Why I Changed My Leadership Style and How I Did It

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How’s your style of leadership?

Is it in need of improvement?

You don’t know?

Maybe you should find out!

My journey began as a “top-down” coercive leader (courtesy of my days as a sergeant in the Marines to into a leader that became more collaborative and focused on employee growth.

What I learned may be of help to you.

My transition came about after nearly ten years as a chief of police. It was the early 70s and a tumultuous time marked by protest in the streets, the need to integrate the department in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, and improve police services — especially with regard to our response to protest and public demonstrations from our many university students.

After nearly a decade, was tired out. I needed a rest and so I was able to take a three-month unpaid sabbatical to re-charge my batteries. Media speculation at the time was that I would not return. Then I met my wife-to-be, Sabine. And I realized I had some changes both professionally and personally to make if I was to finish what I had begun.

From the Introduction to The New Quality Leadership Workbook For Police:

“Upon my return… I started thinking about leadership—my leadership. Couldn’t I do better? I needed to find out. And the optimum way to find out was to ask those whom I was responsible for leading…

“Sabine… suggested I hold a number of employee meetings in which I would be there not to talk, but to listen [and not get defensive; at the time it was a negative trait that I struggled with!]. I did so and asked each and every member of the department in these groups what they thought the biggest problem facing the department was. The answer was clear, direct,and unanimous—me.

“I was the problem, along with a lack of communication department-wide. Those small group meetings with every employee of the department were brutal, but absolutely necessary. If I had not done it, I never would have seen my vision come to fruition. And without this scanning and listening to employees, the changes I implemented never would have lasted beyond my tenure.

“At the time I considered changing my leadership style, I had to ask myself what it was that I expected from those with whom I work. I knew that I wanted to work with people who were competent and worthy of my respect. I wanted work that was interesting and challenging.  I wanted to work for leaders who listened to my ideas, recognized me when I did good work,and kept me informed about what was going on.

“And I wanted to be able to grow and develop in my job.

“I have to admit that these work expectations were rarely met by leaders on the (two) departments in which I served as an entry-level officer…

“When I personally asked the members of my own department regarding the kind of leader that would help them in their work, they described the very same things. They wanted to work for leaders who:

  • Respected them.
  • Cared about them.
  • Had confidence in their ability to do their jobs.
  • Trusted them.
  • Spent time with them.

“They also said that those leaders needed to be:

  • Competent (knew their job).
  • Champions (“walked their talk”).
  • Fixers and improvers.
  • Visible and involved.
  • Willing to take risks and initiate action.
  • In touch with them, understanding, and giving support.
  • Open about what was going on.

“When I started to understand what I was being told, I realized that I must be the first person to be this kind of leader –to change myself and how I acted. Then, I had to help other leaders in the department to do the same thing.I knew that we were all creatures of habit, and that changing to this new way wasn’t going to be easy—it would take time and would require a lot of training, patience, and hands-on coaching. It would also be, at times, painful.

“I need to clearly say that these changes were not easy for any of us.We all had,over the years, found comfort in the old leadership model.When I began as a leader, I made a lot of mistakes—but I kept on trying to get it right. I expected the same from others.I came to learn this about organizational change:it should never be imposed from the boss to the workers,but rather from the inside out—that is, after listening, input and study from within the organization.While everyone may not agree with the final direction taken, they need to understand why it is being taken. And once the change is internalized within the department, it can be introduced to the community.

“What I began to see is that if I change myself—that is, walk my own talk, or practice what I preach—I teach in a most significant and lasting way. I became the lesson I wanted to teach. In order to doit myself, however, I had to clearly explain, specifically,what I was talking about, why the new approach was necessary for our future, how  begin to practice it. Then I had to deeply and intently listen to their feedback—how they were understanding what I was trying to communicate.

“The Workbook is part of that transformation process which began in the early 1980s and went on through to my retirement. It was used to train leaders and then as a teaching format for other police departments about what the department was doing. It continued to be requested by other police departments years after my retirement.There have been many changes since that time: An emphasis on domestic terrorism, the Patriot Act,hard economic times, proliferation of firearms,jailing the mentally ill, wars on drugs, youth and the poor. It was time to update.

“For many of us, finding something old can be finding something very new. Enjoy the journey.”

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When I changed my style of leadership to the way I expected an outstanding leader to act, the job of leadership not only became easier, but I became more effective. My battles with the union became fewer and fewer. The goals I wanted to accomplish were. The kind of department of which I always dreamed became a reality. 

Take a look at the Workbook — read the material and go through the exercises and become a better and more effective leader.