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From the Corps to cops: How these military values translate to police leadership

Your rank or position can command compliance, but it doesn’t make you a leader — others deem you to be a leader because of the qualities you possess and the totality of your character

I served in the Marine Corps from 1984-1988, and although that was many years ago, the lessons I learned have served me well as a police officer for more than 25 years.

For example, the knowledge I gained as a USMC marksmanship coach helped me to become a firearms instructor and later the rangemaster for my police agency. Being a Scout/Sniper served me well as a member of our SWAT team. The hours of drill and ceremony assisted with Honor Guard responsibilities. And the life-experiences in the Corps definitely helped dealing with people out on the street.

There were many other lessons learned — too many to list — but some of the most profound lessons centered on leadership. The Corps teaches all of its marines to be leaders — you never know when you might be the next one to take charge of your unit. For that reason, they stress the importance of becoming a leader and help to foster the qualities and traits that comprise a good leader.

Rank is an Opportunity to Lead
Rank gives you added responsibility — it doesn’t necessarily make you a leader. Character is the nucleus of leadership and those who are rich in character have others gravitate to them. It isn’t because of what they are, but who they are.   

Leaders set the example — they are tactically and technically proficient, they make sound and timely decisions, they seek responsibility and take responsibility for their actions, they keep their subordinates informed and look out for their welfare, they inspire others through their Esprit de Corps, and above all they ensure that the mission is accomplished.

There are many qualities or traits that leaders share in common and the Corps identifies 14 of them in the acronym: JJ-DID-TIE-BUCKLE.

Although not everyone may exemplify each and every trait on a consistent basis, it should serve as a guide and a goal all police leaders should strive to achieve. As you examine JJ-DID-TIE-BUCKLE, consider how these leadership qualities can be employed at your agency — how you can bring the Corps to cops.

Justice: Giving reward and punishment according to the merits of the case in question.  The ability to administer a system of rewards and punishments impartially and consistently

Judgment: The ability to weigh facts and possible solutions on which to base sound decisions

Decisiveness: The ability to make decisions promptly and to announce them in a clear, forceful manner

Integrity: Uprightness of character and soundness of moral principles; includes the qualities of truthfulness and honesty

Dependability: The certainty of proper performance of duty

Tact: The ability to deal with others without creating offense

Initiative: Taking action in the absence of orders

Enthusiasm: The display of sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of duty

Bearing: Creating a favorable impression of carriage, appearance and personal conduct at all times

Unselfishness: Avoidance of providing for one’s own comfort and personal advancement at the expense of others.

Courage: The mental quality that recognizes fear of danger, or criticism, but enables a person to proceed in the face of it with calmness and firmness.

Knowledge: Understanding of a science or an art — the range of one’s information, including professional knowledge and an understanding of your subordinates.

Loyalty: The quality of faithfulness to Country, Corps (Department), Unit (Assignment), to one’s seniors, subordinates and peers.

Endurance: The mental and physical stamina measured by the ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress and hardship (adversity).

Leadership is a Lifestyle
These traits hang on the wall in my office and serve as a constant reminder to seek self-improvement.

Leadership is not just a word. It is a lifestyle, and it embodies those characteristics outlined above. It is not something someone can assign to you, certainly your rank or position can command compliance, but it doesn’t make you a leader.

You are not born a leader, or made a leader, but rather chosen by others to lead because of the qualities you possess and the totality of your character. 

Just like in the Corps, we can all strive to be leaders in law enforcement. Just because you don’t have stripes, bars, or stars doesn’t mean you are not a leader. Conversely, just because you have those stripes, bars, or stars, doesn’t mean you are a leader.

Commit yourself to self-improvement and use these Corps guidelines to stay the course. Set the example that others will emulate and help to develop your peers and subordinates into leaders themselves. If we all strive to achieve these objectives our profession will be as admirable as we all believe that it is.

Semper Fi

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