How we practice leadership when working in a task force is quite different than how we typically lead within our own law enforcement agency. Within our agency we can have authority conferred upon us due to rank, knowledge, experience, or a combination of the three.
Due to our formal rank structure we usually defer decision-making and leadership to those with a higher rank and expect the same from those we consider subordinate. If we are working on a law enforcement task force — a group containing members of more than one law enforcement agency — our norms of rank and authority will probably work without too many issues.
But when we’re working as part of a multidisciplinary task force with members who are not law enforcement officers — as is the case in an anti-human trafficking task force — we must be prepared to adapt some of our leadership traits.
Why should law enforcement officers adapt and not the other members of the task force? Primarily because law enforcement officers will be the exception to the norm in a multidisciplinary setting, where most of the other organizations practice a more-inclusive and less time-bound form of decision-making. Put another way, non-law enforcement members may want to hear more opinions and take more time to decide on an issue.
This is really how most of the world functions outside of law enforcement or other professions where quick decision-making is favored. Another reason to be adaptive is that some non-law enforcement members may resent law enforcement officers who appear to be “taking charge” in what should be a collaborative environment.
So the first trait to bring to the table is patience; be prepared for extended discussions (perhaps over the course of several meetings), and much more debate than you may normally be used to. While you may become frustrated at times, impatience can damage your rapport with the other members of the task force. Remember that long-term success will only come after building strong relationships. Patience is a key trait in collaborative work.
Presence is much more than simply being present. Presence means being engaged with the mission of the task force and engaging with other members. It means really caring about what you are trying to achieve, contributing your efforts and the resources of your agency. It means doing more than just filling a seat at the table.
Other task force members will look to law enforcement for this type of presence since law enforcement participation is critical to task force success. Additionally, exhibiting presence tends to raise the level of engagement by other members — they will follow the example we set, partly because there is an expectation that we will exhibit leadership (just not so much that we appear to be impatient or want to “take charge”).
The third leadership trait necessary for working within a task force — and closely related to presence — is authenticity. Authentic leadership refers to displaying our genuine, or authentic, self. It means not trying to be something we are not. The most common error in regards to law enforcement participation in anti-trafficking task forces is assigning an officer to the task force who really doesn’t care about human trafficking. These officers show up for meetings, and may even contribute to a small degree, but their lack of true interest soon becomes apparent and has a negative impact on the task force.
If this describes you, take this article to your superior and ask them to assign a different officer to the task force — all parties involved will be much happier.
Authenticity also refers to making sure others understand what your interests are, and what your agency is capable of delivering. For example, if you like investigating human trafficking cases but do not like being involved in public awareness presentations, communicate that to both your agency and the other task force members. Then provide information or other support to those who are doing public presentations. Recognizing our weaknesses — along with our strengths — is a key element of being an authentic leader.
Authenticity — or lack of authenticity — becomes apparent with time as other members of the task force learn what we are truly like. Therefore, authenticity is the most critical of the three traits — if we genuinely care about the work of the task force, are patient with the processes of group leadership and decision-making, and are fully involved and present, other members of the task force will model our behavior. Bringing patience, presence and authenticity will set an example for others and help pave the path to success for any task force.