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From the Corps to cops: How military values translate to police leadership

Your rank or position can command compliance, but it doesn’t make you a leader – others deem you to be a leader because of the totality of your character


You are not born a leader, or made a leader, but rather chosen by others to lead because of the qualities you possess and the totality of your character.

I served in the Marine Corps from 1984-1988, and although that was many years ago, the lessons I learned have served me well as a police officer for more than 25 years.

For example, the knowledge I gained as a USMC marksmanship coach helped me become a firearms instructor and later the rangemaster for my police agency. Being a scout/sniper served me well as a member of our SWAT team. And the life-experiences in the Corps definitely helped dealing with people out on the street.

There were many other lessons learned – too many to list – but some of the most profound lessons centered on leadership. The Corps teaches all of its marines to be leaders – you never know when you might be the next one to take charge of your unit. For that reason, they stress the importance of becoming a leader and help to foster the qualities and traits that comprise a good leader.

Rank is an Opportunity to Lead

Rank gives you added responsibility – it doesn’t necessarily make you a leader. Character is the nucleus of leadership and those who are rich in character have others gravitate to them. It isn’t because of what they are, but who they are.

Leaders set the example:

  • A good leader is tactically and technically proficient;
  • A good leader makes sound and timely decisions;
  • A good leader seeks responsibility and takes responsibility for their actions;
  • A good leader keeps their subordinates informed and looks out for their welfare;
  • A good leader inspires others through their esprit de corps;
  • A good leader ensures the mission is accomplished.

There are many qualities or traits that leaders share in common and the Corps identifies 14 of them in the acronym: JJ-DID-TIE-BUCKLE.

Although not everyone may exemplify each and every trait on a consistent basis, this can serve as a goal for all police leaders. As you examine JJ-DID-TIE-BUCKLE, consider how these leadership qualities can be employed at your agency:

Justice: Giving reward and punishment according to the merits of the case in question. The ability to administer a system of rewards and punishments impartially and consistently.

Judgment: The ability to weigh facts and possible solutions on which to base sound decisions.

Decisiveness: The ability to make decisions promptly and to announce them in a clear, forceful manner.

Integrity: Uprightness of character and soundness of moral principles; includes the qualities of truthfulness and honesty.

Dependability: The certainty of proper performance of duty.

Tact: The ability to deal with others without creating offense.

Initiative: Taking action in the absence of orders.

Enthusiasm: The display of sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of duty.

Bearing: Creating a favorable impression of carriage, appearance and personal conduct at all times.

Unselfishness: Avoidance of providing for one’s own comfort and personal advancement at the expense of others.

Courage: The mental quality that recognizes fear of danger, or criticism, but enables a person to proceed in the face of it with calmness and firmness.

Knowledge: Understanding of a science or an art – the range of one’s information, including professional knowledge and an understanding of your subordinates.

Loyalty: The quality of faithfulness to country, Corps (department), unit (assignment), to one’s seniors, subordinates and peers.

Endurance: The mental and physical stamina measured by the ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress and hardship (adversity).

Leadership is a Lifestyle

These traits hang on the wall in my office and serve as a constant reminder to seek self-improvement.

Leadership is not just a word. It is a lifestyle, and it embodies those characteristics outlined above. It is not something someone can assign to you, certainly your rank or position can command compliance, but it doesn’t make you a leader.

You are not born a leader, or made a leader, but rather chosen by others to lead because of the qualities you possess and the totality of your character.

Just like in the Corps, we can all strive to be leaders in law enforcement. Just because you don’t have stripes, bars, or stars doesn’t mean you are not a leader. Conversely, just because you have those stripes, bars, or stars, doesn’t mean you are a leader.

Commit yourself to self-improvement and use these Corps guidelines to stay the course. Set the example that others will emulate and help to develop your peers and subordinates into leaders themselves. If we all strive to achieve these objectives our profession will be as admirable as we all believe that it is.

Semper Fi.

This article, originally published 06/04/2014, has been updated.

Dan Danaher is a retired sergeant with 28 years of law enforcement experience. He has been retained by his former agency as the range master to oversee the firearms and TASER programs. Dan is also the co-founder of Tactical Encounters Inc., a law enforcement training company based out of Michigan.