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Why do good cops turn into bad leaders?

Tell any 100 cops that law enforcement suffers from bad leadership and 99 will agree — the one who doesn’t is probably the chief


Editor's Note: Travis Yates has graciously agreed to help bring the principles of Courageous Leadership to PoliceOne members, and the law enforcement profession as a whole. Travis will produce a series of articles based on his excellent SAFETAC Seminar of the same name. With this series, we have the opportunity to revolutionize the profession. Look for this series in the Police Leader Newsletter and on PoliceOne.com.

I entered law enforcement when I was 21 years old, law enforcement supervision at 26 and I was 32 when I entered middle management and have progressed today in what some would call upper management. 

Like many law enforcement professions, I have seen firsthand the effects of poor leadership. I’ve seen — over and over again — seemingly good officers or good supervisors take a new rank or position only to have things go very wrong. Walk into any room of 100 cops and say that law enforcement suffers from bad leadership and 99 will agree — the one who doesn’t is probably the chief. 

In recent years I’ve been on a journey of sorts — wondering why this is. Why do so many good cops turn into bad leaders? The journey has not been easy. I’ve had to closely examine a profession that I dearly love and admit we have some major problems. I’ve also had to look in the mirror and admit that I’m not nearly as good as I thought I was. It seems many of us have a lot to learn and for our profession to rise to the challenges we are already starting to face, it’s time to start learning. 

I’ve labeled the philosophy I will detail throughout this year as “Courageous Leadership.” None of it will be groundbreaking — but it will be real. This isn’t about a theory or a million-dollar training initiative. This is how those of us in law enforcement can leave the profession in a better place for the next generation. It will be a difficult task, a daunting task, and a courageous journey. 

In the months to come we‘ll introduce and review principles that can help leaders from all ranks and we must remember that a rank does not make a leader. I know patrol officers taking alarm calls right now that display more leadership than some major city chiefs. This is for everyone. We as a profession must seriously discuss topics such as:

•    Courageous Feedback
•    Courageous Accountability
•    Courageous Empowerment
•    Courageous Conversations
•    Courageous Character
•    Courageous Training

Most of you have heard some of these words in the past and there are literally thousands of books written on these subjects but with all of that we have to ask ourselves why much of this is not the norm in law enforcement? It may just be that we have been looking at it all wrong and it takes more than a book or a fancy saying to have real leadership. 

It takes courage and it is time that we all step up to that destiny. 

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