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 a Senior Training Officer and the Coordinator for Career Development Programs for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Training and Standards Bureau. Barry is responsible for the development, maintenance, and  implementation of leadership and management education programs for all levels of Wisconsin statewide law enforcement. Barry is also 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 hold’s a Master of Science Degree in Management and writes extensively on issues related to leadership and management in law enforcement agencies. He has extensive experience as an instructor and conference presenter on a variety of law enforcement topics, and is the founder and owner of Police Leadership Resources and the Policeleaders.com website. 

Barry retired from active law enforcement with over thirty years of experience, including fourteen years of supervisory experience. 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, among others. His career accomplishments include two Outstanding Service Awards, an Exemplary Performance Award, and the Department Award for Bravery. 

Contact Barry Reynolds

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  2. Leadership
  3. Management
  4. Evergreen

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