Trending Topics

Why police leaders ‘faking it’ will fail

Isn’t it ironic that in a profession where we pride ourselves on our ability to see through a criminal offender’s lies and deceit, some leaders believe we can’t see through theirs?

Do you follow a particular leadership style? For example, the terms “transformative”, “principle-centered”, “transactional”, “servant”, and others have all been used to describe various leadership styles.

These terms, along with the principles — or style — they represent can be enticing to embrace. To adopt a style of leadership can help us frame our personal leadership practices; we have a name for the way we perform our leadership. But claiming a particular style doesn’t always mean we act that way.

If you claim you follow a particular style, do you truly embrace its philosophy? Or, are you just faking it?

Check Your Authenticity
Just by their names, principle-centered and servant leadership seem easy to comprehend: Principle-centered refers to having a set of internally-held principles from which our leadership actions are based. These principles include integrity, honor, discipline, and understanding our actions can have a profound impact far beyond the team, unit, or organization we lead.

A leader may claim to be principle-centered, but if we see them to lack personal integrity — to lack discipline in the way they conduct their lives — will we truly respect them as leaders? Probably not — we see the disconnect between their words and their actions.

Servant leadership takes its name from the concept of the leader as a servant of others; the organization, subordinates, and in the case of law enforcement, the community. I once heard a colleague say, “I’m a servant leader.” But the problem was, he was one of the most self-serving members of the agency — and everyone knew it.

In both of these illustrations, these leaders forgot what may be the most important trait of leadership: authenticity. An authentic leader is one who clearly embraces the principles of leadership in all aspects of their life. They don’t preach honor while lacking personal integrity. They don’t claim to hold a leadership philosophy of service when they focus on their self-interests.

Don’t Be an A__hole
Here is the key distinction of authenticity: People will always see you for who you really are, regardless of what you say, or how you act. If you are truly a good person, people know it. If you are self-serving, egotistical, or an “a__hole” people know that, too. If you are a good person working to lead in a way that is respectful of others, people will accept your leadership and work hard to accomplish goals with you. If you are not, most of your subordinates will reluctantly perform their duties.

Those who praise your leadership are probably hanging onto your coat tails — and everyone will know that, too. Isn’t it ironic that in a profession where we pride ourselves on our ability to see through a criminal offender’s lies and deceit, some leaders believe we can’t see through theirs?

You are responsible for your leadership. You are responsible for your integrity, your honor, your service to your organization and those you serve. Fail to take responsibility and those around you suffer, along with the organization and your community.

But when the positive principles of any leadership style are supported by authentic, positive actions and behavior, effective leadership happens! Take some time to examine your motivations to lead. Do others embrace your leadership, or reluctantly do as you ask? Are you an authentic leader, or are you just faking it?

John Vanek is a leadership, collaboration, and anti-human trafficking consultant and speaker working with law enforcement agencies, non-governmental and community-based organizations, academic institutions and private sector companies. John served 25 years with the San Jose Police Department (retiring in the rank of lieutenant), holds a Master of Arts in Leadership, and is an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of International Policy and Management at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Contact John Vanek