Leadership Traits for the Law Enforcement Commander

How to Become a Successful Law Enforcement Leader

NYPD car in Times Square
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Law enforcement jobs offer lots of opportunities to promote and advance your career and to make a difference in not only the lives of people in your community but in your department. Such a unique opportunity to lead calls for unique traits from leaders, and there are perhaps no more important leadership traits for the successful police commander than vision, inspiration, accountability, passion, and humility.

Vision

An effective leader should have an intelligent vision for the unit. The leader understands where the group is and where it can be. A positive vision for the future of law enforcement will inform the direction of your work group and place it on a path toward sustained success for the entire organization.

A successful commander understands the challenges your agency will face in both the near and distant futures. He must be able to realize the full potential that the command offers with regards to policing concepts, resource allocation and information and data sharing, all in furtherance of enhancing the capabilities and effectiveness of the work unit and ensuring a safer environment for residents and visitors.

The vision should include increased collaboration among other sections and commands within your department, as well as with internal and external stakeholders. It should also include more information sharing and training for members at every level in order to promote buy-in and maximize the chances of success in implementing effective strategies.

Inspiration

The law enforcement leader should not only be inspired but inspiring. It is not enough to merely have vision, but she must be able to help others see her vision and desire to see it to fruition themselves. By inspiring others to take ownership of the leader’s vision, the successful commander helps provide the means and the motivation for her members to excel, individually and as a cohesive unit.

The inspirational leader must have the ability to communicate effectively, expressing empathy as well as clear expectations. Her members should know what the goals for their unit are and what parameters they must operate within to achieve those goals.

Through regular communication with her members, she can better understand their concerns and help them better appreciate the important role they play within the organization. She should serve as a motivator, encouraging the members of the unit to continually work towards excellence in the interest of public safety. Her intelligence and strength of character should serve as inspiration and example for her members to follow.

Accountability

To be truly effective, the police commander of must be accountable both to his superiors and the members he leads. An inspirational vision is nothing if it does not produce outcomes.

The accountable leader should be expected to continually work toward the goal of maximizing outcomes with more efficient inputs. He seeks to fully understand what is expected of him and works to not only meet, but exceed those expectations. He takes full and complete responsibility for his unit’s failures but makes sure to share his unit’s successes, and his character is such that his motives aren’t questioned as he continually strives to do the right things for the right reasons.

Accountability on the part of the leader, in turn, ensures accountability for his work group and requires that the leader holds his members accountable for both their successes and shortcomings. Motivating through consequences – ideally positive but, whenever necessary, negative – fosters an environment of accountability for everyone and ensures sustained productivity and imparts meaning and purpose to work performed.

Passion

When a leader has a visible passion for the job she does, her enthusiasm fuels not only her own drive but that of her work group. To be successful, the effective leader must have a true passion for what the unit is about.

The successful commander takes on the challenges of the job with gusto, sharing her passion and enthusiasm with others so that they see and understand how important their job truly is.

Passion for the job provides the energy and stamina necessary to effectively lead others into the future, and promotes a desire for sustained excellence throughout the unit and indeed the department.

Humility

The most successful leaders realize that their accomplishments are not their own. If he is focused on seeking credit or praise for himself, he will lose the support and respect of the members whom he was entrusted to lead. Successful implementation of process improvements and best practices requires a team effort, and the best head coaches know it is their team, not themselves, who get the win.

The humble leader is a loyal leader, focused on making sure both his subordinates and superiors are credited with his successes so that the entire work unit is widely recognized as an effective and influential component of the agency.

Limitless Potential

Perhaps the best articulation of these leadership traits is found in a quote often attributed to President Ronald Reagan: “There are no limits to what you can accomplish, so long as you don’t care who gets the credit.” Within those words, you find the vision to see endless possibilities your unit can achieve; the inspiration to want to achieve them; the accountability for both success and failures; the passion to fuel the drive to excellence; and the humility to allow others to receive the credits and rewards for positive outcomes.