On my first day as a detective, a burglary-in-progress call came out over the radio. The whole unit responded, but as the new guy, I jumped in with a senior detective. On the way to the crime scene, he looked over at me with a smirk and said, “This one is yours.” I hadn’t yet fully realized what I was in for.
As we arrived at the crime scene, I observed uniformed officers everywhere, three suspects in handcuffs, a mountain of recovered stolen property and several distraught neighbors staring eagerly in our direction.
A Lieutenant walked over to our group of detectives and asked, “Who’s the lead on this one?” All the other detectives slowly stepped back a few feet, leaving me exposed and out in the open. I was quickly briefed by the Lieutenant who explained what had taken place, and then I was swarmed by a dozen officers, each with their own stack of papers for me.
Afterwards, the officers, detectives, neighbors and supervisors all huddled around me, staring, looking for something, but for what I didn’t know. The Lieutenant spoke up, “I’ve got the whole shift here. Just tell us what you need us to do.”
“Tell you what you need to do?!” I thought. I was still trying to figure out what I was supposed to do!
As law enforcement officers, we are considered leaders in our own right. Even when we haven’t been promoted as first line supervisors, we are still leaders amongst our peers and to the communities that we serve. We don’t always have the answers to every problem, but as leaders, we should at least know where to begin looking for answers.
In our line of work, being an effective leader can be difficult. For starters, there isn’t an exact formula for effective leadership. We aren’t always afforded opportunities to attend management or leadership training classes either, so we have to learn on the job. Perhaps, the most challenging thing is that we often have to lead under a great deal of pressure and stress.
So how can we position ourselves to be more effective leaders, while minimizing the impact of extreme stress, limited preparation and having no clue where to begin? One person that we can learn a great deal from is Nehemiah. Reading through the Book of Nehemiah, you will discover that there are a number of desirable traits he possessed that we could all benefit from as leaders in law enforcement.
1. Effective leaders don’t allow their position to define their purpose.
In Nehemiah 1:11, you learn that Nehemiah was the Cupbearer to the king. It was his job to literally lay his life on the line by preventing the king from consuming poisoned food and drink. As a consequence, he was considered a high-ranking official of the king’s court and had influence.
Despite the position he held, Nehemiah recognized that his purpose was outside of his office. When he learned that the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed, he knew that he had to leave his position and get into the trenches to fulfill his purpose.
Like Nehemiah, we should be willing to step out of the precinct and into the world. As officers, we sometimes forget our purpose outside of writing reports and making arrests. Always ready for a crisis, we allow ourselves to become too busy or high up to get into the trenches and change a tire or help someone to cross a street.
Effective leaders recognize that in order to accomplish some tasks, you may have to step out of comfort and into calling to get things done. Effective leaders know that relationships are more important than results.
Take away: Don’t let what you do define who you are. Rather, let who you are define what you do.
2. Effective leaders submit to authority.
Before running off to Jerusalem to do what he felt called to do, Nehemiah did a few things. First, he fasted and prayed about it, and then took his petition to the king. He recognized that he was not a one-man show. Even though he felt called to complete the task before him, he knew that he had to do it under authority, not over it.
Because of the nature of our work, we spend a great deal of time alone on calls and in our districts. Unfortunately, that means that there are countless opportunities for us to operate outside of the wishes of our supervisors, and we often times get into trouble as a result. To be effective leaders, we have to do what is right even when no one is looking. That also means supporting and covering our leadership, even though we may not agree with their policies and practices.
Take away: Don’t operate outside of your covering. Effective leaders maintain a level of accountability.
3. Effective leaders know how to plan.
Before beginning work on the wall, Nehemiah took some time to inspect it. He took into account the full scope of work that was before him before sharing his plan with the officials. Instead of simply identifying a problem, he presented a solution and a plan to solve the problem.
A well thought out plan means increased support and buy-in from others. Scripture tells us that we must first count the costs and consider whether or not we have enough resources to complete a task. In law enforcement, we often times work with extremely limited resources. Therefore, it is essential as leaders that we know how to plan so that we can effectively utilize what is available to us (time, manpower, finances, equipment, etc.).
Take away: Effective leaders are solution oriented, not problem oriented. They know how to plan in order to get things done, and maximize even the smallest of opportunities.
4. Effective leaders delegate responsibility.
When Nehemiah began rebuilding the wall, he recognized that the task was too big for him to complete alone. Accordingly, he enlisted the help of multiple people to help him complete the project.
By delegating responsibilities, it allows us as leaders to do two things. First, it allows us to stay in our lane. Effective leaders know how to operate in their strengths and enlist others to operate where they may be weak, but others may be strong. Secondly, delegating responsibility fosters an atmosphere of trust. When peers and subordinates know that they’ve been entrusted to come along side a leader, it builds the trust between them.
There is an additional benefit here. As leaders, we should always be working to build up those around us. When we delegate, we give other people an opportunity to rise up and become leaders themselves. Their success becomes your legacy.
Take away: Stay in your lane. There’s less traffic there.
5. Effective leaders work hard.
Nehemiah didn’t only delegate work and responsibility; he also worked diligently. Scripture tells us that they worked from the first light of dawn until the stars came out. It goes on to say that none of the men, Nehemiah included, took off their clothes or laid down their weapons, even when it was time to sleep.
All too often, an unexpected incident or crisis may result in us having to work unexpectedly long hours. The people you lead will miss holidays, important family events and rest as a result. As leaders, it is essential that we sacrifice alongside those we lead. We don’t want to over do it, but at times, it can’t be avoided.
In law enforcement, we should recognize that our bonds are often a result of our common struggles, not just our common interests. If everyone you lead is struggling to get by, while you rest comfortably in the office, there is a good chance they won’t follow or support you for much longer.
Take away: Show, don’t tell. Lead by example.
6. Effective leaders are prepared for the unknown.
As the wall was being rebuilt, the builders faced an increasingly agitated enemy. In response, Nehemiah posted guards on the wall at the low points and exposed areas. We also know that the workers worked with tools in one hand, and weapons in the other.
Law enforcement officers have to be prepared to go from calm to critical at a moments notice. Effective leaders know how to equip their team with the tools necessary to get the job done. They also have to know that the job can change in an instant. That means effective leaders have to be flexible, intuitive and be able to have a measure of forethought; the ability analyze information and prepare for unexpected events.
Take away: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
These are just a few of the many examples of leadership that we can glean from Nehemiah. I encourage you to read the scripture for yourself and see what other characteristics of effective leadership you can uncover. By incorporating some of these simple lessons into your day-to-day practices, you will be well on your way to developing as an effective leader!
www.The12Initiative.com I RyanM. Dunlap