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
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.