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Leaders vs. Managers?
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 08/24/2009

Leadership Have you ever said, “How did this guy get into a leadership role?” Well you are not the only one then. I have stated hundreds of times that in our agency you don’t move up the ladder of success, you get pulled up by someone your buddies with. This, in my opinion, only promulgates the continuing failure of leadership at the top most hierarchy of the agency. I am a firm believer in blind testing and open interviews for supervisory positions conducted by outside individuals. This truly rules out any rumors of friendship promotions and puts the best candidate available into an open supervisory position. Sometimes you need a transfusion of new blood into the management in order to make advancements in the way the agency breathes.

Everywhere we look today it seems we are constantly seeking people to be leaders. We want the strongest, most qualified persons to lead our agencies, businesses, our communities, our governments and our nation. We all seem to realize that we need leadership more today than ever before to deal effectively with such critical issues as the financial system, environmental, staffing levels, and extreme violence within our fences and on our streets like never before. Yet in the face of these problems there seems to be less effective leadership in our nation today than ever before. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that much of society today apparently does not want to lead. They prefer to sit on the sidelines and not get involved — not take risks. They are comfortable being followers and then complaining about how the risk takers and current leaders are performing poorly.

“A leader is a person who has the ability to get people to do what they don’t want to do, and like it.”

Unfortunately, the law enforcement and corrections profession, like society at large, suffers from a lack of effective leadership, it has too many followers. Indeed, the paramilitary, hierarchical structure that still exists in most police departments and corrections facilities today helps to ensure this surplus of followers as well as a corresponding scarcity of leaders. If you are interested in becoming a leader in the law enforcement community, you must first understand the meaning of leadership. Leadership has been defined in hundreds of ways, with each new leadership book claiming its definition to be the best. Leadership is much like obscenity — it is difficult to define, but we all know it when we see it. Sometimes after you have seen individuals attempting to fake leadership with principals they don’t have or understand, you don’t want to see it again.

Leadership, involves the following:
  1. assuming responsibility for showing the way, or setting the direction;
  2. speaking out about what can be done to achieve the organization’s mission more effectively and efficiently and not fearing the repercussions for speaking out;
  3. adhering to the core beliefs that depict what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in how the employees approach their work, how they manage internally and how they relate to the community; and
  4. Be in the trenches and directly involved with critical situations with the troops not in the rear or in their office leading via e-mail. “Leadership is the process of giving purpose (meaningful direction) to the collective effort, and causing a willing effort to be expended to achieve that purpose.”

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing.” While management focuses on efficiency — how to best accomplish a certain task, leadership focuses on effectiveness — what tasks should be accomplished. The distinction is vital, for there is no right way to do a wrong thing. Remember, a manager says, “Go”, and a leader says, “Let’s go.” If you want to a leader, you must continuously challenge yourself, your fellow employees and management as to whether the “right thing” is being done, by asking: “Are we showing the right way, the right direction, and the right vision?” ”Are we doing the right thing in relation to furthering our mission, our purpose, our reason for existence, the service we provide?”

“Are we doing the right thing in relation to the values, the guides for appropriate and inappropriate behavior and then setting the example for that behavior?” “We are convinced that law enforcement and correctional agencies succeed or fail, compete or crumble, on the basis of how well they are led. So we study great leaders of the past and present and spend vast quantities of time and money looking for leaders to hire and trying to cultivate leadership in the employees we already have.”

In 1970 Peter Drucker, one of the most influential minds in this half century on the issues of leadership was asked to complete a case study of the Los Angeles Police Department. Drucker spent some six weeks with members of the department and reported a number of findings. One of the most perceptive was the observation of the police department itself. Drucker stated: “Your employees are so concerned with doing things right, that they are failing to do the right things.” Managers do things for the benefit of the agency and leaders do the right things for the people employed by that agency. This in turn will allow your employees to excel and desire coming to work daily. This is often where you hear officers make the comment about a newly promoted leader that, “He has forgotten where he came from.”

I have no argument with this enthusiasm. Leaders matter greatly. But in searching zealously for better leaders we tend to lose sight of the people these leaders will lead. Without his armies, after all, Napoleon would be just another man with grandiose ambitions. Organizations stand or fall partly on how well their leaders lead, but partly also on how well their followers follow. Leadership… is about coping with change…leading an organization to constructive change begins by setting a direction—developing a vision of the future (often the distant future) along with strategies for producing the changes needed to achieve that vision.

Teacher and scholar—the relationship between leaders and troops should in no sense be that of superior and inferior nor that of master and servant, but rather that of teacher and scholar. In fact, it should partake of the nature of the relationship between father and son, to the extent that officers, especially commanding officers, are responsible for the physical, mental, and moral welfare, as well as the discipline and law enforcement training of the young men and women under their command who are serving the nation in a law enforcement or corrections capacity.

You have to know when to manage, and when to lead, and know how to distinguish between the both. I currently enjoy the pleasure of playing the critic instead of the criticized as far as leadership goes. I often make personal comments to supervisors about their styles and habits sometimes well received and sometimes shunned. First, I should note that bad leadership can be defined either as immoral leadership or as ineffective leadership. Sometimes these two go together and sometimes they do not. Thus there are times when the pitfalls are pitfalls of character. Then there are those occasions that are difficult for leaders to deal with because of circumstances that arise such as followers who for one reason or another refuse to go along. In short, the pitfalls vary from situation to situation: sometimes they relate to the person and sometimes they relate to the circumstances.

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  1. Jon on 08/20/2009:

    Effective leadership is difficult to maintain in corrections, simply becasue of the nature of the beast. Many positions are appointed and seldom is there ever a legitimate application process. This does not necessarily mean the people who are appointed lack any leadership abilities or should be viewed in a negative light. Ultimately, the issue of leadership counts when it comes to defining who is being led. I think if administrators and corrections professionals focus more on leading the offender population in the right direction, then our real mission can be accomplished.

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