How to lead without draining the life-blood from your officers

General Norman Schwarzkopf “managed” a million different things during his career, and every one of those million things involved people — and before he managed any of those people, he led them

I always hesitate to describe my management style when asked because while I think I know what answer the questioner is looking for, my interpretation of the question doesn’t lend itself to an easy and concise answer. I’ve always referred to the philosophy that leadership and management are not one and the same. As the late General Norman Schwarzkopf says, “You manage things and you lead people.”

On the surface, this makes perfect sense. While teaching leadership I’ve often reinforced this theorem with the correlating question, “Would you rather be managed, or led?” No one wants to be managed. When used in this context, the term “manage” diminishes the leader-follower relationship and makes it less personal. Conversely, we all want to be led by strong, effective, and influential leaders. So my inclination when asked about my management style is to reply with the question, “Do you mean my leadership style?”

By changing the context of the question I can present an answer that closely mirrors my views on leadership and its ability to influence others — which I believe is the focus of the original question.

Leadership, Management, People, and Things
Are leadership and management mutually exclusive terms, one having to do entirely with the personnel resources and the other involving only inanimate objects? If our primary organizational role is that of a leader of people and not a manager of things, does that mean that our management style is completely irrelevant?

With all due respect to General Schwarzkopf, couldn’t it be possible that we can manage people in addition to managing things?

One of the reasons that leadership advocates have come to abhor the term “management” is that the word has come to symbolize over-management, micromanagement, and bureaucracy.

We occasionally see this in those police organizations in which we over-policy and micro-manage as a means of retaining control over our people and resources.

Command, Control, and Coordination
This is especially common in command-and-control agencies that centralize the power and decision making functions at top of the organizational structure. Over-management, over-control, and bureaucratic babysitting are established as the organizational norms, and our reliance on them becomes even more necessary as they steadily drain the motivational life-blood from our personnel.

As a result, we gradually lose the leadership influence that is necessary to motivate and sustain performance.

That’s not management; that’s bad management.

Effective management within a police agency is primarily concerned with putting the right people in the right place and with the right resources, with the goal of creating positive public safety outcomes.

Ironically, the first component in this definition of police management is the very component that we are not supposed to manage: people. You start to get a sense of the misunderstanding that nearly always happens when we try to assess management styles or, worse yet, when we try to separate them from leadership styles.

It is essential that we both lead and manage within our police agencies, and that is especially true for the human resources within our police agencies. We lead so that we can have an influence on the motivation, satisfaction, and performance of those whose efforts we use to achieve organizational goals. We manage those efforts — and the personnel resources that supply them — to ensure that they are in the best position to be successful.

Remember that among the key outcomes of effective leadership is the empowerment that we provide to others, coupled with the motivation that comes from a sense of shared vision and destiny. When they are empowered and inspired, the task of managing people becomes less about command and control, and more about coordination.

Fuel for Your Ship
Inspired and empowered employees are the fuel for our organizational ship. Once they are on board, we can effectively manage and navigate towards our agency goals without fear of drifting off course. Without that fuel, however, we are eventually going to be forced to pull out our overly-bureaucratic command-and-control oars.

The great General Schwarzkopf was right. If all we do is manage, all we will manage are things. General Norman Schwarzkopf “managed” a million different during his illustrious career, and every one of those million things involved people — before he managed any of those people, he led them.

How do I describe my management style?

First I lead. Then I manage.

About the author

Barry Reynolds is an author, instructor, and the owner of Police Leadership Resources and the website. Barry retired from active law enforcement with over thirty years of experience, including fourteen years of supervisory experience. Barry is a certified instructor with the International Association of Chief’s of Police in the prestigious Leadership in Police Organizations Program, the flagship leadership development program of the IACP. Barry is an independent instructor with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, teaching leadership to law enforcement officers statewide. He writes extensively on issues related to leadership and management in law enforcement agencies. 

Barry hold’s a Master of Science Degree in Management and is a Certified Project Manager. He is a graduate of the Law Enforcement Executive Development Institute and the IACP’s Leadership in Police Organizations (LPO) Program. He is an adjunct professor with the University of Phoenix and has been an instructor and presenter at state and national training conferences. His police leadership website,, has a growing audience of law enforcement leaders from the United States and has had visitors from over 4o other countries. 

During his active law enforcement career Barry served as both a patrol and investigative supervisor, and also held positions as the 911 Communications Supervisor and Field Training Unit Supervisor. As detective supervisor, Barry coordinated an eighteen-month investigation with the U.S. Marshals Service that led to the fugitive capture of Wisconsin’s Most Wanted Sex Offender. Through his expertise in policy and program development he wrote the department’s Recruit Officer Field Training and Evaluation Program, which has been used as a model field training program by other police agencies. He also wrote an extensive investigative response plan for responding to incidents of missing and abducted children, and created and trained a departmental investigative response team specifically for missing children investigations. His investigative and training manual was later approved for publication by the Department of Justice and the Wisconsin Attorney Generals office and is available to all law enforcement officers in the state. As a recognized expert in the field, Barry was selected by the Wisconsin Department of Justice to serve on the committee that created the Wisconsin Child Abduction Response Team Program. He later served as the coordinator of the police department’s Neighborhood Officer Program and led the development of the department’s Strategic Policing Plan.  

Upon his retirement from active law enforcement, the City of Middleton, Wisconsin issued a Proclamation in his honor for his distinguished career of public service. His career accomplishments included two Outstanding Service Awards, an Exemplary Performance Award, the Department Award for Bravery, and the State of Wisconsin Amber Alert Award for the successful recovery of three abducted children. 

Contact Barry Reynolds

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