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Share the good stuff: Police leadership tips in a changing world

The leadership journey is challenging and rewarding. Just remember to leave ego at the door


Leadership in our noble profession is more important than ever before.

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As law enforcement faces a pivotal moment in its history, police leaders must rise to the occasion. The responsibilities placed on officers continue to increase, yet society expects them to be infallible.

Officers have also been burdened with growing rigors and dangers as societal changes take place. Leadership in our noble profession is more important than ever before.

The leadership journey can be long and challenging. Here are a few recommendations I have used during my law enforcement career. I hope these tips are valuable to others on their leadership journey.

Share the good stuff

Leaders must be able to motivate and inspire their subordinates to be the best version of themselves. Leaders must be able to elicit greatness from their employees while pushing them to accomplish organizational goals. To do this effectively, leaders need to provide mentorship, thereby ensuring that their subordinates have the tools to succeed. One of my mentors calls this “sharing the good stuff.”

Leaders who hoard the good stuff (thinking that it raises their own value) are not acting as leaders. This mindset must change to ensure continuity of sound leadership in our profession. If you are afraid to share the good stuff, you are depriving your organization, yourself and your subordinates.

My agency prides itself on leadership development. In addition to various executive leadership courses, we provide our supervisors with opportunities to learn administrative functions like budget implementation, policy review, and preparing and presenting agenda items before the city commission. This commitment to our employees gives them a solid foundation for a future administrative role, while also ensuring continuity of services for our organization in the absence of myself or my assistant chief.

Create leadership opportunities for others

Law enforcement leaders must cultivate learning opportunities and growth for their subordinates at all levels of supervision. I am an advocate for leadership without a title. It’s beneficial to foster an environment where those without a formal rank can demonstrate leadership skills in their daily duties. It is during these periods of informal leadership that employees should be showcasing their skills for future promotion.

Move the cheese

The saying “nothing good ever came from comfort zones” could not be truer. Leaders should challenge their employees to try new things. Human nature prevents us from embracing change. It is the fear of the unknown. This concept is depicted in a book I have shared with my leadership team titled, “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. In the book, Johnson crafts a metaphor about new opportunities. The story goes like this: four characters live in a maze where they enjoy cheese in the same spot every day. One day they wake up to find the cheese gone. The characters must then venture out to find new cheese (opportunities) by changing their routine and taking the necessary leap of faith.

Something I like to do in my organization is to switch the roles and responsibilities of our administrators from time to time. This ensures that each staff member understands how to perform multiple administrative functions. This method is something we are in the process of implementing among our patrol sergeants by letting them take turns leading the Criminal Investigations Division.

Leaders must move their subordinates’ cheese every now and again. We must ensure they learn many different functional areas so that they can be better leaders. Perhaps more importantly, leaders need to be a good example for others when their cheese is moved.

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Share your failures

Just as leaders will enjoy successes, they will also have their share of failures. Take the time to celebrate the victories but, more importantly, learn from the defeats. It is important that leaders share these experiences with subordinates to help them avoid the same mistakes. Sometimes ego can get in the way of taking this step; however, I cannot stress how important it is to set aside ego for the greater good of your organization. It is your job to develop others, and sharing your failures is a very important part of that process.

In my own practice, I never miss an opportunity to share both my good and bad decisions with my leadership team. I have talked to them at length about mistakes I have made in the field during my career, along with the things I got right. This transparency not only educates the leadership team but also builds a strong foundation of trust.

Stay humble

Throughout your career, there will be moments where arrogance can creep in. Always remember that serving in a position of leadership is a privilege and not a right. It is critical to surround yourself with individuals who will hold you accountable and play devil’s advocate, rather than be agreeable with every statement or decision you make. The success you experience as a leader is the culmination of the hard work and dedication of those who serve above you and alongside you, but your failures are yours to bear.

At 36 years old, I was given the opportunity to serve in my current organization as Chief of Police. Every year on the anniversary date of my swearing-in I watch a video recording of the ceremony. I do this to remind myself that, leadership successes aside, there once stood a nervous young man who made promises of the type of leader he was going to become. These moments let you reflect on the journey, analyze your successes and failures, and provide a deep appreciation for the opportunity to serve. Always think back to the excitement and nervousness you felt on your first day. Stay humble.

Don’t waste energy on your critics

Throughout your leadership journey, you will make tough decisions that are not necessarily popular. You will have more than your fair share of critics who will vocalize what you could have done better.

President Theodore Roosevelt said it best:

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. Who strives valiantly who errs who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming but who does actually strive to do the deeds who knows great enthusiasms the great devotions who spends himself in a worthy cause who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worse if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Do not waste your energy on the critics who do not count. Focus instead on developing others to ensure that the nobility of our great profession is kept intact. The future of our profession is dependent on your leadership and your ability to develop others. You are in the arena; enjoy every second of it.

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Dr. Jonathan B. Flores is a law enforcement and city government professional with over 22 years of service. He serves as the Assistant City Manager and Chief of Police for the City of Alton, Texas.

Dr. Flores is a 2023 National Law Enforcement Hall of Fame Inductee and has received international, national and state-level recognition for his leadership.

He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Trevecca Nazarene University in 2021, his Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2018, and his Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from the University of Phoenix in 2017.