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What all good leaders should know about courageous empowerment

“The great need for anyone in authority is courage.” — Alistair Cooke

As we examine the various elements of courageous leadership we must understand leadership itself — and we need to start at what leadership is not. First, leadership is not management. While our agencies may have managers and they may actually be seen as successful, leadership is much more important to the success of the organization as a whole and without it our employees will never achieve everything they’re capable of.

Consider these six ways in which managers and courageous leaders differ.

1. Managers want to constantly evaluate and judge others while courageous leaders thrive on giving feedback to others so they can succeed.
2. Managers want total control of their employees while courageous leaders will respect them and trust them to accomplish their job.
3. Managers want to organize and micromanage to keep their employees working while courageous leaders will empower those under them to achieve the desired results.
4. Managers maintain their employees and the status quo while courageous leaders inspire and develop employees while ignoring the status quo for what is right for the future of the organization and employees.
5. Managers make sure others obey the rules while courageous leaders understand that the character of those under them is by far the most important trait for the employee, organization and community.
6. Managers make sure the required training hours are met while courageous leaders will foster a “culture of safety” throughout an organization that ultimately has the best interest of the employee and their family in mind.

Courageous Empowerment
Courageous leadership is about encouraging and inspiring others to accomplish the mission at hand. Those with courageous leadership take risks. They teach others and more importantly they empower others. We give folks a gun, train them, give them the power of life and death but don’t trust them to do their job without managing every detail.

If the greatest need of anyone in authority is courage than one of the most courageous acts any leader can do is to empower their employees. Law enforcement suffers from a history and culture that defines leadership by what you can make someone else do. “If I give an order you better follow immediately,” tends to be the position of far too many and one of the biggest faults is we think that success on a promotional exam will automatically bring success as a leader. One of the most courageous things to do is to empower others.

Empower Decisions
Employees of all ranks must be given the ability to make their own decisions. The leader’s job is to encourage and even solicit those decisions and unless those decisions are illegal or against agency policy, the employee’s decision should stand. Just because something is decided in a different way than you may have done it does not make the decision wrong. I have thought many times throughout my career when someone made a decision that I would have not done the same but it has to be examined not on what we would do but can that decision accomplish the goal(s) of the agency or help complete the mission at hand? Far too many times I saw that it did and it turned out to be an excellent decision.

Empower Ideas
If you want your agency to explode forward then open up the line of communication with all ranks and solicit their ideas. Because we have been so closed-minded in this area for a long time, it may be hard to get the ideas needed but it took time to close the employees off, it will take time to get them back.

Having an “open door” policy is not enough. Most employees will not enter that domain so you, as a courageous leader, must go to them. I try to ride with an officer or go out on the streets with the officers for eight hours a week.

I thought it would be easy to do but because our agencies have taken such a “management” role instead of a leadership role, the paperwork and committees can be endless. Some of that will always be necessary but unless you are among others, the only ideas you will entertain are your own and that is a dangerous place to be.

Have an “open door” policy but do it inside a police car with some of the smartest and brightest human beings available to us today, our police officers. When the ideas are brought forward, never immediately dismiss them. You must take action on some to have the credibility to empower others with ideas.

Empower and Trust
Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu (500 BC) may have said it best when he said “When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, “We did it ourselves.”

We owe those that put their life on the line every day for their community and organization enough respect to empower them to be the best they possibly can be. It may go against everything you have been taught and against your own instinct on why you wanted a rank but it is not weakness to empower and trust — it is the ultimate in strength and leadership to let those who are capable rise to their highest of capabilities.

Officer Safety issues are of paramount importance to us. Armed with the knowledge that vehicles have killed officers in higher numbers than have firearms in recent few years, we have brought on a columnist who focuses on law enforcement driver training and safer pursuits.