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December 12, 2013
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Matt Stiehm Campus Safety
with Matt Stiehm

What can Santa Claus teach cops about leadership?

Yes, the jolly old man is fictional (Sshhh, don’t tell the kids!), but law enforcement brass can draw a number of corollaries and apply them to real-world management situations

During the Christmas holiday season, law enforcement professionals tend to “rejoice over making it another year.” We try to take additional time during the holidays to share time with family — our moms, dads, brothers, sisters, spouses, and children. 

We also might spend extra time with our brothers and sisters in blue, brown, green, or maroon. These families provide us with love, purpose, protection, humor, joy, happiness, morality, and most importantly a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging is one of the things that draw us to the law enforcement profession. 

As we consider our profession within the context of this season, we might also take a look at the fictional — even mythical — leader by the name of Santa Claus. We can learn some valuable lessons from Santa on how to lead, manage, and more importantly, inspire.

Santa the Leader
Taking a long hard look at how Santa manages his workforce. He is both a transformational and servant leader. He leads from the front. This is something that law enforcement executives should follow and attempt to emulate. 

For example, Santa knows all of his elves by name. He gets to know the elves’ families — this is important because it develops a solid relationship and a foundation of trust between Santa and his employees. While not always an option for big police agencies, we must remember that the average police agency is around 10-20 officers. 

In an agency that size, everyone on the command staff (chief on down) should know all of the officers and support staff, and make an effort to connect in some way with the families — everyone plays an important role in the agency.

Santa the Manager
Santa Claus walks the floor. He gets out of his office on a regular basis to supervise in real-time and in the real-world environment. 

He does not manage via email, text message, or memo. He sees what is going on in the field. 

This is important because managers today sometimes forget how important it is to connect with their people within the working world. The plugged-in manager can make real-time adjustments that can affect the troops immediately. 

Chiefs and command staff should get out of the corner office and meet with their troops on a regular basis. They should push a patrol car. They should not merely provide lip service to activities where 80 to 90 percent of officers are traditionally deployed. 

Most importantly, Santa acknowledges and provides positive feedback to the elves even as he corrects negative behavior. He provides a positive environment that fosters growth among his employees. 

Santa the Inspirer
Looking at how Santa manages and leads his workforce is important. There are many corollaries to be drawn upon that can be applied to any police manager/leader. The elves are assigned to a variety of different assignments — toy making, quality control, logistics, and, of course, reindeer fleet management — but each elf is a valued employee. 

Santa takes a personal interest in every elf. The employees are provided mentoring and a chance to grow as employees in a safe work environment. The elves are provided with solid training programs, promotional opportunities, educational opportunities, and time to relax with family and friends. 

Santa inspires. He doesn’t expect anything more (or less) from any elf that he would impose upon himself. 

He is a true servant, and transformational leader. 


About the author

Dr. Matt Stiehm has received an Educational Doctorate from Argosy University, where the focus of his research was campus safety and security. He has served as a police officer in three states (CA, MN and NE), he keeps current on law enforcement trends.  He currently is a member of ILEETA, MN Infragard, FBI LEEDS, an Associate Member of the IACP, Support Member of the MN Chiefs Association, the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association, and recently Police Executive Research Forum Subscribing Member. He is currently conducting some independent research projects into police use of force, campus public safety use of force, and general leadership trends.

Contact Matt Stiehm





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