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Leader or manager? You make the choice

Somehow in law enforcement we have taken the mindset of ‘customer service’ to the extreme, causing some chiefs to believe they are managers, instead of leaders

I began my law enforcement career in 1994. While that’s not a lifetime, it’s certainly long enough to recognize a leader from a manager (and we all know there are distinct differences between the two!).

I personally admire leaders like President John F. Kennedy, General Colin Powell (ret.), Colonel Danny McKnight (ret.). These men instilled confidence in the system, and exuded a strong sense of dedication and unwavering bravery. They felt fear but stayed strong and motivated others along the way. Leaders realize that in order to be successful, they need their people to support them.

These men recognized that one man alone cannot prevail.

Leaders have undying faith in the system. They understand that the system is in place to produce success, not only in the mission, but also personal growth. Let’s look at Colonel McKnight’s command philosophy, written on his website www.dannymcknight.com   

“No organization can progress without a framework that is realistic, understandable, and practiced by all leaders. The command philosophy is this framework. This philosophy delineates the basic leadership standards which guide the organization.”

That is a powerful (and true) statement.

But leadership is far more than mere words. Leadership is a total life philosophy. While it's’ easy to talk about leadership, it is far more challenging to exemplify the words.

So the question here is why can some (like my leadership heroes : Kennedy, Powell, and McKnight) exemplify leadership, while others cannot?

Leaders Learn from Failure, Managers Muddle Through It
All leaders have faults — I am not naïve enough to think that my own heroes are without reproach — but true leaders learn from and pursue personal growth when faced with failure.

Managers, by definition, manage. They direct personnel by scheduling, meeting out discipline, and giving directions. A manager is evaluated by productivity. If an agency fails to produce results, the manager will have to answer for it.

But ask yourself, do you think that manager will take the heat for a failure of productivity? Historically, most managers in such a situation will blame everyone else but themselves.

Managers’ motivations are to make themselves look good in the eyes of their bosses, and many accomplish this by placing increased pressure on their personnel to produce results.

Contrast that with what we know about at leaders. Leaders stand with their personnel. A leader cares about productivity, but achieves it in a completely different way than a manager typically does. A leader motivates personnel to want to produce, rather than pressuring them to feel that they must.

Managers are Common, Leaders are Rare
Let’s look at this another way. If I asked you to list 10 managers you’ve personally worked for that would be relatively easy, right?

But if I asked you to list 10 leaders you have personally worked for, I bet that would be a little more challenging.

So why is this? I think it’s because leading is more difficult than managing, and because the leader is rewarded internally (self-satisfaction), while the manager is rewarded externally (a promotion, a city council’s adulation).

The bigger question, perhaps, is why some begin as leaders, but upon promotion and over time, they become managers. I think it’s because some agencies have adopted a skewed customer service mentality in which the “customer” always comes first.

We will go above and beyond for nuisance complaints, because we do not want the citizens upset at us. I understand that nuisance complaints are part of the job, but the problem here is that our resources are not being used effectively. This mentality unfortunately breeds managers.

You see, managers do not want to create waves with their bosses or the public. They try to give a perception that the crime rate is low, but this claim becomes hollow, and eventually the officers are blamed.

Leaders think differently. Leaders understand that while we provide a service, some issues are not to be handled by the police (there are other agencies to address them). Leaders use their resources for crime prevention and true reductions in criminal activity.

Leaders understand that to be truly effective, they need to instill a change in the mindset of the agency. Leaders believe in what they are doing, and convey that to their subordinates. They lead by example on and off duty. Leaders continually assess the department for deficient areas and ways in which to improve.

Leaders know that their personnel are a reflection of their leadership and understand that personnel development is of the utmost importance. They know that personnel development means the entire staff not just their own buddies.

I don’t believe that people are born leaders. We all evolve into the people we are, based on factors and influences in our lives. The transition towards being a leader or to a manager is based in part on a conscious choice. For the sake of your subordinates, make the right choice. You will find that you will have a higher degree of career satisfaction, and respect from the officers in your department.  

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