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3 keys to an effective peer review for police leaders

There is only one way to truly know what others think of your leadership practices — ask them!

How do we determine what “type” of leader we are? Are we autocratic or collaborative, by nature? How well do we seek and accept input from others? Are we leading in an effective manner (defined as achieving real results supporting our organization’s intent, while also giving employees a sense of validation, self-worth, and pride in being part of the organization)?

If you are depending upon your annual performance appraisal to address these questions, you may be sorely disappointed — too often the person preparing your appraisal doesn’t care about leadership traits and skills, or they are such a poor leader themselves that any assessment they offer holds little value.

This can be especially true if we take our own leadership efforts seriously — for the person who takes the study and practice of leadership as an important role in their lives and careers, obtaining feedback from someone who neglects their own leadership practices is, well, worthless.

An Informal Process
Each of us has peers who do take pride in their own leadership study, skills, and traits. They can help us appraise our own leadership practices, and we can help them. This doesn’t need to be a formal process; in fact, an informal peer review is the best way to assess our leadership. An informal process is more likely to lead to honest feedback, be of value to everyone involved in the process, and help us advance in our leadership journey. Here are three steps to conducting your own peer leadership assessment.

First, check your ego at the door. Grab your humility with both hands and be prepared to hang on when you go to a peer and tell them, “I want to know what you think of my leadership traits and skills. Am I an effective leader? I want your honest opinion.”

Here is some good news: That you are willing to ask these questions of a peer means you are serious about your leadership traits and practices — a trait shared by effective leaders. A good peer reviewer will be honest, offer detailed examples of what you do well and how you can improve, and be willing to engage in an in-depth discussion. Don’t be defensive; just listen and take some good notes.

If you are offered specific areas in which your peer thinks you can improve, try to develop a plan to address the concern. For example, if your peer believes you are quick to dismiss input from others offered during meetings (a very poor trait as it insults the person offering input, will lead others to avoid offering their input, and ultimately means you may never hear some really good ideas), develop a plan to address this issue.

Together, you may decide that in the future you will purposefully give the input some thought before commenting. Or, you might ask the person offering the input to expand on their comments, which shows that you are valuing their input. Remember, you are asking your peer for their honest opinion; don’t let your ego put up a barrier when you are asking them for a favor.

Second, a “peer” does not always mean a person of equal rank. Here, I use the term “peer” to refer to anyone whom you believe is serious about developing their own leadership and the leadership in those with whom they work. The peer may be of the same rank, but may also be a superior or someone of lesser rank; their rank relative to your rank is less important than your shared interest in being effective leaders and having an honest and frank discussion about the practice of leadership.

Of course, there is value in obtaining feedback from both superiors and subordinates, as they will view your leadership through different prisms. Meanwhile, a peer of the same rank may offer different insight because they face the same challenges and responsibilities as you. Seek input from people you trust to be honest (even if it is painful), and who you believe can offer you detailed feedback. While it is comfortable to ask friends (close friends can be very honest and offer detailed feedback), make a point of asking for assistance from others who are not close friends.

We all know individuals in our organization who have a reputation as being effective leaders — go to them and ask for their input. You may think these people don’t know you well enough to have an opinion of you, but you may be wrong; another trait of effective leaders is that they pay close attention to the leadership practices of others!

The final step is to repeat the process! Obtaining only one person’s input will have limited value, so when you launch your leadership peer review, seek input from two to four peers. This will allow you to discuss the input of one peer with the others, give you a more “global” assessment of your skills and traits, and — most importantly — reinforce input you hear from more than one peer. If two or more peers are telling you the same thing (whether positive or an area of improvement) you can be confident that your performance in that area is effective, or needs some work.

A Final Thought
Leaders become better leaders because they study leadership. While that can include reading books, attending a leadership course, or using other avenues of leadership development, talking about leadership with others who share your passion for the subject can be among the most profitable investments of your time and effort. For effective leaders, discussing leadership is fun! And don’t forget, the peers who are offering their input are utilizing their leadership skills and traits while helping you.

You may even find the peer asking for your input on their leadership!

John Vanek is a leadership, collaboration, and anti-human trafficking consultant and speaker working with law enforcement agencies, non-governmental and community-based organizations, academic institutions and private sector companies. John served 25 years with the San Jose Police Department (retiring in the rank of lieutenant), holds a Master of Arts in Leadership, and is an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of International Policy and Management at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Contact John Vanek