5 quotes police leaders can use to increase officer safety and departmental success

Follow the advice in these five quotes to enhance leadership of your troops and improve relationships in your community


Last year I wrote a column on historical quotes that can help officers on patrol. I recently applied that same concept to quotes that can help law enforcement leaders improve their departments and the services they provide to their cities and towns.

Consider how these quotes can guide leadership of your troops, improve your relationship with your community, and execute your vision for enforcing the law and keeping the peace.

Add your own quotes in the comments section below.

General Colin Powell, seen in a 2011 photo outside the White House, once famously said, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” (Photo/AP)
General Colin Powell, seen in a 2011 photo outside the White House, once famously said, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” (Photo/AP)

1. “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” — Jack Welch

One of the most important things a law enforcement leader can do is enhance the services cops provide to the citizens of their jurisdictions through a rigorous and thorough in-service training program. Training should be continual, ongoing and exceed – by a wide margin – any statewide standards, which are the bare minimum.

Great police leaders find ways to ensure that no learning opportunity is missed, no matter how big or how small.

Finally, police leaders must insist that training budgets are the last thing on the chopping block, not the first.

2. “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” — General Colin Powell

Policing is about solving problems – cops are constantly dealing with street crimes, drug crimes, gang activity, drunk driving, domestic violence, property crime…the list goes on. Police leadership deal not only with those law enforcement matters, but an array of problems like dysfunctional community relations, an acrimonious city government, understaffing and other matters.

A good leader takes each of these problems seriously, devotes adequate resources to achieve resolutions, follows up after actions have been taken to ensure that success is sustained, and then moves on to the next problem with the same level of energy and commitment.

3. “A ruler should be slow to punish and swift to reward.” — Ovid

All too often we hear stories of people in positions of leadership “throwing a cop under the bus” when they’ve done something that brings criticism on the department. When this occurs, police leaders do more to undermine their own authority with the troops than “fix” a problem officer.

Discipline is necessary, but it should not be overly punitive. This reminds me of the adage, “punish in private and praise in public.” When it is necessary to discipline an officer, it should be done in a way that does not belittle them, but offers achievable next steps to build them up. Embarrassing an officer in front of the troops makes you look bad.

4. “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” — General Dwight D. Eisenhower

This quote is about how to articulate your vision both internally and externally, so you can move toward the outcomes you wish to see occur, guiding all of the participants to want those outcomes as much as (if not more so) than you.

There is an element of natural charisma here. There is also the learned skill of communication.

Troops will follow the best leaders into hell with nothing more than a bucket of water and a good, solid plan.

5. “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” — Publilius Syrus

There is not a single police leader in America today who cannot in an instant be thrust into the national limelight by the surfacing of a video that is perceived by the press and the public to reveal improper use of force or some other “ugly-looking” incident. You can easily become the national narrative, as people who were not present or know much about policing take to social media to viciously deride your department.

When such an event takes place, it is the job of the police leader to go before the cameras and address the critics head on. This will test you, but you can pass the test – success requires a level head and the ability to articulate complex concepts to people who may not necessarily want to understand them or your explanation does not fit their chosen narrative.

It is important in such times to also address the troops. Do this privately and directly in groups as small as is manageable given the size of your department. Don’t leave out the non-sworn support personnel. Include your call takers and dispatchers. You will get less sleep for a while, but the extra investment in time will pay dividends.

Conclusion

Policing is hard. Leading the police is also hard. Use these (and other) quotes to help you achieve the success you desire.

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