“Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.” ~ William Gaddis
Brian Ellis, Anthony H. Normore, & Mitch Javidi – National Command and Staff College
What happens when organizations have people in positions of power who are willing to lie, cheat, or steal to ensure things get done? A pragmatic example of this is the self-interested superior who sells the hard work and ideas of others as his/her own and uses them for their own personal advancement. Furthermore, this type of power-hungry person is willing to cross any boundary including rising to the level of political corruption whereas police services are expedited, expanded beyond any normal scope, and invoking special investigative privileges where issues “go away” are offered to politically connected individuals and networks. The trading of influence equates to power and that power is often exercised in the form of corruption.
Corruption takes on many faces to include low-level forms like non-enforcement of the law and extended privileges (Davis, 1996). Police organizations find themselves in precarious positions when superiors are willing to win at all costs. These ends that justify the means approaches are dangerous recipes in the police profession – eroding the trust and confidence of everyone from line-level employees to the communities we serve (Bayley, 2010). In this sixth installment of dark leadership that impedes the best in leadership, we will examine the corrupt leader and how they negatively impact police organizations by floundering self-absorption to the point where everything is “for sale”, including integrity. Harvard professor Barbara Kellerman has identified seven types of bad leaders, and by ignoring bad leadership people undermine good leadership (Johnson, 2012). This article is part six of a seven-part series, illuminating light on the seven errors of leadership behaviors. We will explore the seven types, what they are and how they look in practice. We will attempt to promote the best in leadership for police organizations and hopefully eradicate some poor leadership qualities along the way.
The corrupt leader
Kellerman has identified corrupt leaders as the sixth of the seven types of bad leaders (Johnson, 2012). Johnson (2012) asserts that corrupt leaders will do what they need for their self-interests; including lying, cheating, or stealing. These types of leaders wield power to get what they want, and do whatever they believe necessary to get their initiatives done. This kind of corruption within leadership leads to special privileges to those who are willing to model the same types of behaviors. It sets a negative organizational tone for advancement. Corrupt leaders have a natural fear of competition because they see it as a direct threat to their own control or power. In addition, corrupt leaders have a false sense of what loyalty is; seeing it as being blindly beholden to a superior. Conversely, good leadership recognizes that people who are loyal to values and organizational purpose are better poised and capable of leading organizations.
How does it happen?
Not all corrupt leaders are created equal. Some who employ the ends that justify the means approaches to workloads might have believed that they had good intentions without fully thinking about the values being undermined along the way. What is important is to recognize how it happens, even if it began innocently and ensure police organizations are protected from the detrimental costs that come with it. Aristotle taught us that habits build character and a person who sacrifices his own principles one time becomes more likely to do it again (Ross, n.d.). One can also see that as your influence grows – so do the opportunities of corruption (Bhargava, 2005). The best option for police organizations is to understand the pathways to this type of behavior and teach the organization how to identify, and more importantly do something about it.
How can police leaders begin unwinding ill behaviors in an organization?
When faced with a leader who is wielding his/her power in a negative way, the authors suggest four priorities to eradicate the poor behavior and reset a path to integrity:
Step 1: Stop the issue
You encourage what you tolerate (Meraz, 2012). When police organizations have leaders, who are willing to do anything to get the job done – it creates tension and distrust between line-level employees and management, and encourages more of the same behavior (Sherman, 2019) where behaviors are modelled. Expecting the highest values and service of our line-level officers when they interact with the community comes with the understanding that they are likely to mirror the way in which they are treated within an organization. The attitude of the chief of police plays a significant part in the ability of good or bad leadership (Walker & Katz, 2008). The chief must pay attention in terms of how his/her leadership staff treats others and how often they are exercising good character. Identifying corrupt leadership is a challenge in of itself. One thing to keep in mind is that officers witness corrupt behaviors of superiors and are reluctant to speak out due to when they or others have been outspoken about the ills of leadership and management, their careers can be permanently impacted – leaving them to stay silent when they are treated poorly (Walker & Katz, 2008).
Step 2: Reestablish character counts
A pitfall of leadership is assuming things like character-based decisions are happening. Great leadership takes time to talk about challenges and anchors values at every opportunity, while stressing the importance of character. Character is so important because it has the ability to impact our self-image (i.e. building confidence, reducing anxiety, and having a peace of mind) as well as those we interact with (i.e. strengthening trust and reputations). Police organizations fail when the moral core deteriorates – when leadership fails to pass on its core virtues, its strength of character, to the next generation of leaders (Lickona, 2004). Because of this, police leadership must think about the character context of each decision they make. It is important to understand values and virtues develop character, but it is character that determines ones’ value (Kerr, 2013).
Step 3: Model the right character qualities and expect nothing less
Integrity is the single most important factor in policing meaning not only does police leadership need to do it; it must always be a part of everything we do (Roberg, Kuykendall, & Novak, 2002. Today’s transparent world expects police officers to have the highest integrity for the field decisions they make. How they are treated within an organization will directly impact the service they deliver. There is no place for the corrupt leader in a police organization, or in any organization, Treating people with dignity and respect is the gold standard for our profession; we can all understand and value to do the right thing for the right reasons.
Step 4: Reward the right behaviors
There is an over-emphasis on rewarding hard work. Working hard is an admirable quality, yet just because you work hard and get things done does not mean you are living a mission or vision of the organization. There are countless examples of people who work hard and do the wrong thing to get to the result. American culture is fascinated with bigger, stronger, and faster (Gleiberman, 2008); and mentality that does not always equate with the outcome’s organizations are seeking. Police leaders need to stress the importance of quality and find a good balance of quality and quantity (Serpas & Cardinal, 2019). There will always be room to do more in policing. However, if we overlook the importance of the quality of our work in every moment, then some of the traction in getting to the places we want to go is lost. Every action we take, every interaction with a citizen, every moment we’re visible is a commercial for our profession (Hillard, 2008). Winning and working hard matters, but so does how we play the game.
The dark side of police leadership encompasses those areas of unethical, unlawful and unconscionable practice in which some leaders engage. This article examined unique aspects of such practice, and took on difficult (and often ignored) topics such as lying, cheating, deliberate miscommunication, abuse of power, and recruiting and promoting unqualified personnel to leadership positions. Though not included in this work, other forms of corruption include racism, sexism, ageism, and greed.
Corruption in any form is a significant business issue that keeps police organizations from achieving their highest and best outcomes. The slightest act of abandoning one’s values to do a favor for an influential person allows the corrupt leader to live a life of tested integrity To eliminate the corrupt leader means to engage the leadership and management team in not worrying about competition, but to focus on team work and build a sense of purpose. Through the sense of purpose, leaders can focus on the the decisions we make and how we develop the plans to initiate those decisions. Finally, it is critical to call out poor behavior, model the way, and always reward acts of integrity. One thing you can always count on is if you’re a leader, your actions, behaviors, and practices are constantly watched and interpreted for meaning. As a result, police leaders always have the highest accountability to produce the police organizations their communities get. Police leaders owe it to their organizations, profession, and the communities they serve to be forever stewards of integrity.
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Bhargave, V. (2005). The cancer of corruption. World Bank Global Issues Seminar Series. Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTABOUTUS/Resources/Corruption.pdf
Davis, R. (1996). The New York city police department: The role and utilization of the integrity control officer. The City of New York Commission to combat police corruption. Retrieved from http://www.nyc.gov/html/ccpc/assets/downloads/pdf/The-NYPDs-Role-and-Utlization-of-the-Integrity-Control-Officer-December-1996.pdf
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Kerr, J. (2013). Legacy:What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life. London, UK: Little, Brown Book Group.
Lickona, T. (2004). Why character matters. Chapter two in Character matters: how to help our children develop good judgement, integrity, and other essential virtues. New York, NY: Touchstone.
Meraz, R. (2012). “Quote: you encourage what you tolerate.” California Peace Officers Standards and Training. Supervisory Leadership Institute presentation on the Rampart scandal. San Diego, CA.
Roberg, R., Kuykendall, J., & Novak, K. (2002). Police Management, 3rdEdition. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing.
Ross, W. D. (n.d.). Aristotle’s Nichomachean ethics. Retrieved from http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/courses/wphil/readings/wphil_rdg09_nichomacheanethics_entire.htm
Serpas, R., & Cardinal, E. (2019). Accountability- driven leadership: Assessing quality versus quantity. Police Chief Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/accountability-driven-leadership-assessing-quality-versus-quantity/
Sherman, F. (2019). What are the effects of bad management on employees? Retrieved from https://smallbusiness.chron.com/effects-bad-management-employees-13378.html