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3 books that will make you a more effective police leader

A leader who is open to ideas from peers and subordinates will always be a more effective leader than the person who believes they already know enough and can make decisions on their own

Being a leader is a never-ending process. One key trait of an effective leader is their desire to be a life-long learner – one who is always looking to learn and use their new knowledge to improve themselves.

The natural inquisitiveness of a life-long learner has a positive impact on the practice of leadership – being open to listening, learning and considering other opinions allows a leader to be open to the ideas and thoughts of others.

A leader who is open to ideas from peers and subordinates will always be a more effective leader than the person who believes they already know enough and can make decisions on their own.

Learning need not be related directly to our professions, either – any type of learning and self-development enhances other aspects of our lives and work performance, so long as we take the time to see how our new knowledge can be applied to different situations.

Leading Beyond the Job

When discussing leadership, it is often assumed the discussion is within the context of our leadership position at work, yet the practice of leadership is a thread that runs through most aspects of our lives.

When you leave work at the end of the day, what do you do? If you are involved in a civic group, you probably use your leadership skills and traits within the group. If you are coaching a sports team, you are modeling leadership (whether your modeling is effective or ineffective is another discussion). Your family looks to you for leadership every day. So developing our traits, skills, and abilities as a leader impacts many aspects of our lives.

Here are three books every leader should read (or reread). Implementing the knowledge gained from these books will help you (and your organization) for years to come. They do not need to be read in the sequence listed, but taken together these books enhance the knowledge gained from each individual book.

If you are in a position of leadership, desire a position of leadership, or simply consider yourself a student of leadership, you will find these books both relevant and entertaining reading.

1. Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value
In Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value (2003), Bill George, (former CEO of Medtronic, a medical technology company) speaks to the need for “new leadership,” writing, “We need leaders who have a deep sense of purpose and are true to their core values. We need leaders who have the courage to build their companies to meet the needs of all stakeholders, and who recognize the importance of their service to society.”

The need for this “new leadership” is just as relevant today as when the book was released more than a decade ago: A law enforcement leader’s authenticity is critical today when it feels like law enforcement agencies are being attacked from all corners of society.

While Authentic Leadership is written from a corporate context, the lessons related to serving stakeholders, and society in general, are just as applicable to the public service sector. Most importantly, the book delves deeply into what authentic leadership looks like, and reminds us that authenticity cannot be faked — your peers, subordinates, and stakeholders will see you for what you truly are.

2. Leadership is an Art
Considered a classic in the genre of leadership books, Leadership is an Art, by Max DePree (1989), is a short book containing many valuable lessons. DePree illustrates why the practice of leadership should be approached — as the title tells us — as an art: leadership is not fixed, nor does one style of leadership fit all situations or motivate every employee.

One of my favorite passages from the book is, “The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.” DePree continues, asking if followers are reaching their potential in learning and achieving the desired results. Do they manage change with grace? How do your followers compare to these questions? DePree explores leadership using terms that might seem more appropriate to a painter or sculptor, such as “covenant,” “intimacy,” and “tribal storytelling,” yet he also explores the value of pink ice in urinals. You will have to read the book to learn why.

3. The No Asshole Rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t
Finally, a valuable book that explores the damage done to organizations by bad leadership, management, and supervision: The No Asshole Rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t, by Robert I. Sutton (2007). Professor Sutton (a PhD teaching management at Stanford University) offers a funny — if tragic — account of the damage done by bad managers and leaders. This damage is not only recounted in the loss of organizational productivity, but even more importantly in the damage done to employees.

While most leadership books offer advice on how to act, The No Asshole Rule makes plain the damage done daily by the assholes within our organizations and should be a wake-up call to executive leadership to remove or rehabilitate the assholes doing the damage. And we should all applaud Professor Sutton for the great title: He has effectively made asshole a word of acceptable use within the academic — and workplace — discussion of leadership!

Within the massive library of leadership books, these three will help any leader become more effective. Each is engaging; none will require a major investment of time. Any taken alone will be helpful, but all three together should offer a leader more than the sum total of the parts.

Best wishes for you and your leadership adventures!

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