Most of my articles are aimed at firearms training issues. Firearms training has been my passion for over 25 years and I am constantly looking for ways to improve adult range learning and the retention of lifesaving skills in those we train. I listen to podcasts on adult learning, attend classes on the psychology of learning, and try to find ways to apply this information to range training.
Most of this information is directly applicable and in our classes we use it to great effect. But the best way to improve adult learning and retention is to be a good leader. As anyone who has attended our classes can attest, I believe the best firearms instructors are also great leaders. There is no escaping this simple fact: a good teacher, coach, mentor and instructor possesses good leadership skills.
Combative Firearms Training, LLC was started in 2011 and since the first instructor course I have included a slide during the first class session that says, “The biggest problem facing law enforcement is a lack of leadership.” Unfortunately, 12 years later, that slide is still as relevant as ever. It may even be more relevant today given recent events that highlight the problems that can arise when a department lacks leadership. On the other hand, good management can improve a department and help prevent these kinds of serious problems.
Problems at the top
When we talk about leadership, we often focus on the top of the chain of command pyramid. Many people think of chiefs, sheriffs, captains, majors and other high officials. We usually see these people on television after something goes completely wrong or before elections when voters are deciding on funding measures or candidates. When this group is on TV, I guarantee it’s bad news. When was the last time you saw a police chief on television holding a press conference telling the community about the many positive interactions officers had with the community? I am waiting…
It is easy to point the finger at this group because they occupy the top positions in our departments. Since there is only one police chief or sheriff, they stand out. While it is true that these positions hold the ultimate positions of authority in a law enforcement agency, these people are merely a symptom of a much deeper problem.
A fundamental problem
As a profession we need to start having management expectations and training on entry level positions. The vast majority of sergeants and lieutenants in law enforcement had no formal leadership training until then after they were selected as supervisors. How is it possible? Why do we select new supervisors and expect them to be some of the most influential leaders within our departments without providing leadership training and opportunities prior to promotion? How do we know what we are getting once they are promoted?
This is a problem with a simple solution. We should have leadership training opportunities and leadership expectations for every rank in our agencies from day one.
It shouldn’t stop there. In any police academy there should be leadership opportunities and expectations from all cadets. Even if someone does not have a formal leadership position, we need to have leadership expectations from each cadet. When they put on the badge, put on the ballistic armor and buckle the duty belt around their waist on their first day on patrol, the citizens of our communities expect them to introduce themselves and act as leaders. We must have the same expectations.
When they graduate from the academy, we need to have leadership expectations for them when they go into field training. Even in training, they look like us, dress like us and have the same responsibilities as all other officers in the department. They have the authority to use reasonable force to take people into custody without their consent, and the influence to change people’s behavior just by being there.
This is a lot of impact to ask of anyone, let alone someone between the ages of 21-29. When bad things happen because someone gets badge-heavy, it shouldn’t be a surprise. But strong leadership and leadership expectations can help prevent bad behavior from occurring within our ranks. Bad behavior by one casts a stain on us all.
But that’s their fault
I know what many of you are thinking, “But if we had a boss who was a good leader, we wouldn’t have these problems.” It’s a weak excuse for failing to act where you have the most influence. During an interview with Brian Willis of Winning Mind Training, he put it very clearly: “The majority of law enforcement officers are sergeants on down. When officers, deputies, agents, constables, troopers, corporals and sergeants become department heads and shift agents, it poor management at command staff level almost irrelevant.”
We may not want to admit it, but if we have leadership training opportunities and expectations at the bottom of the chain of command pyramid, we can overcome bad leadership at the top. How many of those at the top have influence over patrol briefing or training? In fact, how many of the bad managers attend “mandatory” departmental training? In the 16 years I served as a sergeant, I can count on one hand the number of times the chief participated in a patrol briefing. And when he did, it was a quick appearance rather than an active participant. However, the sergeant, corporals and officers had a huge influence on each and every briefing. Strong leadership from these positions affects the quality of information, change goals and the overall attitude of the team.
As a profession, we cannot continue down the path of terrible leadership. We are in the life-saving business. Law enforcement is too important to our communities, our states and our nations to put political drones in front of the camera when things go wrong. Let’s lead from the bottom up to save our noble profession.
NEXT: The 22 leadership qualities police look for in their supervisors