5 ways to cultivate a culture of leadership among officers

When practiced correctly, officers raised in an environment where leadership is a core principle can be counted on to make sound, prudent and defensible decisions


Today’s police officer faces an increasingly difficult environment. From the start of his or her service until the very end, officers are required to make decisive judgments in crisis scenarios where life and public safety are the variables looming over their decision-making abilities. There are a few truisms we find in the postmortem of nearly every crisis encounter. 

First, officers fall back on their training in moments of crisis. The human body is a like a machine during these moments, using its impressive recall ability to nearly immediately evoke action; with very little thought. Officers are taught that repetitive training and muscle memory will take over during those crucial moments. Secondly, if given the time to make decisions in both life-threatening and nonthreatening scenarios, leaders want their officers equipped with another important characteristic.: They want them to be leaders.

There is a reason our nation’s armed services rely so heavily on their codified training process. Embedded in the training are both of the components mentioned above, a reflexive response in crisis and the need to have leadership principles exist at the core of every soldier, sailor, Marine and airman. When practiced correctly, an individual raised in an environment where leadership is a core principle can be counted on to make sound, prudent and defensible decisions. Leadership is the critical component that will provide officers with the ability to digest the data and circumstances and arrive at the best possible outcome or decision given any number of variables. In this construct, it can be any department leader’s greatest safety net.

Developing new leaders

For department leaders, the study of leadership and its consistent practice can serve as the critical element of both future institutional and individual success. (Photo/Pixabay)
For department leaders, the study of leadership and its consistent practice can serve as the critical element of both future institutional and individual success. (Photo/Pixabay)

For department leaders, the study of leadership and its consistent practice can serve as the critical element of both future institutional and individual success. Often, following an incident where leaders commonly question the judgment of an officer or supervisor, the component most needed for positive outcomes is a culture of leadership. How else can leaders expect their men and women to synthesize all they have learned and make good decisions?

There is an age-old debate regarding whether people are born to lead. I would submit that a person’s ability to display a productive form of leadership is a function of both their innate characteristics and their environmental experiences. Can leadership be taught? Absolutely. But you cannot expect every individual to rise to the same level of competency.  

Creating a culture of leadership

What is true is that every opportunity used to engage in the subject of leadership; to teach desired outcomes and ways of dealing with personnel, objectives and problems tends to yield more positive results than not. It also becomes important to model desired leadership behaviors, especially within management or executive ranks. In fact, a culture of leadership can be viewed as the invisible X-Factor responsible for driving the success of those much-exalted teams or departments where they seem to get it right on nearly every occasion.

With this being such a valuable and necessary component, how do department leaders ensure their officers have the necessary leadership training and exposure they will undoubtedly need on the streets or during those moments where judgment is crucial to success?  

  1. Look for leadership characteristics in the backgrounds of your recruits. Yes, leadership can be taught, but a strong foundation ensures success.
  2. Make leadership competency a part of your department’s core curriculum during indoctrination. Recruits should understand that good decision-making and judgment will be required of them every day of their tenure and the study of leadership will aid them in this endeavor.
  3. Identify leadership principles as part of your department culture. 
  4. Place emphasis on leadership development (in both experience and academia) throughout the career of your personnel. The process of learning never stops.  
  5. Ensure the leaders of the organization embody the principles most cherished by the department. What you present at the top will flow through all levels of the organization. (critical)

About the author

M.K. Palmore is a FBI executive currently assigned as the leader of the FBI San Francisco Cyber Branch. He has over 25 years of experience in the field of leadership and prior to joining the FBI served as a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps. He has supervised a variety of violations in the FBI, including Counterterrorism, Civil Rights/Hate Crimes, Violent Crimes, Cyber Terrorism, Public Corruption, Organized Crime and Cyber Intrusions. M.K. served on two FBI SWAT Teams and in multiple task force environments. His education include a Bachelor’s degree, an MBA and ISC2-CISSP certification.

Contact M.K. Palmore

  1. Tags
  2. Leadership
  3. Police Leader

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