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Back to Archives | Back to January 2006 Contents 

Succession Planning: Mentoring Your Replacement

By Richard T. Ahlstrom, Chief of Police, Cedar Falls, Iowa


ow do officers prepare today to be the next generation of police chiefs? Recommendations from the IACP's Police Leadership in the 21st Century: Achieving and Sustaining Executive Success identify attributes and development requirements for leadership and readers are encouraged to review these recommendations.1 Mentoring is an essential part of leadership development, and it is an activity undertaken by the Cedar Falls Police Department to prepare the department's future leaders.

As chiefs face another generational change in the workplace, it is their responsibility to train and prepare replacements. Without mentoring, many promising candidates will be lost and their career path may take many different turns and they may never become a chief.

Getting Started
In November 2003, I asked all officers whether they would be interested in meeting with me monthly and learning the skills that would benefit them to compete for the position of chief during their career. Although the mentoring offer was open to all ranks, I expected only the captains and lieutenants would seek the opportunity. But nine of 30 patrol officers on the department also responded indicating they wished to attend the sessions.

Before the first class was held in late November 2003, each participant was required to explain in writing what they were already doing to attain their career goals and what they wished to gain from attending this class. Mentoring is only one element of preparation for the chief's job and each officer needs to pursue education and gain experience from a variety of sources to become a chief. Today's successful police chiefs often acquired their capacities in extra-departmental settings and aspiring chiefs should emulate this pattern. Activities identified as of greatest value were serving with youth groups and parent-teacher associations, professional networking, and seeking professional development through teaching, publishing, and public speaking.2 Aresponsibility of mentoring is helping officers identify the opportunities that will help them develop.

The ground rules for the class were set before the first meeting: officers would not be paid to attend, and the information that is discussed in the class stayed there. The second rule was designed to foster open and candid discussion by eliminating fear of reprisals.

The initial group included nine patrol officers, four lieutenants, and three captains. Given the composition of the group, namely, variety of ranks and the disparities in seniority, we decided that an informal classroom would be the best setting for the sessions and should put everyone at ease. At the beginning of the sessions, all participants were told that there wasn't any rank in the classroom. The classroom setting was purposely set to be informal in an attempt to foster greater communication, to encourage all participants to feel comfortable, and enhance participation. Thus Chief U., as one of the officers called the class, was born.

Chief University
The first session lasted two hours and focused on developing career goals, comparing those goals against the officer's current activity, and discussing how best to stand out, in a positive manner, from peers.

Based on these responses, we developed a list of classroom topics that include leadership, budgeting and funding streams, budget amendments for over- or underspending, discipline, risk management, collective bargaining, surviving in a political world, the distinctions between management and leadership, and civil rights, to name but a few.

The Budgeting Class: Preparing for class requires developing a lesson plan. The objective is to provide real-life experience and not just hypothetical classroom work. In the session on budgeting, for instance, we started with a review of the department's current budget status including matching actual revenues and expenditures to the budget. Involving the officers in the budgeting helped them understand the requirement to generate revenue and to match expenditures to anticipated revenue. Late in the first year, the class learned how to propose budget amendments over expenditures and propose nonbudgeted equipment purchases. They had to find in the budget the necessary underexpenditures, and they had to balance the total amendment. They presented their proposed amendments for class discussion. Each attendee knew they had to cover a certain amount of dollars and to justify the overexpenditures as part of this process. The goal was to have them focus on the budget as a living document that needs to be referred to regularly. After speaking in class about the budget, officers had an improved understanding of the budget and the city's expectations of how to manage it.

Beginning in the fall of 2004, the entire class began to participate in the formation of the actual fiscal year 2006 budget beginning July 1, 2005. Based on the last two years' final budgets, they assembled specific budget line items along with their appropriate justifications. The overall budget was limited to a 3 percent increase, and the officers had to schedule purchases of capital equipment such as radars and in-car video cameras that are on the department's scheduled replacement program in this budget. The class also participated in exploring and recommending purchase of new capital equipment over the next six years.

These homework assignments are difficult, given the participant's lack of experience, and have been a frustrating learning experience for many of the participants. But as the class progressed, the participants began to pick up certain nuances in the budget process regarding expenditures and revenue projections.

Leadership: The issue of leadership has consumed many class periods. While many of the supervisors felt they had a grasp of leadership it became apparent that some didn't know the difference between leadership and management. We considered the definition by Peter Drucker and Warren Bemis: "Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things."3

Many of the patrol officers felt they didn't have any leadership ability or attributes or the opportunity to demonstrate leadership ability until they were promoted into a supervisory position. We reminded ourselves that every officer is a
leader.4 Patrol officers exercise leadership every workday by solving problems in the community, but many officers simply view it as doing their job, not being a leader. In class we stressed the need to continue to maximize leadership qualities to prepare for future promotion. A patrol officer who simply functions at an average performance level and doesn't demonstrate a leadership role in his or her current work shouldn't be considered for promotion when other officers are showing greater skill and initiative. Maximum performance at the patrol officer level enhances the potential for promotion and develops that habit throughout their professional career.

Engaging All Attendees
Most of the Chief U. sessions during the first year focused either on the budget process or on leadership. The first several months were at times awkward, as some of the patrol officers were reluctant to question or press for an answer. In some cases they felt they didn't have anything to offer, as they were not supervisors. In order to draw them into the conversation it was necessary to specifically ask them for responses and then have them explain and expand on their responses. As the patrol officers became more comfortable in this environment, they participated more often without being called on.

Hearing patrol officers talk about leadership was beneficial to the current supervisors who were, in effect, receiving excellent advice on motivating and guiding the generation X officer.

Classroom attendance was optional but most officers made sure that if they could not attend they informed us of the reason. As the first year passed, the class changed in dynamics as some of the original members dropped out and others asked to join. Officers who missed several classes without stating a reason were quietly dropped from the class.

As budget information, newspaper and magazine articles, or events in the department became relevant, these developments were considered as current event material to be discussed during the sessions. Soon, some officers were asking if new information was available on other topics such as discipline, maintenance of morale, and working in the political environment, to name a few topics. Outside assistance was also obtained; for example, a motivational speaker on leadership conducted a session.

One of the most interesting examples was the struggle of another chief in Iowa to retain his job in the face of rising political and union opposition. This chief graciously offered to speak to the class and spent the two-hour session reviewing his performance, successes, and failures, and answering questions posed by the group. The chief's story made an impact. After this session, many students said they needed to reassess their career goals in response to his presentation. It was interesting to note that the Cedar Falls Police Department's local union steward is part of this group and during the class was vocally supportive of the chief's efforts.

An added benefit of Chief U. is that these classes allow the officer to conduct personal career planning. The classes emphasize these two thoughts: If I'm not doing the job correctly at my current level, why do I think I could or should be promoted to a higher position? If what I'm doing today doesn't further my career goals, then I need to change my goals or change (for the positive) what I'm doing.

Chief U. 2005-second year
The second year of this program started in November 2004. The officers and supervisors have made it clear they want more discussion on leadership and management-related issues. In other words, the discussion now must move from theory to the practical application of leadership principles. The class is requesting information on applying discipline, leading in a collective bargaining environment, and developing organizational morale and the chief's responsibility to maintain or improve morale. Other sessions will cover no-confidence votes and their impact on the chief and organization, networking with political bodies, and ethical challenges to the organization, among others. Effective budget management will always remain a part of each session.

The best legacy a chief can leave to his or her agency is to ensure that the transition is smooth and the organization is well prepared with an adequate pool of potential leaders to take the chief's place or become chiefs of other agencies. If a chief of police will take the time to explain to aspiring chiefs the mistakes he or she made as a chief of police, then the law enforcement community will do a better job transitioning leadership positions to the new generation of police officers.   ■

1 International Association of Chiefs of Police, Police Leadership in the 21st Century: Achieving and Sustaining Executive Success (Alexandria, Virginia: May 1999): 15; April 1 ,2005; (www.theiacp.org).
2 Ibid, 20.
3 Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, revised ed. (New York: Free Press, 2004).
4 See Jan M. Durham and Matt Logan, "Every Officer A Leader," The Police Chief 67 (November 1997): 18-23.




To lead sworn personnel successfully, participants at the IACP's leadership conference in 1999 recommended the following actions:

  • Establish and Share Vision and Values Establish visions, values, and mission by consensus. Incorporate input from all levels of the department. Convey vision, values, and mission in terms that evoke emotion and passion. This approach should maintain or renew the passion of the leader.
  • Empower Staff Who Understand What Is Right Ensure that members of the workforce embody the central values of the organization, share the vision, are positioned to operationalize the values, and influence and lead other employees.
  • Maximize Opportunities to Accomplish and Succeed A primary obligation of the chief executive officer is to structure a career setting that provides opportunity for material and emotional reward and fulfillment. What would satisfy a workforce should be defined collaboratively.
  • Clearly Articulate Expectations and Rewards Clearly communicate the path to advancement opportunities. How to approach and master the reward system (promotions, assignments) should be clearly articulated. Officers who understand the nature of opportunity can make sound decisions on courses of career action.
  • Create a Thirst for Leadership The chief should create an environment in which all officers feel they can attain and exercise leadership capacities, not simply attain hierarchical leadership posts. Impart leadership knowledge and understanding of the organizational culture.

  • Prioritize Creativity Give latitude to officers to be more creative and to do more on their own, especially to those employees who share the executive's goals and values, who are well trained, and who are most highly trusted.

  • Provide Measurements of Success The chief and command staff must supply useful feedback to enable individual officers to determine whether progress is occurring organizationally and for the officers themselves. What constitutes success is objective and subjective, geared to officer expectations.
  • Manage Failure in a Restorative Manner Based on the immense scope and complexity of police work, most officers will fail occasionally in some manner. Chiefs must create an organizational environment in which command staff and supervisors work closely with officers to assess situations and provide guidance for officer growth. With the obvious exception of egregious errors, most mistakes, if dealt with in a restorative manner, provide excellent learning and growth opportunities for officers.
  • Provide Opportunities for Face-to-Face Contact Just as chiefs must not distance themselves from the citizens they serve, they must not distance themselves from the officers they lead. A chief should seize a variety of informal and formal opportunities to talk and work with officers of all ranks. To provide effective leadership, a chief must be visible to the officer corps and regularly available to discuss issues and get feedback.
  • Monitor Cynicism Cynicism and disillusionment develop for many officers after five to seven years on the job. Officers assigned to tough neighborhoods, gang or drug units, and undercover work seem particularly vulnerable. Frequently, officers are only vaguely aware of the changes in their perceptions and feelings. Chiefs, through their commanders and supervisors, are urged to monitor the outlook of members of the workforce. It is wise, also, to put a program of duty rotation in place to minimize the potential for burnout and cynicism.
  • Evaluate Leadership Style Chiefs should never assume that their brand of leadership is well received by all officers or that their own expectations and outcomes match. Formalized feedback mechanisms should be used to gauge officer opinion on issues of many types. An effective leader must remain open to critique and be able to alter his or her leadership model to meet legitimate concerns of staff.


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    From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 1, January 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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