Re-Thinking the Formula of Picking Leaders

In this particular publication we will be speaking about certain signs that leaders and professionals should be looking at and taking seriously.

Here is the issue.

Quality people are leaving law enforcement at a faster rate than can be replenished and neither department nor the public can afford that.

These quality police officers are feeling frustrated and stuck. There are many reasons for this. Some of those are big overall reasons and others are small but cumulative.

Those that understand this field know that for the most part “what is wrong” with the profession is not complex in nature.

That in the grand scheme of things most issues that the profession deals with are “easy fixes.” All that is needed is action.

Changing these small things will cause the big change that is needed.

As Tony Robbins says (paraphrase) success is only millimeters away. What I would like to add to that is that if action is never taken then success will always be millimeters away.

Those millimeters feel like miles to the rank and file that is trying to make a difference but are incapacitated by nearsighted leaders.

Law enforcement is a great field. It must be reiterated that it is the purpose of this publication to reflect on some of the issues and offer plausible insight and feasible solutions.

This document is not intended to slam the segment being analyzed. Instead its goal is to bring value to it and improve it.

After this very critical disclaimer we can proceed.

Let’s take a look at current affairs.

In terms of retention rates and performance police leadership should be scrambling to find a solution, but they don’t seem to be.

What does a sports franchise do when they have one too many bad seasons? They revamp their leadership.

Likewise this profession must take a serious look at how they are selecting their leaders.

There is almost no denying that the way we as a profession are seeking and selecting our leaders is not producing the desired results.

We need to pay close attention to it.

What is the desired result?

From the perspective of a wide angle lens it is twofold.

The desired result for departments; is that they be able to attract and retain people to their rank and file that are motivated to grow and serve beyond their assignment.

As for the public; the desired result is that they be driven to support and participate in the public safety effort which is truly (on some level) everybody’s responsibility.

After a careful look at the formula that the profession relies on to select its leaders I am certain that we will find it to be insufficient. That when measured against the desired outcome it leaves much to be desired.

This standard must change.

Put a different way we can say the following.

What the industry has conventionally prioritized, placed value on and defined as traits of a quality leader has been discovered by many to be misleading parameters.

Let’s take a look at the top two parameters that are given the most value: time on the job and amount of assignments held.

To the novice and untrained ear it would seem that those two criterion would have substantial weight. However consider the following.

How long a professional has been in the field and what assignments they have experienced (as stand alone arguments) have been so proven in reality (time and time again) to have little correlation to leadership potential.

In fact what makes a person a good leader is the personality and value system of the individual seeking (or in) a leadership position and not the length of time that they have been existing in it.

More so it is those that even without rank seek finding ways in which they can bring value to the profession, its members and those affected by it that the profession needs in key leadership positions.

A commander candidate that does not pursue growth on a continuous basis, have drive for daily self improvement and the proactive desire to master the craft should not be allowed to lead officers.

This regardless of time on the force and assignments held. Although existing in something for a very long time may imply experience it is not synonymous of it.

The type of person that we allow to be a leader of or within a department is transcendental because it is they that will ultimately determine the: mission, vision and priorities of the department.

So naturally if the leader doesn’t value: training, tactics, innovation, education, morale, respect and compassion the department will be void of those things.

When departments are void of these things officers that seek or possess these valuable attributes will not be drawn to work for or stay with these organizations.

And the downward spiral begins and continues.

It is critical that departments from the chief down attract quality people because the quality of individual will determine the quality of service. And the quality of leader will determine what can be expected from the officers.

What makes certain departments greater than others is not the quantity of services that they offer it is the quality of people they have extending them.

What makes chiefs and other law enforcement leaders great is not their; credentials, years on the force or the amount of units they may have served on.

Instead it is their outlook on life, their insight of the profession and the constant pursuit of growth and betterment of self and others. These are the things that make those select few great leaders.

That is why how we select leadership is monumental.

It is a fair assumption to say that departments aspire to attract and retain quality people. Regretfully the current formula is failing us. We will show some paraphrased excerpts from actual job announcements which will hopefully illustrate the point.

After each excerpt we will reflect.

The first ad reads something like this.

Department seeks police Chief. Ten to twenty years of progressive experience at the supervisory and management level.

Experienced in all aspects of a police department, a master at budgeting, considerable administrative, investigative and patrol experience and etc..

Let’s put these requirements in context by asking ourselves the following contextually logical questions. How many chiefs of police do you see on a SWAT or narcotics raid? How many chiefs of police do you see patrolling? How many chiefs do you see negotiating at the scene of an ongoing crime?

The answer to all those questions is almost never?

Why then do we hold massive experience in those areas as vital to giving somebody a chance to lead?

We can probably all agree that the best chiefs and police leaders that we know don’t fit the mold of the ads that we see.

In fact the best chiefs of police that I have met and heard of had qualities that were not even mentioned in the ad and quite frankly more critical than those that were.

These law enforcement executives that I mentioned did two things extremely well.

They made certain that every unit that existed in their department was being led by an expert and that there be a constant flow of information from the ground troops to their office.

This is to ensure that the worker has the training and tools needed to do the job.

For how can a leader hold their people responsible if they are not response-able?

It is because of those two things and not because those leaders may have been a precinct commander or CID lieutenant in the past that those departments ran smoothly.

A chief of police or any leader do not themselves have to have all the knowledge to be a good leader. That the best leaders are: self driven, care about people and are resourceful.

A wise chief that invests in the people under him or her will receive a like investment from the rank and file in the vision and accomplishment of the mission.

Here is the next ad.

Department seeks lieutenant.

Ten years of increasingly responsible experience in law enforcement. Must have an associate degree. Have three years of supervisory experience. Must have supervised sworn and non sworn personnel at various levels for at least seven years.

Again a good lieutenant is not such on the merit of the positions that they have held or the duration of their assignment.

As the head supervisor they must have interpersonal skills and care enough about the people doing the job and the job itself to get an in depth understanding of them.

A wise lieutenant that takes care of people under him or her will find a shift that goes above and beyond to get the job done.

The next ad.

Department seeks sergeant.

Two to three years of patrol. Preferably at the field training level. Must understand scheduling, be knowledgeable of case law and standard operating procedure.

All of the above positions not only have criteria that doesn’t quite accomplish the objective but somehow the requisites are higher than those of other positions where responsibilities are greater.

Have you ever noticed that the requirements to be the commander and chief of a country are less than those to be a sergeant, lieutenant, captain or chief?

How then can those lower positions justify maintaining their current requirements?

How is it that less is required from a person that is over and responsible for more and more is required from those that supervise and manage less?

So we ponder again.

Do years doing something really equate to knowledge and value? Or is it the quality of person and their work ethic that really signifies the most?

I am certain that you know professionals in every field (because we all do) that have thirty years on any given job and are still clueless.

I believe that to lead above all you must care about people more than the mission. You must lead with sound tactics and purpose. All the rest can be learned. That takes humility and willingness. It also requires knowledge of structure, being a good judge of character and delegator.

The question should not be how long you have been employed in law enforcement or even how many units have you been in.

“The credibility of an agency will never exceed the credibility of its officers.”

More so the question should focus on what value was brought by them (the aspiring leader) to the agency, unit or the process before they held rank.

It is only those quality individuals that bring or seek to bring value that will be the leaders that have what it takes to motivate and direct the rank and file beneath them to do the same.

Although success is only millimeters away it is unattainable until we start moving in that direction.

The credibility of an agency will never exceed the credibility of its officers. And the foundation of the credibility of the department’s leaders rests on the performance of the subordinate rank and file.

Eric Aguiar LLB is an author in the field, having several publications with Law Enforcement Today and two books on Amazon.

One of his publications was featured on Western Illinois University’s local online editorial (part of an executive law enforcement program) while others have been used as a reference training tool by various institutions. It is his personal and professional mission to get this information to all law enforcement in this state and eventually the country.

One of his objectives is to bridge the disparity that exists between the public’s expectation of police services and what a department is actually capable of. 
This is accomplished on the public safety side by developing and implementing rigorous training modules at the patrol officer level in the following areas: patrol strategy, small team tactics, negotiation and SWAT. 
This is accomplished at the public’s level by developing and implementing rigorous training modules available to the community through seminars and police lead public safety exercises. 

In an active emergency every component (police and public) have a role.
A more informed and prepared public will pave the way to a safer community and a more productive police/citizen encounter.
And a better trained police force will prove itself to be the best customer service, because it enables us to serve at the highest standard.

He strongly believes in leadership as one of the most critical components of any mission and encourages all members without or with rank to perfect their leadership and tactical skills. 

Eric is currently working on a curriculum that teaches officers of all ranks and positions to be Tactical Police Leaders.

He looks forward to bringing value to the lives of those in his profession as well as those affected by it.