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10 key qualities of law enforcement leaders


February 01, 2007
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10 key qualities of law enforcement leaders


By Randy Gonzalez

Leaders are not made by human hand.

Instead, they are born with a character trait that can be developed through education, training and hard work. Leaders come into being by their own unique nature and make good use of their talents, emerging as competent members of any organization.

Not everyone can be a leader; in fact, very few exist. Most are found in the business world, military services or law enforcement–where the rubber meets the road! In the real world of success and failure–life and death, competition separates the leaders from the managers and their cousins, the supervisors. There’s a distinct difference between these three concepts. You may have good managers, even good supervisors, but leaders? That’s something special. You don’t inherit this quality, delegate it or have it handed to you. Neither do you have it by virtue of promotion or election.

You can’t buy it or give it away. The essence of a leader is mixed and molded by physical and mental traits, intelligence level, aptitude and temperament.

Leaders inspire others.

Forged by the strife of life, leaders learn to set an example. Not only do they care about the people they lead, they also possess a genuine compassion for others, and are not afraid to accept responsibility. They embrace the concept of being held accountable and accept the consequences of such. A sense of decisiveness pervades their thinking, enabling them to get things done, and they aren’t afraid of making mistakes. They’ve accepted the fact that mistakes are a part of the job. Despite obstacles, leaders normally prevail against the odds.

Leaders are able to accept what comes with dignity and humility.

They instinctively know when to fight battles and when to use diplomacy. They don’t play politics, regardless of the political heat. They know that values and ethical precepts are the foundation of leadership. As such, their sense of duty calls them toward quality vs. quantity and substance over symbolism.

Although at times, leaders are required to stand alone when others run for cover, they don’t waiver when the going gets rough, because their competence rests upon their adherence to good principles and practices.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes.

While personalities are unique, leaders educate themselves about their own style. Good leaders tend to have a forceful nature and routinely set examples for others to follow. There is a kind of magnetism about a leader that sets him apart. You can often spot a leader in a room full of people merely by his presence.

Although many people admire the attributes of leadership, some feel jealously. In any organization, there are those who plot and scheme to undermine leadership.

Leaders believe in themselves.

Knowing oneself is a foundational issue. Such notions can’t be taught in precise terms out of text books or government-sanctioned curricula–they must be experienced.

Leaders believe in the ability of their subordinates.

In the process, subordinates learn to believe in leadership. Leading by example is crucial to the leadership continuum. Leaders know when to take charge and when to delegate authority. And, when it comes to work-related productivity, a leader’s subordinates always get credit due.

Leaders are not afraid to get their hands dirty.

Effective leadership encompasses tactical and technical proficiencies. True leaders do not forget where they came from, regardless of rank. Ranking officers have a unique responsibility to demonstrate leadership this is their primary operational function.

In discussions about leadership characteristics, people often cite such things as honesty, integrity and reliability. Things like “adherence to a code of conduct” comes to mind. This is the result of a well-grounded sense of self.

When one looks in the mirror, what do they see? Do they see someone who is confident, forthright and capable? A leader does. The reality of these aspects suggests that subordinates appreciate ranking personnel who “have been there, done that and got the tee shirt.” These leaders have the ability to look out for their subordinates. One college class of criminology majors listed the following attributes: integrity, honor, professionalism, high moral character, strong code of ethics, courage, fairness, intelligence, well-educated, respectful, open minded, and understanding. The list goes on.

Leaders know how to motivate others.


They are able to create excitement and genuine pride in accomplishing an objective. In addition to motivation, some make frequent references to the care and welfare of subordinates. Good leaders look after their personnel. Police recruits point out selflessness in people they view as leaders. On the job, line officers routinely look to certain supervisors, the ones who really care about them. To suggest that law enforcement leadership follows a fixed definition is misleading.

A rigid explanation might suggest that leadership is a social order situation, where one person is in charge of another. However, a leader is more than just someone who has authority over others. Broader attributes surface and allude to a leader being something of a maverick, a risk taker, a creative personality. He isn’t afraid to venture out into new territory. Such a person is bold and imaginative and strikes a special resonance within his followers. In a society of myth, magic and metaphor, influenced by the media, politicians and mass marketing, true leaders have become something of a scarcity.

Leaders are a special breed.

And, just because you have the rank, doesn’t mean you are one. Leadership in law enforcement, government, or other haunts of life, waits to be lived by those who feel the calling. Not everyone feels the calling and not everyone answers. In fact, very few rise to the challenge.

Given the formative foundation of their early years, leaders strive to build upon their leadership strengths. Overcoming weaknesses and building upon their skills, gifts and talents, emerging leaders strive to stay at the top of the human pyramid. They are motivated to succeed, prevail and live beyond the normal, mundane and less risky modes of life. Personal motivation is at the heart of leadership. This leads to actions by example–leading by example encourages people to follow.

Leaders are like heroes and heroines they come in many forms.

When they arrive, you see something about them that stands out. The inner strength of their leadership ability emerges. A leader is on a quest, and you can see it. They want to lead their subordinates in a competent, fair and forthright manner. When necessary, they will offer acts of selfless compassion in support of their followers.

Leadership is at the top of a pinnacle of human interaction, and leaders intuitively know this. Although these lofty heights scare some, leader’s don’t mind the high altitude of social complexity. They work and produce at many levels. The more one applies his skills as a leader, the more he realizes the importance of people over processes.

Over time, a leader becomes less concerned with rank, privilege or ambition. Self-centered motivations give way to a more profound concern for others, the mission and the results. Policies, procedures and rules become less and less a fixation. Leaders know they must develop their skills on an ongoing basis. Keys to the enhancement of leadership capabilities include: self-knowledge, personal enrichment, professional proficiency, effective cohesion with subordinates, decisiveness, acceptance of responsibility, fearless accountability, provision of quality information, positive team building and a passion for action.

About the Author

Randy Gonzalez holds a Master’s Degree in Criminology and Public Administration, and a Ph.D. in Biblical Philosophy. A certified law enforcement instructor, Randy has written and published articles and training manuals related to criminal justice and law enforcement. His email address is: gonzoscti@hotail.com.
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