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5 ways police leaders can make every day count

We should put in as much effort on our last day as a leader as we did on our first day

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Reflect on your motivation for becoming a leader.

Photo/DALL-E

Read this article to uncover:

  • How sharing your experience and knowledge as a leader in law enforcement can create a lasting legacy and positively influence the next generation.
  • The importance of lifelong learning and staying current with law enforcement trends and methodologies, even as you approach the end of your career.
  • Why providing equal opportunities for growth and professional development to all team members is crucial for a fair and forward-thinking work environment.
  • The significance of self-reflection on your original motivations for becoming a leader, and how it can guide your actions and decisions in your career’s later stages.
  • The perspective that titles and ranks are transient, and the true value of a career in law enforcement lies in the impact made on your team and community.

I have been in law enforcement for nearly 26 years. It’s hard to believe that the 22-year-old who once joked with his chief about the chief being a cop longer than he had been alive is now walking in his shoes. I don’t feel that old, nor does it seem like I have been in law enforcement for so long. Despite my feeling young at heart, the “serving since 1998” pin on my uniform often prompts friends and co-workers to ask, “So, how long do you have left?”

This question is common for anyone in law enforcement with a similar length of service as mine. People ask for different reasons. Some want to know when you’re leaving so that they can plot their future. Others ask because they see you as an asset they don’t want to lose. A more concerning reason is if they view you as an impediment to progress and are eagerly waiting for your retirement.

The responses to this question are as diverse as the reasons behind it. When I ask others the most common answer is a precise countdown like “321 days, 12 hours, 8 minutes, and 3 seconds.” While this response often makes me laugh, it also points to a concerning trend I have noticed over the years. Leaders nearing retirement tend to shift into neutral, merely counting down their days. This is the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be putting in as much effort on our last day as we did throughout our careers, making every day count, including the last.

Here are five ways I suggest police leaders can make every day meaningful, including their last day in charge.

1. Reflect on your motivation for becoming a leader.

This step may not apply if your primary reason for seeking leadership was higher pay or benefits. However, many people may pursue career advancement with a desire to improve conditions for their team. This should be a key motivator for anyone aiming for a formal leadership role. Ask yourself, are you still making things better for your team? If so, continue to do so until your last day. Identify what matters most and strive to implement it. As a leader, you can effect change for your team.

2. Share your knowledge!

The moment you walk out the door, your knowledge walks with you, unless you pass it on. I am not just talking about knowing the best coffee shop; I mean the valuable insights, tips and tricks you have learned over the years. In most agencies, there is an art to getting things accomplished, often involving knowing the right people. Don’t keep those things to yourself. Share your knowledge so that your successor can begin from a position of strength, ready to continue driving the team forward.

3. Never stop learning.

Many people nearing the end of their careers stop attending classes and conferences. Not me. I try to learn as much new information as possible. How can you lead effectively if you are not up to date on the latest trends in law enforcement? How can you evaluate your team’s performance and policy compliance if you’re not receiving the same current training as they are? Even if your position exempts you from certain training requirements, attend those sessions anyway. It’s vital to stay informed and knowledgeable.

4. Facilitate learning and growth for everyone.

Don’t overlook those who might succeed you. Ensure they also have opportunities to attend training and conferences. If you stay engaged and educated but don’t allow your staff the same opportunities, you’re doing them a disservice. I recommend sending your team to a variety of training courses and conferences, budget permitting. The more they learn, the better prepared they will be to take over when you leave.

5. Avoid choosing your replacement.

Many leaders identify capable individuals who could assume their role upon departure. However, it’s important not to play favorites. Often, the decision of who will take over your position isn’t yours to make. Provide everyone with equal opportunities to learn from you, attend training and be prepared for your departure. Some will seize this opportunity, and some won’t. Your responsibility is to ensure that each team member has the same chance to succeed. The rest is in their hands..

Here’s a bonus tip, a little lagniappe from my New Orleans roots. “Lagniappe” means “a little something extra,” and it’s a term I cherish, along with “y’all.” So, here’s number 6: Remember, you can’t take it with you. The moment you walk out the door, titles like Chief or Captain become part of your past. I’ll no longer be Captain Lyons Hale; I’ll just be Lyons. The title will belong to my successor. I won’t be a Retired Captain or Former Captain, just Lyons. And that’s enough because I can be Lyons better than anyone else. The same goes for you. Forget about the perks and titles; what truly matters is the impact you’ve made on your team’s lives. That should be more valuable than any title or perk you’ve earned throughout your career.

By the way, if you were to ask me how much longer I have, my answer is that I’m not sure. But one thing is certain: every day I’m here will be a day dedicated to my team.

Action items after reading this article

After reading this article, here are questions and action items for police leaders:

Question: “Am I still actively working to improve conditions for my team, and what motivated me to become a leader in the first place?”

Action items:

  • Revisit your career goals and the reasons you chose law enforcement leadership, perhaps through journaling or professional coaching.
  • Initiate projects or policies that align with your original motivations, focusing on team welfare and community impact.
  • Seek feedback from your team and peers to understand your current influence and areas for improvement.

Question: “Have I effectively shared my accumulated insights, tips and tricks with my team to ensure they are well-equipped for future challenges?”

Action items:

  • Organize regular training sessions or workshops where you can share your experiences and insights with the team.
  • Implement a mentorship program within your department, pairing experienced officers with newer recruits.
  • Document your knowledge in guides or manuals that can be easily accessed by team members even after your retirement.

Question: “Am I continually updating my knowledge and skills to stay relevant in law enforcement, and how am I encouraging my team to do the same?”

Action items:

  • Enroll in contemporary law enforcement courses and encourage your team to do the same, possibly providing incentives for completing such courses.
  • Foster a culture of continuous learning by integrating regular training updates into team meetings or briefings.
  • Stay informed about the latest industry trends and technologies by subscribing to law enforcement journals and attending relevant conferences.

Question: “Am I providing equal opportunities for all team members to learn and grow, preparing them for leadership roles in the future?”

Action items:

  • Create a transparent process for professional development opportunities, ensuring equal access for all team members.
  • Identify and offer various types of training that cater to different career paths within law enforcement.
  • Encourage cross-functional experiences, such as rotating roles within the department to broaden team skills and perspectives.

Question: “Am I avoiding favoritism in the succession process and ensuring a fair opportunity for every team member to advance?”

Action items:

  • Develop a succession planning program that identifies and prepares potential leaders through targeted training and mentorship.
  • Foster an environment where all team members can display their leadership potential, not just those who are already in the spotlight.
  • Involve HR or higher management in the succession process to ensure objectivity and fairness in selecting your successor.

Lyons Hale has been a sworn police officer since 1998 and currently holds the rank of captain. He has worked in a patrol capacity for most of his career and leads Louisiana’s statewide crisis negotiation team. He is also the co-founder of Juliet Lima Solutions, a law enforcement and private industry training and consulting company that offers leadership, de-escalation and emotional intelligence training. Learn more here.