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3 hurdles to overcome to effect change as a police leader

Navigating the challenges of leadership requires recognizing and managing the dynamics of helpers, critics and detractors


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Leadership plays a pivotal role in any organization, demanding a unique blend of adaptability, competence and resilience from those in leadership positions. Effective leaders must earn the trust and respect of their team members while driving the organization toward its objectives.

In the realm of leadership, there are three distinct hurdles that individuals often encounter as they strive to bring about change: helpers, critics and detractors. Recognizing the characteristics of each group and how they can impact your leadership journey is essential.

Hurdle 1: Helpers

When I took on the role of Chief of Police for the City of Alton in 2018, it became clear that the organizational culture within the police department needed a significant overhaul. Historically, the department had struggled at the leadership level and operated in isolation, causing a disconnect not only with other city departments but also with the community it served.

In the early days of my tenure, I faced resistance from some within the department who were reluctant to put in the necessary effort to effect the needed change. Changing a deeply ingrained culture that had persisted for over a decade was a formidable task. To begin the transformation, I had to identify the individuals within the organization who genuinely wanted to support my efforts. This process required patience and an understanding that some might attempt to deceive me. However, it’s crucial to remember that any deception reflects on their character, not yours.

Conversely, it was also vital to identify those who were not aligned with the mission of change and who might obstruct progress. This required making tough decisions, such as removing individuals from the organization if they consistently resisted the transformation. These early decisions significantly shaped the future of our organization, preserving our progress and preventing potential setbacks.

Hurdle 2: Critics

Entering an organization with the best of intentions can sometimes lead to internal and external criticism, which can be discouraging. However, as leaders, we must develop thick skin and distinguish between staff members solely focused on personal gain and those genuinely committed to the organization’s success.

Identifying these dedicated individuals and investing in their professional development is crucial. They will become your champions, supporting your vision and countering those within the organization who aim to discredit your programs.

In my case, I found a group of change enthusiasts within the organization, whom I referred to as “helpers.” I invested in their growth and entrusted them with impactful projects that improved the public’s perception of our department. Additionally, I hired a second-in-command whose strengths complemented my weaknesses, ensuring a balanced leadership team that could effectively implement change.

Hurdle 3: Detractors

During my tenure as Chief of Police, I encountered various critiques and opinions on my decisions. Some individuals provided feedback directly, while others used social media to express their views publicly. Initially, I felt frustrated, but I eventually learned to set aside my ego and extract valuable lessons from these critiques.

As leaders, we must remain open to learning and growth, even when confronted with unsolicited advice or comments. Constructive criticism, regardless of the source, can lead to improvements in our leadership style and decision-making processes.

Currently, I find myself in a different leadership role as the City Manager of my hometown. Despite the change in position, the fundamental approach remains the same. I continue to nurture my “helpers,” learn from my critics, and disregard anyone attempting to hinder progress.

In conclusion, navigating the challenges of leadership requires recognizing and managing the dynamics of helpers, critics and detractors. By doing so, leaders can effectively drive change and lead their organizations toward success.

Dr. Jonathan B. Flores is a law enforcement and city government professional with over 22 years of service. He serves as the Assistant City Manager and Chief of Police for the City of Alton, Texas.

Dr. Flores is a 2023 National Law Enforcement Hall of Fame Inductee and has received international, national and state-level recognition for his leadership.

He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Trevecca Nazarene University in 2021, his Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2018, and his Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from the University of Phoenix in 2017.