Understanding the Dark Side of Leadership: Remedying the 7 Errors of Leadership Behaviors in Policing Part III


Part III

 “Conflict and callous politics drive famine.” ~ Winnie Byanyima


Brian Ellis, Anthony H. Normore, & Mitch Javidi – National Command and Staff College

What happens when the leader of an organization or unit does not attend to the needs of his or her people? Worse still, what happens when the leader is not seen by his or her people, and when they are around, do not pay particular attention to anyone?  One of the most dangerous recipes for disorder in any organization is the lack of people skills and failing to make your workforce feel important. Discarding people destroys performance and minimizes any significant plans for the department. The authors argue that effective leaders must be physically and emotionally available to employees if their organizations are to be successful.

Even more frustrating is when a leader of a police organization who pays little attention to their employees showers the community with attention and promises.  But will that leader be able to deliver on any promise he or she makes to the community without the full support of their staff? Moreover, what message is being displayed above?  The authors propose that this scenario is a significant shortfall of leadership for a few reasons. First, one cannot simply make promises to a community while having no ability to readily mobilize the workforce that will represent the vast majority of the work any police organization ultimately does.  These promises are void merit, and only serve the person who make them.  Second, the message one sends when they discount the very people needed to carry out service is a message that they are unimportant.  One significant role a police leader has to his or her organization is being a champion of their people.  In doing so, they create vigor and energy for the workforce to carry out the mission at hand.

The Dark Side of Leadership Issue 3 – Callousness

In the third installment of dark leadership that impedes the best in leadership, we will examine the pitfalls of the callous leader and how they negatively impact police organizations. 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 the third of a seven-part series, illuminating light on the seven errors of leadership behaviors.  We will explore the seven types, what they are and look like. We will attempt to promote the best in leadership for police organizations and hopefully eradicate some poor leadership qualities along the way.

Professor Kellerman has identified callous leaders as the third of the seven types of bad leaders (Johnson, 2012).  Callous leaders may be competent, but they are unyielding, sometimes uncaring, unable to accept new ideas, information, or change (Johnson, 2012).

The issues the callous leader makes for an organization

The callous leader brings a host of issues to the workplace, but the glaring issue is the ability for subordinates to trust that the leader has their interest at heart.  One key ability for trust to be developed is the ability of people to feel vulnerable with one another.  Vulnerability is one of the most undervalued and misunderstood of all human qualities (Lencioni, 2010). When a leader (or any employee for that matter) comes off as cold or uncaring, people will be reluctant to be vulnerable with each other, leading to less learning and growth, or worse yet; not asking for help when they need it. An erosion of trust leads to a host of organizational issues including a lack of candor, learning, creativity, and ownership (Lencioni, 2002).  Ellis and Normore (2015) argue the primary starting point for developing leaders is that the leader has to care, and influencethe followers to care (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). This trait extends to caring about followers (i.e., influenced) and championing them in their own activities for growth and development. A key trait identified repetitively in the literature is on leaders’ self-aggrandizement where leaders use their followers to make themselves look good and get ahead resulting in lack of care for the needs of the followers. If a leader has the focus on championing themselves then we argue that this is a self-help program and not genuine leadership. The other aspect of caring was that the leader needs to care and champion the compelling cause of the team towards excellence.

Fixes for the callous leader

One thing for a leader to remember is that no plan, system, or process dictates organizational success or failure; it’s the people (Carnegie, 1936). Organizational energy is built through empowering and believing in people.  It is the reason coaches provide a pep talks prior to a game and lifting up the spirits of their respective teams at halftime while making adjustments. Voicing to your people that you believe in them builds and empowers people to stand and deliver results. This never happens through words alone, and a leader must always do the little things to show their people they believe in and notice them; after all – leadership is the ultimate act of love (Ellis, 2015). As a leader, the people you lead are always watching for clues of how invested you are in them, and at first sight that a leader is not, they lose the opportunity to truly engage their people. Recognizing people is a show of respect.  Michael Lee Stallard (2007) illustrates this perfectly in his book Fired Up or Burned Out:

When people are shown respect in the work place and their real talents and contributions are genuinely recognized, they become fired up. They put their hearts into their work. Being consistently disrespected or ignored damages their sense of self-worth and drives them to seek ways to restore their status.  If they are unable to, they eventually become disengaged (p. 12).

Finally, a great leader shows his greatness by the way they treat those in which they have a level of control over. Influencer Dale Carnegie (1936) proved this in his acclaimed book How to Win Friends and Influence People;the deepest urge in human nature is to feel important. Psychologist Alfred Alder (as quoted in Carnegie, 1936) suggests that it is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.

Final reflections

In the wise words of Maya Angelou (n.d.), “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Leadership is the ultimate emotional tool, and one must understand that people are creatures of emotion, not logic (Carnegie, 1936).  Because of this, toxic behaviors like callousness have no place in leadership. Once one becomes callous, it’s a corrosive element that reduces the effectiveness of any leader; no matter how competent (Watt, Javidi, & Normore, 2015).  The primary goal of any leader is for people to buy into the mission of the organization, and without them, the organization cannot get to where the leadership is attempting to go.  Of course callous leaders can fudge the progress of any plan, ultimately it will sink without the heart of the people.



Angelou, M. (n.d.). Quote on how you make others feel.  Retrieved fromhttps://www.goodreads.com/quotes/5934-i-ve-learned-that-people-will-forget-what-you-said-people

Carnegie, D. (1936). How to win friends and influence people. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

Ellis, B. (2105). The leadership lesson of love. Retrieved online from https://cpoa.org/leadership-lesson-love/Ellis, G., & Normore, A.H. (2015). Performance management strategies for effective leadership in law enforcement: An accountability process. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Retrieved from, http://leb.fbi.gov/2015/february/performance-management-strategies-for-effective-leadership-an-accountability-process

Johnson, C. (2012). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow.  4thEdition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make  extraordinary things happen in organizations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lencioni, P. (2010). Getting naked: A business fable about shedding the three fears that sabotage client loyalty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Stallard, M. (2007). Fired up or burned out: How to reignite your team’s passion, creativity, and productivity. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Watt, R., Javidi, M., & Normore, A.H.(2015). Identifying and combatting organizational leadership toxicity. California Peace Officer: Journal of California Law Enforcement, 49(2)



Understanding the Dark Side of Leadership:  Remedying the 7 Errors of Leadership Behaviors in Policing Part III


Understanding the Dark Side of Leadership:  Remedying the 7 Errors of Leadership Behaviors in Policing Part III

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