To Lead is to Teach

UnknownI wrote in “Arrested Development,” “To lead is to teach and to teach is to lead.” It is one of the seven steps that must be taken in order to improve our nation’s police.

A note to police leaders: How often do you teach? Specifically, do you teach in your recruit school? How about at roll calls?

If you are about to make a needed change in your organization, to reform a practice, to alter the course of your organization, do you teach first? That is, in order for your officers to visualize where you are going, what is being asked of them, and what kind of support can they expect from you, do you first teach that before you attempt to lead?

When my youngest daughter graduated from Officer’s Candidate School at Fort Benning a number of years ago, a place where I had attended Jump School as a young Marine 50 years earlier, her class chose the motto, “Lead from the Front.” At first that worried me thinking about her leading fatal “Light Brigade” charges, but then I remembered that one cannot be a leader unless you are both literally and figuratively, are “out front.”

“Out front” means putting yourself out as a model and a coach — to be the first to try a new way. For example, to talk about openness and “360 degree evaluation” is one thing, to openly practice it in front of your organization is another. To ask officers to get closer to those whom they serve is easy, to do it yourself, to engage in community meetings, to take some heat when you’ve made a mistake counts — it’s what matters!

Years ago, when we got serious about community policing and continuous improvement, I taught these concepts from the bottom up. I talked about the vision I had, what I thought it would do for us, and how we all would benefit from it.

Then I asked them one powerful thing, what would you need from me to make this happen?

They told me and told me powerfully (Yes, it resulted in a “significant emotional experience” for me). I knew I must be the first one to change. I must lead from the front.

Here’s what my officers said they needed from me. When I truly and deeply listened to them, it changed my leadership:

1. They wanted a leader who respected and cared about them.

2. They wanted a leader who had confidence in them and their ability to do their job.

3. They wanted a leader who trusted them and spent time with them.

In addition, that leader must be:

1. Competent and know his/her job.

2. “Walk their talk.”

3. Be “fixers and improvers.”

4. Be visible and involved.

5. Be willing to take risks and initiate action.

This is what I learned. Hopefully it can help you as a police leader on your way forward.