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Profound simplicity for effective new leaders: Key leadership takeaways from IACP 2023

Humility, innovation, collaboration and communication are key for success

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Throughout the event, leadership lessons and operational strategies were shared, and police leaders engaged in innovative thinking to advance the policing profession.

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This past October, hundreds of police leaders from around the world convened in San Diego for the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference. Throughout the event, leadership lessons and operational strategies were shared, and police leaders engaged in innovative thinking to advance the policing profession.

I had the distinct privilege of attending and building a schedule of various discussions and topics centered around police culture and leadership. As an avid consumer of written, video and audio content on organizational culture and development, I was prepared with my eager ears, notepad and laptop to take down copious notes addressing critical issues to process for my own understanding and share with my circles.

My leadership development brain was salivating as I perused the titles and agencies from which these national and world law enforcement leaders were connecting from to share their experience and intellect. However, in talks of leadership and culture change, perhaps my biggest takeaways were a series of simple themes I recognized that are foundational for any new leader’s success.

Humility

Law enforcement leaders face significant issues such as daunting attrition, strained community relations and rising crime, yet, the top dogs of the biggest agencies across the continent and beyond maintain a calm recognition that they do not know all the answers and have to rely heavily on their team.

Most first responders are “doers” and action-oriented, which tends to tempt us into doing things ourselves. When people are looking to us, we may have a tendency to think that if we don’t come up with the solution, we are letting our people down.

Rather, many agency leaders cite successes where they are only one piece of the puzzle. Line-level officers are not only force multipliers, but they are closest to the problems. By engaging input, there is a recognized “checking of the ego” that demonstrates humility. We as leaders can model that we don’t know what we don’t know, are ready to be students, and help coordinate and lead efforts rather than inventing them altogether.

Innovation

One of the discussion panels I attended was from leaders of the Five Eyes, is an alliance of international police agencies (US, Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Australia) working together to combat global crime epidemics such as human and drug trafficking.

As one leader put it, regarding the fentanyl crisis, our enemies are two major cartels who have seemingly unlimited money supplies, no rules and little sense of risk. We can never go head-to-head proverbially, so we have no choice but to be smarter, more nimble and innovative.

Creativity is the name of the game. Most officers will admit that law enforcement does not tend to lend itself toward creative energy traditionally, due to a host of factors to include legal and bureaucratic dynamics. However, officers must recognize that effective police professionals have and always will be adaptive and tenacious in the field, so they must allow themselves to transition this into the office to develop new plans, strategies, policies and practices.

Whether it is the international war on drugs or fixing staffing issues in your region, innovation is critical.

Collaboration

As mentioned prior, no leader can do it alone. In discussions of culture change, top cops recognized their need to bring in their staff they supervise and allow that to trickle down. Not only do they invest in their teams, but they reach outside to connect with other leaders. If you talk to a few other officers you will quickly find out no agency’s problems are unique. Now, take the next step and network to pitch ideas around. Debrief what didn’t work for you and spitball adaptations to try to move the needle in the right direction.

The smartest coach, the most caring coach, or the most technical coach won’t produce a team with winning results. It is the coach who can connect, motivate and synchronize with their team who will make the team victorious.

Communication

Words matter – what they are, how they are written and how they are spoken. How they are received will be determined on those factors, and also how you show up (historically, relationally, non-verbal communication, etc.). If we want to be effective, we need to have communication that is genuine. We need to have communication that spells out our humility, our desire to innovate and our appreciation for utmost collaborative energy.

By being visible (literally and figuratively), our team can get a strong sense of who we are. By communicating in ideal ways, we will not just communicate specifically and directly what our mission and values are. By virtue of how we show up and lead, we will demonstrate our mission and values through modeling.

We will elevate those who are being the stellar examples of the culture we are building. We will communicate our disapproval of toxic, catabolic attitudes and energy that would otherwise fester in our organizations.

New assignment in leadership can be as daunting as it is exciting. However, by surrendering your ego and having grace with yourself and your team, you can focus on simple principles for success. Culture change is about the long game. By staying humble, staying hungry to find creative solutions, embracing the power of many through your team and staying connected, you will navigate the road ahead with promise.

Topics for discussion

Use the following to launch a discussion about effective leadership at your next supervisor meeting.

The role of humility in law enforcement leadership

  • Discuss the significance of humility in leadership, especially in the context of law enforcement.
  • Explore examples of how top law enforcement leaders demonstrate humility and the impact it has on their teams and communities.
  • Share personal experiences or insights on how humility can be fostered and encouraged among leaders within the police force.

Fostering innovation in policing

  • Analyze the challenges that law enforcement agencies face in promoting innovation within their organizations.
  • Discuss the importance of creativity and adaptability in addressing contemporary issues such as crime epidemics and staffing problems.
  • Share strategies and best practices for encouraging innovation in policing, both at the leadership level and among frontline officers.

Collaboration and communication in law enforcement

  • Examine the role of collaboration in driving positive culture change within police agencies.
  • Explore ways in which law enforcement leaders can effectively engage their teams and external partners to address common issues.
  • Share examples of successful communication strategies that promote genuine communication, mission and value alignment, and the elimination of toxic attitudes in police organizations.

Commander Eric Tung has been a police officer for 16 years in Washington State. He currently oversees patrol operations and his department’s wellness and peer support programs. He has led and innovated recruiting, hiring, training, community engagement, civil disturbance and field training programs. Eric was a 2022 “40 Under 40" honoree, recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He develops wellness and leadership content on @bluegritwellness on Instagram, bluegritwellness.com and the Blue Grit Radio podcast.

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