3 keys to selecting the right leadership training

Ask yourself what leadership approach works best within the culture of your department


As resignations and retirements continue at a record pace, the need for good leadership training for the next era of police leaders is more important than ever.

While there is always plenty of training available, finding the training that provides the best return for your organization's training dollar is a bit more difficult.

When evaluating leadership training, keep these three keys in mind:

1. Content is king

While there are dozens of options out there for leadership training, the most important thing to look at is the content of that training. Training that is based on superficial views about leadership, including training that focuses more on pithy sales phrases than actual leadership skills, is probably training that will not satisfy your organization's needs. Look closely at the depth of the training that is being provided, and who is delivering the training to your people. Ask for an outline of the training syllabus, and the qualifications of the trainers or presenters.

Training programs that have a national reputation, or are developed by subject matter experts are always worthy of a closer look. Training experts come from a variety of backgrounds, but the best ones know their field and know how to present their material in a logical and thoughtful manner. Look for past reviews from attendees that praise not only the style and delivery of the trainer but also the content of the training materials.

One important factor to consider is whether the training program itself or the presenter has a publication history. Leadership experts who have had their work published, regardless of the form of publication, are more likely to have polished and thoughtful content and a higher level of professional review and acceptance of their material.

That is not to say that new leadership training topics and new leadership instructors are not worthy of your investment. Some of the newest and brightest thought leaders are out there in the classroom and are ready to deliver excellent training. In those cases, check with others in your professional network to see if they have attended the training, and get their feedback.

2. Have a plan and be consistent

In years past, the leadership training plan for many organizations was, well, not really a plan at all. A new sergeant would be promoted and the department would look for any training that happened to be around, and then sign them up. Six months later another new sergeant would be promoted and the search for training would start all over again. Except, the second new sergeant might not go to the same training or receive the same quality of training. So, we end up with two new sergeants who experienced different training outcomes and may have differing views on leadership, neither of which may even be compatible with the department’s existing leadership culture.

When evaluating leadership programs keep the short- and long-term needs of the department in mind. Ask yourself what leadership approach works best within the culture of your department, and if that approach would be effectively embraced by the top tiers of management. Leadership philosophies can vary widely, from traditional “command and control” to more modern behavioral science approaches to motivation and leadership. Not all organizations have the same needs, so it is best to be selective and consistent in the development of your leadership training plan.

Another thing to remember is that leadership training is not the same as management training. Leadership focuses on the development and motivation of employees through the ethical influence and decision-making of the leader. Management focuses on those technical skills that are needed to handle personnel or organizational issues, such as budgeting or scheduling. Although they are both valuable, the two phrases should not be interchangeable. Look closely at the training curriculum to make sure that leadership training focuses on leadership and not management.

3. Expand your horizon

One mistake we often make in the law enforcement field is that we don’t look beyond our own horizons for quality leadership training. Excellent programs are available that may have originated in other professional disciplines, such as education or business. Although law enforcement organizations are unique, the skills necessary to effectively lead other people are not. There are many outstanding and innovative leadership programs that may not have their roots in law enforcement but can be a valuable addition to your training program.

Finally, I am always a bit suspicious of any leadership training program that refers to the people within an organization as its greatest “resource.” People can be assets to an organization, but should not be referred to as a resource. By definition, resources are things to be used or consumed, and by using them they are reduced in quantity and value. Assets, on the other hand, are worthy of investment and development to help them grow. When we provide our people with great leadership training we are investing in their development, which only adds to their personal and professional value, and brings better overall leadership to the organization.

NEXT: A guide to law enforcement leadership training and graduate degree programs

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