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Back to Archives | Back to February 2008 Contents 

Transformational Leadership and Staff Training in the Law Enforcement Profession

By Ray Bynum, Corrections Sergeant, Pima County Sheriff's Department, Tucson, Arizona

ransformational leadership theory is based on the principles of shared leadership, shared vision, and the continuing improvement of the individual.1 Leadership is seen as a social process stemming from the interaction between leaders and followers. Leadership is required throughout an organization. Police officers have to be leaders on the street during intense and often dangerous incidents. An organization’s vision must be shared with members of the organization to ensure the development of a sense of community. 2 Transformational leadership theorists such as W. Edwards Deming, Bernard Bass, and Peter Senge have suggested that training is the key determinant in the development of an organization.3 Training is the process that improves the competence level of the criminal justice professional in both law enforcement and corrections agencies, which in turn results in a more professional organization.

Most organizations have evolved into competitive models, creating tension between different sections, shifts, facilities, and districts. A competitive organizational focus increases the level of alienation staff might feel and complicates the communication process. Barriers among staff members have caused many organizations to become dysfunctional.

The Four I’s of Leadership

Transformational leadership uses the concepts of individualized consideration, idealized influence, inspirational motivation, and intellectual stimulation, which are referred to as the “four I’s of leadership.” Staff members are treated as individuals, not just members of a group. The leader provides support, encouragement, and motivation to enable individuals to perform at a much higher level.

Staff members are influenced by the ideals, motivation, and vision of the leader. Followers must understand the vision of the department’s direction, appreciate the organization’s potential, believe that the goal of improvement is supported by the entire organization, and support the idea that change is needed. Followers must be able to visualize their role in the change; they should have a personal stake in the improvement of the organization.

Intellectual stimulation is necessary for the development of the organization and the individual. Old ideas, beliefs, and values must be challenged to allow the introduction of new ideas, beliefs, and values into the culture of the organization. Staff members are encouraged to learn new concepts, techniques, and procedures and to empower themselves as individuals. The old adages “this is the way we have always done it” and “this is the traditional method of doing things” may not work anymore. As society changes, the organization must learn to change, too.

In a study of transformational leadership in a Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment, Steven Murphy and Edward Drodge found leadership was a social process involving the entire system.4 Leadership is not restricted to one level (top-downward); everyone in the organization is responsible for providing leadership in the office or in the field. Murphy and Drodge contended that there is a difference between leader competencies and leadership. Leader competencies reflect the ability and behaviors of the individual leader, whereas leadership is displayed by everyone as part of the social process in the organization.

In the field, officers must be willing to take a leadership role to handle a situation. They cannot wait for directions from their leader but rather must be willing to “step up” and take charge of the situation. Leadership is seen as starting at the bottom and working upward through the organization. The formal leader provides idealized influence (values, beliefs, and ethics); inspirational motivation (vision and a belief in personal goal achievement); intellectual stimulation (questioning old beliefs, providing new ideas and innovations, and challenging staff to “learn, think, and apply knowledge to one’s situation”);5 and individualized consideration (support, encouragement, empowerment, and recognition of the individual as a person).

Karlene Kerfoot states that the problem with a traditional organization is its orientation in relation to its structure: it asserts that leadership should only originate from the top—the organization’s only source for answers. This view creates an inflexible hierarchy that stifles organizational growth.6 The systems thinking theory forwarded by Senge has helped organizations to rethink previous beliefs.7 The learning organization concept is based on systems theory, in which leadership can emanate from any part of the organization. For example, a person working on the line might have a better view of production than a person working in the office.

The learning organization concept proposes that everyone in the organization can learn from each other and contribute to the success of the organization. Pat Williams says that leaders also have to be teachers and must be willing to guide others and help them learn as part of a lifelong process.8 Every organization is made up of people who must be allowed to develop to their fullest potential, including the leader, since no one person possesses all the ideas. In addition, the leader is not the focal point of the organization but is merely a facilitator, bringing different groups within the organization together to develop a shared vision and sense of community.

Bass recognized the importance of training supervisors and management in the principles of transformational leadership.9 Whereas stable organizations may not need transformational leadership, those operating in a highly unstable environment, with rapid change and a need for flexibility, should use the principles of transformational leadership. This approach is based on inspiring staff to achieve higher goals, providing individual attention; intellectual development; and the vision of mission, purpose, respect, and trust. Every organization needs top performers and individuals who are motivated. To achieve this, many organizations will have to change their culture. The full potential of officers has to be achieved.10

Staff Training

How police officers learn was explored by Rocco Mazza, whose study found two types of training: corporate training, by which is meant formal training in academies, and in-service training or situational learning.11 Situational training refers to officers learning how to handle situations from their own experience or benefiting from mentoring and “war stories” from other officers. While corporate training is important for officer knowledge, in the field it is seen as irrelevant. Situational training demonstrates how the corporate training applies but by itself is seen as inadequate due to the great variance in situations, lack of standards, and dependence on senior officers’ ability to train properly.

Terry Mors found that continuing professional education in the United States needed to be assessed by examining beliefs and attitudes regarding the training of police officers, instructors, and administrators.12 Police officers were aware of the training needed to perform their jobs effectively, but instructors believed that there was an increased need to cover personnel issues, while administrators felt administrative topics should be addressed. The officers contended that training should be interesting and relevant. It had to be “application driven,” with officers allowed to use the training provided in the classes in real-life situations. Mors found that in some cases, training was being used as a form of punishment. As a result, the process by which officers were selected for training was seen as flawed.

Officers perceived a serious lack of skill development with the instructors. In addition, officers believed that training should be organized into three categories of development: organizational (administrative), operational (field training), and personal.

A study by Robert Meadows found a difference in the perception of training topics and the length of time spent on each subject.13 Officers, supervisors, administrators, college educators, politicians, state training boards, and community members had different concerns about advanced training, including the role of subjects suggested in the study: human relations, law, use-of-force issues, weapons, communications, patrol techniques, investigations, and the criminal justice system. Different stakeholders consistently prioritized communication skills and law in advanced education.

William Miller noticed that the need for specific training, the amount of training, and the quality of training is influenced by the location of the department (rural versus urban), size of the department (large versus small), and the number of officers who needed additional training.14 More highly educated administrators tended to place a greater emphasis on training.

Greg Etter found that 20 percent of the study participants thought their needs were not met by traditional training methods; 29.9 percent felt they had wasted their time at in-service training; 22.4 percent believed the training was not relevant to their job; 23.4 percent stated traditional training methods did not allow them to learn the material; 79.4 percent of respondents believed the in-service training should be tailored to fit the needs of individual deputies; 88.7 percent wanted more choices for in-service training; and 93.4 percent of the deputies wanted to choose their own in-service training topics. Etter suggested using more andragogical teaching methods (that is, those designed specifically for adult learners) during in-service training. 15 David Johnson noted that officers in Kansas primarily attended in-service and college training for personal development and promotion as well as to learn how to resolve specific situations and to increase their involvement in community service.16 Many officers were attending college even before the enactment of mandatory education requirements for recertification.

A management review of the training operations of the Eugene, Oregon, Police Department was conducted by the International City/County Management Association. 17 Although the officers and the supervisors stated different views on training topics presented, the review found a good mix of hands-on training and administrative topics.

The review did not find “firm support” for training by supervisors and commanders; at the time they were not sending staff to training due to a “staff shortage.” Supervisors felt there should be more hands-on training and less emphasis on administrative material. Some officers felt the training was not relevant and not presented well and did not concentrate on core issues. The review recommended an assessment of training needs, a concentration of training for identified problems, the restructuring of training methods to a more andragogical style, and a more appropriate determination of the length of training sessions for each topic.

Police officers attending advanced training sessions in Ohio were surveyed about their opinions on the usefulness of the advanced material that was presented to them. Although the officers found the training interesting and useful, they did not frequently refer to any of the written materials, and the training did not enable them to develop criminal leads in any cases.18

Mario Giannoni’s research found that the current level of basic and in-service training is inadequate to make a noticeable change in a law enforcement organization.19 Although basic training can help new officers to improve their performance, it has only a minimal effect on existing conditions within an organization. In-service training can improve an organization, but because its quality has been shown to vary greatly, its influence on an organization is uncertain.

Raising the staff educational level is not sufficient to increase the quality level of an agency. There must be a combination of higher educational standards in basic training; higher formal educational requirements for all staff members; and a greatly improved in-service training program, which itself must include a higher level of training than basic training or a college education. It should reinforce basic concepts and skills but should also develop new skills, explore values and beliefs, and enable officers to reach a much higher level of professionalism.20

The importance of implementing change and establishing leadership throughout an organization, as emphasized by David H. Bayley, creates the conditions that allow for change.21 He found that providing training to only new officers is not sufficient to effect change. Training must be provided consistently to all staff and supported by different groups within the organization for improvement to take place.

Many organizations are trying to become more flexible and professional. Individuals have to understand their organization as a whole, with each part interacting with and influencing others. Personal mastery is dependent on access to information possessed by every individual in the organization. At the same time, every individual must be provided with new information to address an ever-changing world. Through reflection and self-discovery, new avenues of thinking open up.


Maxine Greene states that the transfer of information does not fully constitute learning and education, because this simple transfer does not present a challenge or obstacle for individuals to overcome. Greene argues that education has to engage the individual, allowing “thought for freedom” and an awakening from self-imposed or self-accepted limitations. If the information does not awaken the individual to the existence of barriers and challenge the individual to reach beyond those barriers, then it has served little purpose. Only through “imagination, taking a risk, and ventures into the unknown” does the individual grow.22

By following transformational leadership principles, organizations can use education to improve their culture. Intellectual stimulation motivates individuals to obtain more information, seek better answers, and ultimately become self-actualized—reaching their full potential. ■

Ray Bynum, Ed.D., has been a corrections sergeant with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, Tucson, Arizona, for 25 years. He has degrees in criminal justice and educational leadership, with a master’s certification in public management. Ray holds a doctor of education degree in educational leadership at Northern Arizona University. His dissertation topic is “Staff Education and Transformational Leadership in Criminal Justice.”


1James MacGregor Burns, Leadership (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); and Bernard Bass, Leadership and Performance beyond Expectation (New York: Free Press, 1985).
2J. Shuford, “The New Generation Staff Development Training for Jails,” American Jails (American Jail Association), July–August 2004, 69–70.
3W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis (Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1986); Bass, Leadership and Performance; and Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Currency and Doubleday, 1990).
4Steven Murphy and Edward Drodge, “The Four I’s of Police Leadership: A Case Study Heuristic,” International Journal of Police Science & Management 6, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 1–15. Online access at requires password.
6Karlene Kerfoot, “Learning Organizations Need Teachers: The Leader’s Challenge,” Nursing Economics 21, no. 3 (2003): 148–149.
7Senge, The Fifth Discipline.
8Pat Williams, The Paradox of Power: A Transforming View of Leadership (New York: Warner Books, 2002).
9Bernard Bass, “From Transactional to Transformational Leadership: Learning to Share the Vision,” Organizational Dynamics 18 (Winter 1990): 19–31.
10Michael Fullan, Leading in a Culture of Change (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004).
11Rocco Mazza, “How Police Officers Learn What Police Officers Must Know: An Ethnographic Study of Police Learning” (doctoral diss., Rutgers University, 1992).
12Terry Mors, “Critical Issues Impeding Criminal Justice Continuing Professional Education” (doctoral diss., Northern Illinois University, 2002).
13Robert Meadows, “A Study of the Perceptions of Law Enforcement Administrators and Criminal Justice Educators toward Needed Skill Competencies in Entry Level Police Training Curriculums” (doctoral diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1986).
14William Miller, “An Analysis of Perceived Training Needs of Rural County Sheriff’s Departments (Oklahoma)” (doctoral diss., University of Oklahoma, 1994).
15Greg Etter, “Perceived Effectiveness of In-Service Training of Sheriff’s Deputies in Kansas: A Post Instructional Analysis” (doctoral diss., Oklahoma State University, 2000).
16David Johnson, “A Study of Law Enforcement Officers’ Participation in Continuing Education” (doctoral diss., Kansas State University, 1986).
17International City/County Management Association and Police Executive Research Forum, Management Review of the Eugene Police Department, March 2005, (accessed January 14, 2008).
18M. D. Schwartz and S. P. Yonkers, “Officer Satisfaction with Police In-Service Training: An Exploratory Evaluation,” NCJ 136287, American Journal of Police 10 (1991): 49–63.
19Mario Giannoni, “An Ethnographic Investigation of Police Education: Implications for Professionalism and Continuing Criminal Justice Education” (doctoral diss., Northern Illinois University, 2002).
21David H. Bayley, Democratizing the Police Abroad: What to Do and How to Do It, Issues in International Crime, NCJ 188742 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, June 2001), (accessed January 7, 2008).
22Maxine Greene, “The Dialectic of Freedom,” in Philosophical Documents in Education, ed. R. Reed and T. Johnson, 2nd ed. (New York: Longman, 2000)



From The Police Chief, vol. 75, no. 2, February 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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