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April 12, 2004

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Leadership 101: The personality factor

By Mark G. Stainbrook

Even among the most well known leaders, few attain the stature of a John F. Kennedy, a Gandhi, or a George S. Patton. It strikes me that each of these individuals reached the heights of leadership in their chosen field or endeavor; Kennedy in politics, Gandhi in the equal rights movement and Patton in war. But if they had gone a different path, I wonder who would have still risen to the top. Could Gandhi have been a great military general? Could Patton have led a nation with charm and persuasion? Could Kennedy fast and serve time in prison for his beliefs?

We will never know, but each of these great leaders, operating within the bounds of their own personality, reached a pinnacle of leadership in their time and in their element. So what does this have to do with police leadership and being a police officer?

Let me tell you something about leadership that is seldom discussed. You cannot make a positive impact as a leader if you try to operate outside your personality. I don’t care what books you read, what classes you take, or if you are mentored by a slew of great leaders. The bottom line is that when you have to take charge of a group of people and lead them to successful mission completion, you have to do so as yourself.

Maybe this seems laughably simple, but the funny thing is we all have been in situations where we knew our leadership was not abiding by this principle. Have you ever seen a person try to be George C. Scott’s version of “Patton,” when you and everybody else knew he wasn’t? That is not leadership; that is acting. There is a big difference. And if there is any group of people that can sense a load of bull, it is a group of cops.

I like to use my father as an example of a leader who operated within his personality very successfully. To meet my dad, you would see a pretty average guy of about 60 who is very quiet and mild mannered, but with a good sense of humor. You may not know he served two years on a ship off the shores of Vietnam, that he served in the Navy for 42 years, or that he was in the Pentagon on September 11th and held open the fire doors while directing people to safety. Those that worked for him may not have known any of that either, but they didn’t have to. At his retirement, each person I spoke with related a story in which my old man took care of them, just did the right thing, or kept everyone’s morale up with a humorous story. And you know what else? Their unit always got the job done. That’s it. There’s bare bones leadership for you right there. Take care of your folks, get the job done. Do the morally and ethically right thing and you might as well do it with a laugh. My dad is no John Wayne and the fact that he never tried to pretend he was makes him a leadership giant in my book.

Don’t ever feel there is some expectation by those you lead or anyone else to be something you are not. My dad doesn’t expect me to lead the same way he did. He merely expects me to hold the same basic moral and ethical values. Whether you are a person with boundless energy or you are a mild-mannered intellectual, whether you are a top athlete or a computer whiz, there is no substitute for honesty, integrity, and caring—whatever your rank or position. Focus on personal growth and acquiring knowledge while making the daily commitment to become a student of leadership; then go forth and lead as the person you are.

Leadership Quote- Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.
~Julius Charles Hare

I would like to extend my sincerest sympathy to the family of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Zangas, who was recently killed in an ambush outside of Al Hillah, Iraq. It was my pleasure to serve with Lt. Colonel Zangas during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He had returned to Iraq to assist with the establishment of a free media in the country. Bob had a sincere commitment to the formation of a democracy in Iraq. He was a pleasure to work with and will be missed by his comrades. Semper Fi.

Mark G. Stainbrook is a sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department and a major in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He served tours in Kosovo and Iraq.

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