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Are you ready to lead cops? The interpersonal skills you need after you promote

Future law enforcement leaders must build more than a good resume before they’re ready for a promotion

Baltimore Police Department masks

Baltimore Police Department

How do you know if you’re ready to lead? I’m not talking about the measurable criteria for promotion. Of course, you must consider test preparation, the number of years in your current rank, administrative assignments and training – but there’s more to leadership than your resume. The real question is, what do you need in your interpersonal inventory to be ready to lead others?

Today’s law enforcement leaders must boost morale, address performance, and inspire productivity even when officers feel disconnected from their work or undervalued. Although law enforcement leaders work in an environment with defined roles and clear lines of communication, the structure creates challenges with leading people. Here are five interpersonal considerations to prepare yourself for a position where you are leading other people.

1. Emotional intelligence versus emotional readiness

Reflecting on my first journey through the examination process, I began to recognize the value of knowing one’s emotional readiness before deciding to test and promote.

Emotional readiness is different from emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to control and express your emotions, communicate more effectively, defuse conflict and empathize with others. By practicing emotional intelligence, you increase your ability to create better outcomes in decision-making and problem-solving.

When I refer to emotional readiness, I’m talking about the emotional stamina needed to handle the journey of examination testing, promotional assignments, and balancing your personal life and your work life while leading others. All of this can be overwhelming. You must be personally prepared and know how to help your subordinates be prepared.

When was the last time you’ve assessed your emotional readiness?

2. People are your priority

Understand that your people are your greatest investment as a leader. This includes all your people, even those who are difficult to lead.

Leaders don’t have the luxury of having “dream teams” all the time. You will be leading real people with real lives, and they bring their lives to work. The best way to prepare yourself for prioritizing your staff equitably is to intentionally create opportunities to develop, engage and acknowledge your personnel.

An easy way to do this is simply to listen. Whenever I had the time, I’d show my interest in hearing what my officers had to say. Listening requires active participation, creates trust and shows your personnel that you value them. In addition, you pick up the nuggets of what matters to them. Afterward, make sure to follow up with them to continue building that relationship.

Words and actions need to be congruent. Are yours?

3. Ethics matter: Do as you say

Your actions, words and behaviors are always being monitored. Your ethical values often guide how you respond to any given situation. Be careful how your leadership style may reinforce negative behaviors among your employees.

Simple things like rationalizing why you take a long lunch, arrive late to work or leave early, but then discipline your staff for the same things blur the lines of ethical behavior. Your subordinates will take notice.

Ethical conduct can be a slippery slope. There are varying degrees of moral dilemmas, but they all start small.

Are you aware of what you are modeling?

4. Get comfortable with a diversity of ideas

To ensure all those you lead feel seen, heard and valued, you must be intentional with your communication and interactions. It is essential to create an environment where your followers feel safe to share their thoughts, concerns and questions.

It can be uncomfortable if these points of view are different from your personal or professional experiences. However, as you cultivate the environment, be vulnerable, and ask questions, you may see the walls start to come down on both sides. Having done that, you will begin to leverage the benefits of your team’s innovative contributions and new ways of thinking. All in all, this will lead to a healthier work environment.

Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable?

5. Artistry and strategy: Police leadership needs both

Effective leadership means challenging your paradigms on approaching solutions with creativity, artistry and strategy that will help you leverage relationships and operational expectations.

In “Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership,” Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal posit that leadership has two sides: the rational or technical, and the artistic side, which promotes creativity and interpretation. We don’t often think of law enforcement leadership as requiring artistic expression, but it has great utility. Strategic thinking is critical and often more the focal point in policing. However, embracing leadership creativity and artistry opens the lens of innovation, allowing you to see broader possibilities beyond the narrower scope of old practices.

Do you have the capacity to be both?

In closing, I realize these are just considerations until you choose to act on them. If nothing else, remember this quote I live by, “When you know better, you can do better.

To be an effective supervisor requires a different set of skills than being a police officer – here’s how to attain those skills

This article, originally published on February 03, 2022, has been updated.

Jonni Redick retired as an assistant chief and 29-year veteran with the California Highway Patrol (CHP), where she rose through the ranks from county clerical worker to breaking through the “less-than-one-percent” ceiling for women of color in executive leadership in law enforcement. Over her career, she worked throughout California holding uniformed ranks from officer to assistant chief. She was the first female captain of the Contra Costa CHP Area in Martinez, California, where she worked with 18 allied agencies to collectively provide service to an 802-square-mile region. Administratively, she has overseen multi-million dollar statewide nationally recognized programs.

In her assignments prior to retirement as an Assistant Chief, she worked in the Golden Gate Division, San Francisco/Bay Area as a part of executive oversight for 16 field commands with over 1,600 personnel that work in the nine Bay Area counties with over 100 cities and over seven million in population. She retired out of Valley Division within the Sacramento region where she was a part of the executive leadership that oversaw 20 CHP commands spanning over 11 counties. Daily, she oversaw eight CHP commands including the 3rd largest communications center in the state, which handles over one million 911 calls annually.

She is a graduate of POST Command College, Class 56 and holds a Master of Science degree in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership (LEPSL) from the University of San Diego. Currently, she is adjunct faculty for San Joaquin Delta College P.O.S.T. Academy as a Paraprofessional instructor in the Humanities, Social Science, Education, Kinesiology & Athletics Division and approved for the discipline of Administration of Justice. She is also adjunct faculty for the University of San Diego instructing for the MS, Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership Program.

Her progression from front-line police work to executive leadership in a large state agency serving the entire state of California generated her passion for building resilient leaders. She continues to provide leadership training that enhances personal and professional performance to build resilient leadership for 21st-century organizations through her coaching and consulting business, JLConsultingSolutions.

Jonni Redick is the author of “Survival Guide to Law Enforcement Promotional Preparation and “Black, White & Blue: Surviving the Sifting.”