What is your leadership IQ?
The insatiable learner is the most effective leader
Before you start editorializing in your mind about “leadership IQ” and attaching it to leaders you know, let me say that for the purpose of this commentary IQ stands for Inquisitiveness Quotient, not intelligence.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but curiosity is the mother of learning. The aspiring leader who desires a leadership position for power and influence may find satisfaction in jumping through the political hoops and rounds of paper and pencil testing (or screen tapping as the case is more likely to be) to get a decoration on their sleeve or epaulet, but the insatiable learner will be the most effective leader.
There is no knowledge wasted in law enforcement
I’ve long held that no knowledge is wasted in police work. That’s why I encourage aspiring college students to consider studies in subjects other than criminal justice. Don’t get me wrong, those CRJ degrees are great (I have them and still teach them), but offenders operate from a variety of skill sets, thought processes and enterprises that cops don’t necessarily know about.
I often tell the story of a deputy who entered law enforcement after several years as a meat cutter. He was able to solve a dear poaching case based on how the illegal kill was field stripped. Would you know a stolen corn picker from a stolen hay rake? Not everyone would. If a serial killer left poetry quotes at the scene would you know where to go to decipher their significance? Could you calculate the loss from a bulk gasoline tank given its circumference and temperature? Can you recognize a stolen diamond ring as a cathedral or arabesque filigree style?
Many potential leaders (or aspirants to rank) devour books on leadership and management. Your local bookstore or library has shelf after shelf of such texts. It must be that there are different ways to lead and manage, otherwise there would be just one book! Why not study the human brain, social psychology and culture as a foundation for human relations? Have a spouse or friend pick out a book for you that you would never choose for yourself.
Books are not the only storehouse of knowledge. Follow a craftsman around for a day. Go to a museum, any museum on any subject. Listen to war stories from a combat veteran or the old cop about to retire. Listen to children and members of your own family beyond commenting on the weather or dinner. Pick a podcast on anything other than murder mysteries. Find one that will express an opinion you will passionately disagree with.
I often offer my experience to my students. I am a walking history book on the last four decades of policing. I also interacted with the previous generation who were walking histories of the decades before that. Have you ever talked about the old days before Miranda or the Warren Court in general? You’ve never heard of the Warren Court era? You didn’t know that the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to local law enforcement until a century after the 14th amendment? Are the 2020 riots like the 1960s riots? What was it like before cell phones? How did you verify a paper driver’s license? Every culture values its heritage. Does American policing value ours?
Conversations as education
One of the keys to community policing is communication. Even in these days of digital distancing, personal conversation is a sublime mechanism of learning. I know the calls are backing up, but do you really have to leave a victim or witness as soon as you know “just the facts, ma’am”? Take another five minutes for conversation. How’s the neighborhood? Where are you from? How did you choose your brand of lawnmower? Obviously, if you get the vibe that idle conversation is unwelcome then say thank you and move on. But you might be surprised by what you learn about your community and citizenry.
A wise learner will take advantage of other officers when at training seminars. The sage on the stage clicking the slides is not the only source of knowledge. Meet officers from different jurisdictions, compare notes, arrange ride-alongs and invite them on your lunch break instead of clustering with your badge mates.
Eyes on the prize
You know the type of leader who was laser-focused on the promotion process. And good for them. They may very well have earned that bar or star. But you also know the leader, rank or not, who has a deep sense of the world and human behavior. Those types aren’t mutually exclusive. But the aspiring leader is well-advised that being a collector of random knowledge is a valued asset.