate the people of the organization to meet the organization’s goals and visions in such a way that they are all active participants and thus critical to the organization’s success.


Now this definition may seem difficult to achieve in a law enforcement setting, however the ultimate goal of law enforcement is keeping the citizens of the community safe, deterring crime, arresting violators of the law, and keeping the peace.  The difficulty with the leadership from a law enforcement standpoint also lies in the difficulties in achieving the aforementioned goals. 


In Fred Stephens’s 2009 article, A Legacy of Leadership, he brought about the following 3 points about leaders in law enforcement: leaders are visionaries, leaders are committed, and leaders need to trust in others.  All of these traits are essential in law enforcement.  It is important for law enforcement leaders to recognize the future and that new concepts, tools, and equipment may lead to more efficient policing and help keep their subordinates and the community safe.  His second trait, leaders are committed (2009), it is essential that a leader is committed to the organization, because without commitment a leader does not have any ethical reason to stay with the organization and therefore would not have any “buy in” to ensure future employees become the leaders of the organization.  And the third trait, Stephens discussed how leaders need to trust in others (2009).  Whether the organization is small or large, trusting in your subordinates is absolutely crucial.  As long as the leader ensures the subordinates are adequately trained to perform their assigned tasks then he needs to let them accomplish the task.  In very few cases it is acceptable to micromanage a group.  The article showed that in cases where micro managing occurred and the leader made all of the decisions, 97 percent of the time the leader made the wrong decision (Stephens, 2009).  This shows why it is essential to not micromanage the people you are assigned and trust them to do their job correctly.


This also leads to the question of leadership being a title or a position.  It is neither, leadership can and should come from all levels; however, for an organization to thrive the leadership from the top must realize this and foster a positive working environment and lead by example.  This is where leadership often fails in law enforcement.  The “leadership” at the top often times forgets the rigors and stress of street work and look at it as “that was the way it was when I was on the street” whereas the same complaints that were made by them and their peers are often times the same ones that are made decades later by their subordinates.  Unfortunately the “that’s how its always been” mentality is so prevalent in law enforcement supervisors they forget that they actually have the power to effect the changes that could benefit the overall morale of their subordinates.


I don’t have the experience of working in a large law enforcement agency; my department is miniscule compared to many with just 15 total officers, but I do have extensive experience with the military and large organizations within the military infrastructure.  What I have realized is there are many similarities to the leadership concepts and rank structure with law enforcement, compared to the military.  And with both organizations, often times the position of power is held by someone that one may not view as a leader, but must respect the position which is held.  Another scenario that plagues law enforcement is the “good ole boy network”.  Far too often does a person move, promote, or is elected into a position of power and uses that position to help their friends or those that supported them.  I’ve seen this become a huge problem in law enforcement (and oftentimes in the military) because it devalues the work ethic model where hard work pays off over time.  They move people into leadership roles that they may not be ready for, or pass over others that have worked hard to earn that role and expect that promotion, only to be passed over by a subordinate that is a “friend” of the head supervisor.


But what changes can be made to improve this situation and improve leadership?  One idea is that of transforming, or transformational, leadership, which was established by James Burns in his 1978 book, Leadership.  Transforming leadership is where the leader encourages the follower to engage or change the organization or team through self leadership, emotional “buy in” and encouragement and change, transforming the follower into a leader (Homrig, 2001).  Through transforming leadership, an environment of leadership is created through all levels of the organization or team.  This is done by encouraging the lower levels to impact long term transformation by becoming leaders and fostering an environment of change, growth and development (Anderson, Gisborne & Holliday, 2006). 


This type of leadership creates a positive work environment because everyone is working towards bettering themselves and therefore encouraging team development.  But it is not without its problems.  In order to create a transforming leadership based organization, it has to be accepted from the top down and the bottom up, which can be exceptionally hard in law enforcement.  This goes back to Stephens’ trait that leaders need to trust in others (Stephens, 2009).  In order to build that bond and trust to which there is ultimate “buy in” to the system, leaders must genuinely care about their subordinates and foster a team environment where creativity, change and growing are encouraged.  But this can be done at all levels of supervision.  If a shift supervisor is encouraging and genuinely cares about his subordinates, then they will get the encouragement to better themselves, thus creating a safer community through their effective police work.  If this is not fostered from the top and accepted from the bottom then it will not work. 


I believe that this is where effective leadership can ultimately change the law enforcement culture and that is through mentorship and effective leadership.  Only when the lower echelon is engaged in bettering their organization through effective leadership can transformation occur.  The founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, said “when the best leader’s work is done the people will say, “We did this ourselves””, which is a great example of how transforming leadership performs best (Lau Tzu quotes, thinkexist.com).


Anderson, T. D., Gisborne, K., & Holliday, P. (2006). Transforming Leadership Builds the Leadership and Learning Organization. Every Officer is a Leader: Second Edition (pp. 3-23). Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing.

Homrig, M. A. (2001). Transformational Leadership. Retrieved from http://leadership.au.af.mil/documents/homrig.htm

Lao Tzu quotations, retrieved from http://thinkexist.com/search/searchquotation.asp?search=leader&q=author%3A%22Lao+Tzu%22

Stephens, F. E. (2009). A Legacy of Leadership. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Retrieved from http://wv9lq5ld3p.search.serialssolutions.com.library.capella.edu/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=A+legacy+of+leadership&rft.jtitle=The+FBI+Law+Enforcement+Bulletin&rft.au=Stephens%2C+Fred+E&rft.date=2009-01-01&rft.pub=Federal+Bureau+of+Investigation&rft.issn=0014-5688&rft.volume=78&rft.issue=6&rft.spage=10&rft.externalDBID=n%2Fa&rft.externalDocID=202024463


Copyright ©1996 - 2018 American Society of Canine Trainers. All rights reserved.