How do you become a better police leader? Ask yourself these 3 questions

Are you prepared to “measure up” to the image of the police leader that you really want to be?

Updated on September 21, 2017.

While leadership requires complex and unique skills, it can also be simple. Most people agree that an effective leader is someone who positively impacts the thoughts, attitudes and behaviors of one or more individuals. Contrary to some popular thought, being an effective leader doesn’t require charisma, command presence or even advanced education. While those can help, they aren’t mandatory requirements for the job.

The most basic skills of an effective leader are those anyone can practice. Indeed, what sets ordinary leaders apart from the best leaders within our organizations is that the latter practice the simple lessons of leadership on a daily basis. Those simple lessons are applied in the form of three basic questions:

  1. Does my leadership style reflect authenticity?
  2. Does my leadership style reflect consistency?
  3. Do I have a courageous conscience?


Many leaders try to model their leadership style after someone they view as being an effective leader. While this can be a great way to start developing your leadership skills, the most effective leaders understand that they will be at their best when they are genuine, not a reincarnation of someone else.

To be an authentic leader, you must clearly define those internal values and qualities that are your highest priorities – that drive your desire to lead others and that make you unique. Being authentic requires  you know who you are and how your strengths, limitations and emotions impact your leadership influence.

Authentic leaders demonstrate and model these internal strengths and values in their work behaviors, decision-making and personal interactions with others. Authentic leaders don’t act one way in public and another way in private, nor do they try to hide or minimize their mistakes out of fear of looking weak.

The most effective leaders recognize that authenticity generates a high level of trust and respect, and that leaders who are not authentic in their display of personal values and motivations will create followers who feel as though they have been misled. A follower that feels as though they have been misled will eventually stop following you.


Aside from wanting leaders who are authentic, followers also want leaders who are consistent. Being consistent is not the same as being predictable. Predictability refers to the expectations that others have of a leader in the manner in which they react and respond to different circumstances, while consistency requires leaders that show steady conformity to their character, values, and beliefs. A leader can be unpredictable in certain situations, yet still conform their behaviors to those qualities that make them an effective leader.

Consistent leaders focus on those issues that are important to them, and then they follow-up on those issues to reinforce that importance to their followers. Their message and their priorities are known by everyone they interact with, and their behaviors and reactions support that message and re-affirm it at every opportunity. Above all, consistent leaders understand that their mood, behaviors, and decision making impact the faith that their followers have in them as a leader. Inconsistency breeds fear and uncertainty, which undermines leadership influence.

Having a Courageous Conscience

This is perhaps the most difficult of the three, and the most rewarding. A courageous conscience involves comparing who you really are as a leader against who you really want to be as leader, then doing something about it. Everyone who aspires to be a leader and effectively influence others has an image of their “leadership selves.”

This image is often developed and refined as you learn more about leadership and practice your leadership influence in both formal and informal roles. Sometimes, however, our impression of our “leadership selves” continues to grow while our actual degree of leadership influence fails to keep up, or even starts to recede.

Having a courageous conscience starts with an honest assessment of what you bring to the organization as a leader. Is it what your superiors and your subordinates need? Leaders with a courageous conscience practice this self-assessment during and following every leadership opportunity.

They ask themselves two honest questions that require both self-reflection and action:

  • Did I handle that situation as my leadership self would have handled it?
  • What will I do different next time?

Leaders with a courageous conscience don’t just paint a picture in their mind of what their best leadership-self should look like, they become their own leadership mentors. 

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