Why police leaders should ask, "Why do I want to lead?"

Think about what motivated you to step into the ring — it will help you stay a strong leader


What motivates you to lead? What part of your psyche enjoys the challenge of getting other people all pointed in the same direction to achieve a goal? Leadership is not an easy undertaking. At some point during your journey, you come to realize that you will likely never “know it all.”

How could you? Each engagement deals with different people and with different people comes different motivations, different experiences and backgrounds; ultimately, just too many changing variables to ensure an outcome. What you are left with is a toolbox of sorts. In this virtual box are those tools you have gathered on your leadership journey.

It is not a stretch to say that the more leadership experiences you have, the better chance you will have more tools from which to draw during any given circumstance. It doesn’t mean you will draw on the right skills every time. The challenges of leadership can be daunting — if it were easy, everyone would be a leader. Think about what motivated you to step into the ring. Think about your top priorities as a leader.

A Student of Leadership

I consider myself to be a chronologist of sorts. My experiences are deep and varied, but I realized long ago that I would never be much more than a student of leadership. I am a student of this discipline and have come to believe that experience, study, and reflection are the real teachers. There have been some experts during the course of history — Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Roosevelt, to name a few. Consider this great quote from President Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It is a long quote, but deserves to be remarked in its entirety. It applies to so much in life and I would submit that the discipline of leadership is indeed an arena of sorts.

My own motivations are rather simple and were implanted at a very young age. My father, probably like many others, ingrained in me at an early age the idea of stepping forward from the line and assuming the mantle of responsibility. He explained to me, and I came to believe, that developing this “muscle” of decision-making and responsibility; taking on the challenge; would always allow me to stand out from the crowd and make a contribution. Somehow he imbued in me the idea that my decisions were just as valid as the kid/guy/gal standing next to me.

“Why not be the leader?” he would ask.

I have seen more than a few folks spend time complaining about their leadership and management in a professional setting. My response to them — almost always — is to ask them “What are you doing to solve the problem? What’s your plan to assume the mantle of leadership and do things the right way?”

Surely they don’t expect to generate change by merely speaking ill of those wearing the hat of leadership. Many of the complainers simply brush off these comments, but I have seen the logic revealed in the eyes of a few. At the end of the day you must take your shot. As the old adage states, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

Your motivations to lead may come from many different sources. Maybe you had it infused at a young age, or maybe you have come to realize that you are a pretty good decision-maker and people seem to follow your lead in the team environment. Maybe you are persuasive and know just the right amount of push and pull to offer when trying to accomplish the near impossible.

One thing is for certain. You had better be in the arena for the right reasons. To help, to move the ball forward, to contribute to the bottom line, to accomplish the task at hand, to help people grow into their own version of leaders.  

Your reasons don’t have to be entirely altruistic, but if you have a list make sure “accomplish the mission” and “take care of your team” are at the very top. You may not get it right every time, but if you keep those two things in focus everything tends to work itself out.

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