On point: It's about character
True, consistent leadership goes beyond behavior
By Bob Vernon
Like it or not, police officers are leaders in their community. They are the most visible form of government, so people look to them for leadership, and if no one else has the answer to a problem, people call a police officer. Therefore, all officers, regardless of rank, must accept this mantle of leadership and strive to earn the respect necessary to be effective in this important role.
Many agree the primary crisis in the world today is leadership, or a lack thereof. Can this crisis be conquered? What makes a powerful leader? Is it something inherited? Is it learned behavior? Can anyone acquire leadership abilities with sufficient determination?
Why do some people possess a presence that compels others to follow? What is it about them that results in a powerful ability to influence others? These questions have been asked for centuries.
In this column, I will present information about leadership gathered from a variety of sources. I've gleaned some of the information from a review of literature, both classic and contemporary. Also, while president of The Pointman Leadership Institute in Hume, Calif., I gathered data and opinions from people in leadership positions in more than 30 countries. But perhaps the most valuable insights I've gained have come through my own mistakes and occasional successful experiences in various leadership positions.
I believe the leadership crisis can and will be conquered by people who sincerely seek to understand what leadership really is and make the demanding commitment to live by its principles. You may be a field-training officer, a first-level supervisor or someone who simply wishes to measure up to your leadership role in the community as a police officer. Regardless, the word "influence" summarizes the meaning of leadership in this column, and if you want to influence anyone, this column is for you.
For example, control techniques that depend on sanctions or rewards work well when the boss is present or there's a good chance the boss will hear of the follower's actions. But true leadership, as we will define it, remains effective when the boss is not around.
Leadership continues to impact a follower when they are alone and there's little chance their actions or responsibilities, either accepted or neglected, will come to the leader's attention.
When leadership is effective, it not only impacts the follower's actions, it also influences their attitudes. Something very powerful happens: The leader succeeds in influencing how the follower thinks about an issue. The follower's level of commitment, standards or values is affected. Thus, true leadership has a lasting impact on the follower's behavior, attitudes and values.
Many leaders also value these behaviors and practice them on occasion. However, our research revealed that very few consistently exhibit them. When the pressure is on, many revert to dysfunctional habit patterns quite opposite to the four illustrated above.
Our mistake has been to focus attention on the surface; teaching behavior that results in leadership does not go far enough. Behavior can be taught, understood and practiced. But in order for a person to consistently exhibit leadership behavior, it must flow from that person's character, particularly when it comes to pressure and stress.
To consistently practice the four behavior traits listed above, you must focus on the character traits that support such behavior as integrity, loyalty and diligence. Some will argue that character in adults cannot be changed, but there is evidence to refute that argument. Character can continue to develop and mature. But first the individual must make a deliberate choice to focus upon character and a strong commitment toward growth.
In future issues, I'll examine additional character traits that support powerful leadership behavior.
Bob Vernon retired from the Los Angeles Police Department after 37 years on the force. He earned an MBA at Pepperdine University and is a graduate of the University of Southern California's Managerial Policy Institute and the FBI's National Executive Institute. After retirement, Vernon founded The Pointman Leadership Institute (visit pointmanleadership.org), which provides principle-based ethics seminars around the world for police agencies, parliament members, military leaders and a variety of other groups.
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