Becoming a leader in any field is a continuous stage of development that never ends and rarely, if ever, allows for the discontinuation of learning.  To become a leader takes dedication, fortitude, and an ability to adapt and evolve to any situation that might come along. It is the top spot, the most vulnerable and exposed area of any team that can be evaluated, criticized, and held under closer scrutiny than any other aspect of a group.  Being the leader comes with the responsibility of being the individual that everyone will look to in times of need, and who will shoulder the blame for their group when necessary.  The role of a leader is to serve those beneath them by setting an example of professionalism and duty.

Leaders can come from any walk of life. They can be born to families that are influential in their community and well-respected by others, and they can come from less reputable areas and broken homes that have taught them how to empathize with others.   There are many qualities that make a leader, but few that define them as well as the inner qualities that are the core values that an individual needs to possess in order to inspire others.  A leader is not often born to the role, but instead is selected by those who see one or more qualities in an individual that are desired and respected by those around them.

Those who actively seek to lead are often the ambitious, driven types that desire the role

of leadership and are bound to do whatever is required to elevate themselves to such a role.

While such individuals are not inherently bad leaders, they often bear watching as their ambition

can be easily tempted by environmental and societal factors. Such influences can be largely

harmless and do no real wrong, but they can also lead to the individual making morally corrupt

decisions to gain and even retain the authority they seek.  Individuals that seek the role of

leadership are those who genuinely want to help people most times, but can be seen to make

decisions that cause them to be seen as less than efficient role models and morally corrupt mentors.

Leaders who are not drawn by ambition to the role of the leader but by a reluctant sense of duty to their fellow human beings are those who are often hesitant to assume the role.  These individuals typically follow a loose to strict moral code and generally act on what they know to be right and just.  Their reluctance often stems from the fear of responsibility or even the thought of what might happen once they are given a measure of authority over another.  Some might call it humility, but on many occasions it is the realization that they are not emotionally or mentally fit or ready for the role of leaderships that others attempt to foist upon them.

Those leaders that accept their role without reluctance or an overabundance of ambition are those rare few who know what must be done and do not shy away from their duty.  They tend to be strict students of their chosen field and aspire to be greater than what they have been trained to be. Such leaders are often known for pledging their service and life to their ideals and to what they know to be just and right within their chosen field. These types of leaders very often are those who are not the overall popular choice of their peers, but are considered to be the best person for the job.

Another quality that is also quite popular in many leaders is charisma. While to some this

quality is merely the act of being able to draw people forth and gain their attention, to a leader

charisma is a tool by which to both draw people to their cause and to make those same people

believe just as strongly as they do that their ideals are the right ones to follow. An effective

leader will not make demands of their people, but will listen and offer feedback in a continuous

and efficient manner so as to facilitate better communication with those they work with.  In

effect charisma is the quality that a leader must possess and use to such extent that they are able

to convince others that they are worth following.

In the world of law enforcement a leader is the individual to whom other officers and

personnel look to when necessary and the one to whom those same officers will learn from.

Leadership requires a great deal from any individual and is a learning process that can reveal a

great deal about the individual (Willis, 2011). Leaders are often required to put aside their

personal interests for the greater good of the group and to help mentor those who are either their

subordinates or are in need of guidance.  Within the realm of law enforcement the mark of a

good leader is an individual that seeks to perform their duty while attempting to serve the

interests of their fellow officers and the community they are sworn to protect.

Superior officers, or leaders, are those who often reach their rank through long hours, exhaustive effort, and a basic to superior understanding of what it means to be afforded the top spot in their precinct.  Such individuals are by no mean perfect or even respected leaders at all times, but they have gained their position by more than luck and circumstance.  Becoming a superior officer does not make an individual a good leader, but by becoming a good leader it is possible to rise up through the ranks by deed and reputation.  Superiors are typically required to be those with the highest moral fiber and possess a sense of justice that is far greater than those who serve beneath them.

There are unfortunate cases in which an individual that has desired to lead has attained a

superior rank but has done so in a manner that is not befitting an officer of the law who must

keep in mind the best interests of their officers or their community.  It is a rare occasion that

happens in which a commanding officer does not pay attention to such crucial interests, and in

such cases the person placed into such a leadership role does not last long and is either asked or

forced to resign.  Leadership is not about perfection, nor is it a role that can be custom fit to

every individual at all times.

Those who lead are often those who have shown that they have the capacity and the

aptitude to learn and to show behavioral patterns that enable them to assume such a prominent

role.  While leadership is typically a quality that is inherent in many individuals, the adherence to

the many different aspects that define a successful and capable leader are often the result of

intense training. This training is designed to accentuate the leadership qualities of an individual

by applying behavioral science and modern theories in leadership that are designed to test

motivation, performance and satisfaction in achieving organized goals (Leadership In Police Organizations Program, n.d.).  Those capable of finding success in such training programs are then encouraged to learn how to apply and integrate what they have learned throughout their training into their everyday lives to further their commitment as well-developed leaders.

One crucial role of a leader is to take care of those who serve under them (Glennon,

2010). In the case of law enforcement, a leader is not solely defined by rank, but by their ability

to serve those who follow them and to insure that they are at all times watching out for their

subordinates. The role of a leading officer is to insure the safety and security of their fellow

officers, and to set a positive example to follow. There is no “good enough” for a leader in any position, especially in law enforcement. For a leader, there must always be a drive to succeed and to excel, as the leader that doesn’t push themselves and their people for better is bound to eventually fail.

In law enforcement failure can bring about many different outcomes, not the least of

which is an unwanted or unexpected fatality on the job. Leaders must be able to display

knowledge of their environment and community and plan accordingly to insure the safety of their

fellow officers.  They must also be knowledgeable enough to know how to respond to their

community and understand what must be done to alleviate any problems within said community that arise.  The role of a leader is an important fixture in law enforcement, as it is not just a position of authority, but one of great responsibility.

For every good leader that emerges from the ranks however there are several others who

exemplify what it means to be a very poor and maladjusted leader.  These individuals are

typically mean-spirited, callous, and in some cases are quite driven by the need to control and

operate with near-impunity. While law enforcement has long attempted to weed out such

individuals with the application of psych evaluations and other such measures, those individuals who desire authority over others at all costs still manage to secure leadership roles. They are a prime example of what it means to be a poor leader.

Those individuals who seek only personal glory and recognition for their achievements

are the type of leaders that will typically not seek to advance or even recognize their subordinates

under normal circumstances.  Very often they will advance their fellow officers only if they are

granted the attention they desire and are in some way given the adulation that they have not yet

earned but tend to need to massage their ego.  Such individuals are not typically natural born

leaders, but there are the rare few who possess the necessary charisma to lead but not the intestinal fortitude or the will that can easily define a leader.  Many see the role of a leader as being a position that is meant to cater to their every whim, not as a position to do what is best for the team.

A leader understands what it is to sacrifice, to give up their time and effort for the benefit

of those around them.  Such individuals are often quite humble and while they can receive praise

and adoration, they will often allow it to transfer from themselves to their team.  They

understand that without the team and their efforts that the role of a leader would be highly

irrelevant.  A leader whose team does not choose to follow them is an ineffective leader due to lack of communication as well as trust.  Individuals will follow those they know will never ask them to do anything that they would not do themselves.

Real leaders, whether they bear a superior rank or not, are servants as well as teacher and

do not seek to put their personal glory ahead of the team.  In law enforcement rank does not

define a leader, as the actions of an officer can speak louder than their insignia.  There is of

course the need to observe rank and respect the uniform, but leaders are known for exercising

good judgment, sound reasoning, and a dedication to the people around them that can inspire and empower others.  A leader is someone that does not seek personal achievement at the expense of those around them.

Those who seek to lead are often those who do not think of themselves first, all but

abandoning the sense of self when performing their duty.  They are the ones who often show up

early to their shift and do not leave until they are certain that the job has been completed to the

absolute best of their ability. Leaders are the ones who help others to learn, to build, and to

maintain a constant rapport not just within the circle of officers they influence, but within their

community as well.  Real leaders put their own ego in check when it comes to the needs of others and their duty.

There are always rules when it comes to being a leader. However, despite the set code of ethics and procedures within law enforcement there are other codes that both overlap and at times act as core commandments that leaders must pay close attention to (Thin Blue Line of Leadership, 2016), such as:

1) Practice and recognize appropriate culture before following rules and regulations.  The

skill with which a squad handles themselves around others will often facilitate the adherence to

rules and regulations set forth by the law.

2) Instruct officers to aspire to the role of a leader for the following generation of recruits.  Through strong and decisive mentoring it is possible to create honest, upstanding individuals who will stand as an example for those officers who are looking for an example.

3) Recall the purpose behind entering law enforcement in the first place. Share that

purpose with others to offer inspiration and a desire for something better.  The basic

understanding of law enforcement and why it is important to a leader and to those around them is

vital to their role within the justice system.

4) Those leaders that are trained will only be as good as their training.  When presented with a stressful situation many officers, leaders included, will fall back upon their training. Capable leaders will be able to utilize their training to work through any situation.

5) The value that comes from doing what is right and just is important and must be emphasized.

6) The average leader will recognize that fear does not justify any action or inaction on

their part.  Fear often causes hesitation that in the field of law enforcement can lead to disastrous

consequences for an officer or their squad.  A good leader does not hesitate and inspires others to understand the harsh reality of their duty and to react to it, not shy away from it.

7) It is always important that a leader recognizes and gives a fitting reward to those who operate under them.  This can in turn promote a stronger and more efficient police force that can produce far more capable leaders.

8) Efficient leaders do not waste time when instructing their subordinates and fellow officers. Briefing time is often short and a good leader knows not to squander such instructional and important moments.

9)  A responsible leader will always seek to increase their influence with their squad by keeping in contact, practicing efficient communication, and forming a connection with those under their command. A good way to do this is to step out of the office from time to time and handle calls with the officers who patrol the streets.

10) The success of an efficient and capable leader can be seen through the success of their fellow officers.  A leader will place their own personal gain on hold in order to see to and facilitate the success of their subordinates and peers.

Tradition has a great deal to do with leadership as well, as throughout the ages every leader of any note has possessed many key qualities that include those listed above, as well as several others.  Leaders have always needed to be strong, either mentally, physically, emotionally, or all three at once.  Those individuals seeking this role have typically been highly charismatic, forceful but not abusive towards their subordinates, and in most cases, male.  While the traditional roles of a leader have changed greatly throughout history, male dominance has for a very long time been one of the driving factors behind leadership.

In the current day and age the traditionally male role has been changed quite drastically as women and those of other race, culture, and ethnicity have stepped up to the challenge with great fervor.  Men were at one time considered smarter, wiser, stronger, and more capable of performing the dangerous duties required by a position in law enforcement. During the last several decades the rise of women and different ethnicities has changed the landscape of law enforcement and the roles of leadership as well.  Where once white males were seen as the preferred role models and leaders of the police force, now women and individuals from various cultures have taken over these positions.

It is a definite step forward in the field of law enforcement that equal opportunity is now

being given to those who were at one point and time deemed to be not worthy or good enough to attempt to make a career in this profession.  There have been intense struggles and many issues to be resolved in the push for women and those of other races to be accepted as officers of the law, let alone leaders among their fellow officers.  The upheaval within the police force was such that women and those of other races who enlisted were often discriminated against even by their fellow officers. This was a time when leaders were badly needed.  Unfortunately, this was also a time when many of the more traditional-thinking leaders did not step forward as they sought to cling to their position and their authority.

True leaders are not intimidated or frightened by change, but instead learn how to embrace it and accept new situations as they emerge.  As the police force became integrated and learned to accept women and other ethnicities into its ranks, many leaders began to finally come around and state their willingness to accept the changes and make accommodations for those women and other officers who would be serving beneath them.  This however did not solve the problem, but made it worse as their fellow officers were quick to cite that preferential treatment would make them less than equal, and offer an unfair advantage to those newcomers who would not have to undergo the same experiences as those who had come before them.

Those who have been discriminated against were unfortunate enough at times to

encounter leaders who had in their own time possibly been great and well respected, but had

allowed the prospect of change to sour their way of thinking.  Good leaders are those who help

their fellow officers to build upon and establish a successful and promising career. Great leaders

are those that do not discriminate against anyone for any reason and believe that anyone can

accomplish whatever they set their minds to.  The difference between a good and a great leader is

that the good leaders will reach the top of their profession and cease to learn or be open to new

experiences.  Great leaders will understand that real learning never stops, and only through further learning will they be able to truly serve those who follow them.

In law enforcement a true leader is one that remains diligent and does not allow themselves to cling to old ways and outdated practices. The role of police officers has not changed much over the years, but some of the laws they are charged with enforcing have.  A leader in law enforcement needs to be able to understand what is required of their officers and themselves in order to be effective. By remaining knowledgeable about the law and how to apply it, these leaders can then further insure the success of their subordinates and fellow officers.

Rank means almost nothing when it comes to being a leader in law enforcement.  While it is very true that rank denotes who is in charge and who stands at the head of the pack, the role of a leader is much more than just a rank.  A leader is a person who others look up to and aspire to be like. They are the voice within the system that can inspire others and create or stimulate belief.  A leader could be the newest rookie on the force, or the most wizened and grizzled detective in the precinct.  Being the head of the department does not signify leadership if no one is willing to follow that person’s lead.

In order to lead, a person must first be willing to serve.  To be an effective leader an

individual should know what starting at the bottom is like, as this grants that individual an in-

depth perspective that carries great value if they should ever reach the top of their department.

Leaders of officers are not born to the position. They are forged in the fires of duty and service

that is required of every officer that joins the force.  In order to become a truly effective,

and worthwhile leader an individual must know what it is like to be a lowly rookie with grand ideals and a desperate need to prove themselves to a job that is often thankless, demanding, and sometimes quite dangerous.  To become a leader, an officer must know what it is like to serve.


Glennon, J. (2010). Keys to successful police leadership. Police One. Retrieved from

The Blue Line of Leadership (2016). Law Enforcement Leadership Commandments. Law

Officer. Retrieved from

Welcome To The Leadership In Police Organizations Program. (n.d). International Association

of Chiefs of Police. Retrieved from

Willis, D. (2011). Perspective: Principles of Effective Law Enforcement Leadership. FBI Law

Enforcement Bulletin. Retrieved from


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