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Shared Leadership: Can Empowerment Work in Police Organizations?

By Todd Wuestewald, Chief of Police, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Brigitte Steinheider, Ph.D., M.B.A., Director, Organizational Dynamics, University of Oklahoma– Tulsa Graduate College, Tulsa, Oklahoma

or some time, the corporate world has been moving toward more democrat­ic processes in the workplace as compa­nies strive to improve their competitive­ness tapping the knowledge, talents, and creativity of their employees. Driven by global competition, technology, information, and compressed production timelines, private enterprise is placing unprecedented stock in human capital. In many respects, the means of production have shifted into the hands of workers, particularly knowledge-workers.1 In the process, organizational hierarchies have tended to flatten, as autonomous work teams replace managerial levels. Scientific management theories have gradually given way to more participative ap­proaches that stress employee empower­ment and job involvement.

Participative management techniques have reaped great benefits for industry in terms of productivity, quality, and worker satisfaction, but such power-sharing arrangements seem to have found little acceptance in law enforcement circles. At a time when the police have been tasked with implementing proactive, community-oriented approaches to crime, employee empowerment may offer significant advantages over traditional top-down police administration.

Shared Leadership
Shared leadership is known by many names: participative management, em­ployee empowerment, job involvement, participative decision-making, dispersed leadership, open-book management, or industrial democracy. The practices of total quality management (TQM) and quality circles (QC) fall under the umbrel­la of shared leadership as well. The basic concept involves any power-sharing arrangement in which workplace influ­ence is shared among individuals who are otherwise hierarchical unequals.2 Such arrangements may entail various employ­ee involvement schemes resulting in codetermination of working conditions, problem solving, and decision making.

Shared leadership is, in fact, an old idea. It traces its lineage to Elton Mayo's Hawthorne studies of the Western Electric Plant during the 1920s and 1930s. Worker job involvement became an important as­pect of those studies. The idea of job in­volvement is grounded in the humanist traditions of organizational psychology. Numerous researchers came to the con­clusion that work is an important aspect of self-identify and a key element of human motivation and creativity.3

Shared leadership attained renewed interest in the 1980s and 1990s in response to the success Japanese industry seemed to be having with empowerment strate­gies such as TQM and QC. As American companies steadily became less competi­tive with respect to labor costs, human assets took on renewed significance in terms of information processing, innova­tion, and adaptive learning.

Participative leadership approaches take many forms and can run the gamut from informal suggestion systems to direct involvement at the policy and administrative level. Research in both the private and public sectors suggests a wide array of potential benefits of employee involvement in workplace decision making, including improved job satisfaction, commitment, productiv­ity, organizational citizenship behavior, labor-management relations, and overall organizational performance.4

Shared Leadership and Police
Police administration gravitated toward a military orientation during a period of intense reform early in the 20th century. A paramilitary police model evolved in response to widespread corruption and political interference that threatened the credibility of U.S. police. In a drive to instill discipline, leaders seized upon authoritarian hierarchy as a bulwark against both political cooptation and low-level corruption. The scientific and bureau­cratic management principles of Frederick Taylor and Max Weber were in vogue and found welcome application in the drive to professionalize law enforcement.

Even today, this management philoso­phy persists, perhaps understandably. After all, control-oriented supervision did succeed in bringing a degree of profes­sionalism to police in the U.S. Many administrators remain protective of this progress and are suspicious of calls for officer autonomy and empowerment. In the face of continued scandals and charges of inequity, police administrators tend to maintain an almost phobic preoc­cupation with accountability and confor­mity. But control-oriented approaches fail to recognize that police work is, and always has been, highly discretionary.

Controlling Police Discretion
The basic paradox of police hierarchy is that discretionary authority tends to be greatest at the bottom of the police organi­zation. This is where patrol officers apply laws, policy, and regulations to situations that do not fit neatly into the rulebook. Further, these discretionary choices are made in the field, removed from the direct scrutiny of management.5 It may be some­what self-deceptive to place a great deal of faith in authoritarian management styles.

Consequently, in addition to account­ability measures, police managers should consider methodologies that use the power of employee commitment, organi­zational culture, peer norms, and values to shape behavior and build motivation.6 Further authoritarian management can be questioned in connection with the con­temporary police mission and workforce.

An Evolving Mission
A number of observers have lamented the apparent disjuncture between histori­cally autocratic police management approaches and the requirements of com­munity policing.7 These critics argue that, by and large, police organizations remain highly centralized in their decision making, structurally vertical, rule bound, and mired in power relationships.

For instance, a 2002 national survey of police departments revealed that although 70 percent of agencies had decen­tralized some operations in support of community policing, only 22 percent had reduced bureaucratic hierarchy or pushed authority and decision making down in the organization to any significant degree.8 This problem is not confined to the United States. A five-year study of police in Aus­tralia and New Zealand found that officers felt their organizations were not supportive of them and did not exhibit trust, respect, or recognition of their experience and knowl­edge in decision-making processes.9 Community-oriented policing calls for more in­clusive decision making processes in order to foster frontline problem solving and commitment.

Similarly, the current trend toward intelligence-based policing emphasizes problem-oriented strategies to interdict crime and terrorism through proactive in­telligence gathering, information analy­sis, and data-driven resource allocation. In other words, intelligence-based polic­ing stresses timely interpretation of data and adaptive, even innovative, responses by employees. Police organizations are coming to the same conclusions as their civilian counterparts: mission success is increasingly dependent upon frontline human resources.

An Evolving Workforce
Workforce trends and labor union issues are also pressuring for a reassessment of traditional police management practices. Today's law enforcement officers and civil­ian employees are far more knowledgeable and sophisticated than at any time in the history of policing. Certainly, educational and training standards have risen, genera­tional differences are creating new chal­lenges, and police unions are asserting themselves in new ways.

Workers of the new millennium are bet­ter educated, technologically savvy, and adept problem solvers; they are both team players and more likely to question authority.10 Managing these new employees re­quires less directing and more coaching and consultation. Unions are also changing the landscape for policing in ways that call for new management approaches.

Unions in the private sector have been on the decline, but public-sector unionism is growing, particularly among police.11 Although police unions are local and indi­vidual in character and may vary widely, national umbrella organizations tend to advocate adversarial tactics that rely on formal, legal redress of grievances. Police unions have also become increasingly po­litical, endorsing and actively campaign­ing for candidates at the local, state, and federal level.12

Researchers have found that police unions can strongly influence the police role. Unions tend to emphasize law en­forcement functions over service delivery. They have also experienced considerable success in preserving officer discretionary authority.13 Some researchers and union of­ficials point out that buy-in from unions is essential to community policing initiatives, as they hold considerable veto power.14

Shared Leadership in the Broken Arrow
Some police agencies have experi­mented with various aspects of employ­ee participation. One such agency is the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Police Depart­ment (BAPD). The BAPD employs 164 full-time employees and provides a full spectrum of police services to a metro­politan community of 91,000 in north­eastern Oklahoma. Since 2003 the agency has had participative management in the form of a cross-functional steering com­mittee called the Leadership Team.

The BAPD Leadership Team was con­ceived as a way of incorporating front­line personnel into the important decision-making processes of the department. Comprising 12 individuals representing the labor union (the Frater­nal Order of Police, or FOP), manage­ment, and most of the divisions, units, ranks, and functions in the department, the Leadership Team's bylaws estab­lished it as an independent body, with authority to effect change and make binding decisions on a wide range of pol­icy issues, working conditions, and strategic matters. Sworn and nonsworn members of the team are selected by a variety of methods, including direct appointment by the department admin­istration and open election by peers.

Membership on the Leadership Team was never based on rank; and the team's composition has become more represen­tative of the lower echelons of the de­partment. Notably, the chief's office is not represented on the team and all deci­sions are made democratically. The chief of police retains control of the team's agenda, but once an issue is referred to it, its decisions are considered final and binding on all concerned.

Leadership Team Takes Form
The first two years of the BAPD Leader­ship Team were a whirlwind of activity, as it took on a series of difficult issues. Essentially, the team created new policy on how the agency recruits, hires, evaluates, disciplines, rewards, and promotes its peo­ple, and how it uses force, drives its cars, trains its officers, and protects their well­being. The team took on nearly every issue that typically causes problems for police agencies. Additionally, the team improved process, streamlined procedures, and aided in problem resolution.

At first, the team required expert train­ing for the job it was to undertake. Conse­quently, specialists in organizational dynamics from the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa were retained to conduct training in team interactions and communi­cations. This comprehensive training phase was crucial to team development and was later cited by members as integral to its productivity and overall success.

Police departments are generally good at implementing programs but often fail to adequately assess outcomes. In the case of the BAPD Leadership Team, the determination was made to do a thorough assessment of the program. The agency needed to know whether its experiment with shared leadership was worth the investment in time, money, manpower, and energy. The administration also wanted to know what outcomes, if any, might be observable with respect to workforce mo­tivation, labor-management relations, and productivity. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa conducted the assessment.

Shared Leadership Outcomes
University researchers were fortunate to have data from a previous BAPD em­ployee survey dating from 2002, prior to the adoption of participative management practices by the agency. This original sur­vey was conducted by the police labor union to assess officer opinions on a wide spectrum of managerial issues. Re­searchers then replicated this survey ver­batim in 2005 and added questions assessing employee organizational com­mitment, perceptions of organizational support, and the performance of the Lead­ership Team. In this way, it was possible to conduct an item-for-item comparison be­tween the 2002 and 2005 surveys. Essen­tially, the idea was to compare the two sur­veys in a pretest-posttest fashion, with participative management practices as the intervention.
In addition, researchers conducted in­terviews with Leadership Team members as well as employees not directly associated with the team. These employees were both sworn and nonsworn, management and rank and file, union and nonunion. They were queried on a variety of issues relating to the performance of the Leadership Team, their reactions to the new participative ap­proaches, and their feelings about their re­lationship with the organization and the administration.

The results of the quantitative compari­son revealed dramatic improvement on nearly all indicators between 2002 and 2005. Figure 1 displays these changes for an array of criteria affecting employee relations. All variables, such as handling of discipline, promotions, hiring, recognition, rewards and incentives, showed statistically significant improvement.

Various motivational factors showed similar unilateral improvement between 2002 and 2005. These factors included the BAPD mission, pride in the agency, trust of supervisors, employee input, and relations with the community. Other posi­tive trends included dramatic improve­ment in communications across all levels of theorganization and improved oppor­tunities for training and personal devel­opment. Interestingly, officers exhibited more positive attitudes toward the department's community policing mission in 2005 than they did in 2002. Figure 2 depicts these motivational changes.

In addition, figure 3 depicts a near reversal of formerly negative employee assessments of management. Officers were asked whether managers were inclined to place department needs over their personal agendas, that is, the perceived organiza­tional altruism of managers. In 2002 officers were very likely to ascribe egotistical moti­vations to the actions of management, par­ticularly as rank increased, an inverse cor­relation. In 2005 this trend was erased and replaced with positive assessments of the department's upper ranks, equal to or even superior to that of first line supervisors. This may be an indication that employees see participative leadership as an expression of trust between upper management and line officers.

Shared Leadership and Organizational Commitment
The assessment of the BAPD work­force found high levels of organizational commitment in the agency as well as pos­itive levels of participation and perceived support. Further, a positive cor­relation was found between all these factors. That is, respondents who scored high on items related to their ability to participate also tended to view the orga­nization as supportive and exhibited a high degree of affective commitment to the department. The researchers believed that the ability to participate in decision making tends to elicit a reciprocal response from employees whereby they feel more supported by and attached to their organization.15

This hypothesis was further supported by employee interviews, in which recurrent themes were detected from both officers and civilians at all ranks. The opportunity to participate in important organizational decisions was seen as an expres­sion of trust, which tended to build loyalty to the department and its initiatives. Some expressed the feeling that participa­tion equated to a degree of ownership in the organization and its goals.

Organizational commitment is an im­portant factor in the police workforce. In the public sector there is relatively little opportunity for providing employee in­centives beyond the base salary. Public enterprise generally lacks the ability to offer monetary rewards in the form of raises, bonuses, or profit sharing. Consequently, public managers must rely on af­fective factors, such as pride, duty, and commitment to instill a positive work ethic in employees. Unions, civil service protections, and the inherent discretionary nature of police work tend to insulate police officers from both sanctions and incentives. If police officers choose to work hard, they do so out of their individ­ual work ethic and group norms. This can have important ramifications for police ini­tiatives and productivity.

Shared Leadership and Productivity
Some of the literature on participation suggests that empowerment may translate into increased productivity.16 Archival data, in and of itself, will not establish this link, since many factors may affect discre­tionary police productivity. Nevertheless, for discussion purposes, certain discre­tionary indicators were examined for the BAPD case study. These included arrest and citation rates, field interviews, and in­vestigation clearance rates.

Arrest and citation rates tend to be highly discretionary and indicative of proactive enforcement practices.17 Similarly, field interview reports are a proactive, discretionary tactic officers employ during citizen contacts where they have detected suspicious activity of one kind or another.18On the investigative side, BAPD case clearance rates were compared over a five-year period on the assumption that case clearance may generally indicate investigative diligence.

Examination of five years of BAPD archival data yielded some interesting statistics with regard to productivity. Calendar year 2004, the first full year of shared leadership within the BAPD, was compared with the mean value of the preceding four years. This analysis re­vealed that arrests of all types increased 24 percent in 2004, traffic citations rose 6 percent, field interview reports were up 51 percent, and BAPD detectives cleared 34 percent more cases than in preceding years. What is remarkable about these statistics is that Broken Arrow's UCR crime rate actually dropped 5 percent for part 1 crimes in 2004.

After the department implemented participative management, a number of critical indicators of proactive, discre­tionary police action increased in com­parison with previous years. When asked about this phenomenon, several employees referred to the "happy chick­en syndrome," which is a way of saying that satisfied workers produce better work. It is also noteworthy that citizen complaints dropped 56 percent in 2004 versus the mean of the preceding four years.

Shared Leadership and Labor Relations
An important question associated with participative management is whether it contributes to improved relations between labor and management. Research in fields outside law enforcement suggests that such outcomes might be possible.19 Since the police union's own question­naire, which assessed union member attitudes toward a wide array of work­place issues, was used for both surveys, any statistically significant difference be­tween the two would be indicative of a change in labor-management relations.

The results of this analysis did indeed reveal change in unionized police officer attitudes on a variety of factors in 2005. Officer opinions of management, organi­zational communications, employee rela­tions, motivation, participation, support, and commitment all improved signifi­cantly. All mean values reached well into the positive range and exhibited a near ceiling effect in some areas. This was in stark contrast to the 2002 data.

Further, hierarchical multivariate re­gression analyses suggest that this change was at least partially due to the agency's shared leadership philosophy.20 Union­ized employee involvement in decision making apparently enhanced their sense of support from, and commitment to, the organization.

This conclusion was supported by in­terview data with BAPD administration and labor officials. Common themes emerging from these interviews included comments about role reversal, improved communications and dialogue, and win-win mindsets as well as frequent refer­ences to the big picture in decision mak­ing. Union representatives expressed the sentiment that actual participation on the Leadership Team, beyond mere aware­ness of its existence, tended to foster trust in the administration. For their part, man­agers indicated that their Leadership Team experience caused them to be more aware of union priorities and concerns. It is also noteworthy that during this same period no union grievances of any kind were filed, an anomaly for the agency (nor have any been filed since inception of par­ticipative management, a period of nearly three years).

Lessons Learned
Probably the most difficult aspect of un­dertaking a participative approach to man­agement is for senior executives to make the personal commitment to accept the decisions of others. Police leaders are capable, gifted warriors, adept at surviving both the street and the political arena. To expect that once on top they should turn around and relinquish a good portion of their power is perhaps asking too much. Yet this is pre­cisely what must happen if officer empow­erment is to have any real meaning.

It was critical to the success of the BAPD shared leadership philosophy that the chief's office totally supports all Leadership Team decisions. In keeping with the ground rules, only issues that violated labor laws or city regulations or unduly ex­posed the agency to civil liability would not be accepted. Instances in which senior managers doubted a Leadership Team de­cision on other grounds, yet lent their sup­port regardless, became milestones of trust and confidence for the agency. In the end, such decisions were usually vindicated be­cause they proved to be sound choices based on the firsthand knowledge and in­sights of those closest to the work.

It was also important that the team be given real issues to deal with. Trivial busy­work would have been seen as a facade by all concerned. Ironically, as reciprocal trust was established, efforts to diffuse power in the BAPD tended to strengthen the authori­ty and legitimacy of the chief's office.

The initial results of the Broken Arrow Police Department case study in shared leadership are encouraging. The degree to which similar outcomes might be expected in larger or differently situated police agencies is as yet unexplored. At the very least, the present study extends the current body of research on employee participation to the law enforcement field.

Building Leaders
An unintended outcome of the BAPD Leadership Team experiment has been the degree to which the program grooms future leaders. In effect, the team has become a crucible of leadership in which rank-and-file employees take on far greater authority much sooner in their careers than they otherwise might. A dis­proportionate number of Leadership Team graduates have gone on to test for and achieve promotion, assume leader­ship positions in the union, or obtain in­formal leadership status among their peers. With regard to external issues, Leadership Team grads have consistent­ly become more engaged in city and community issues generally.

The communications and interperson­al skills individuals learn and apply in the process of making collaborative, department-wide decisions has a maturing af­fect on those involved. The leadership skills they take with them when they leave the team pay dividends for them personally and for their department.

Shared Leadership and Community Policing
The community-oriented policing (COP) paradigm has been dogged gener­ally by inconsistent commitment from rank-and-file patrol officers. Community policing proponents tend to place the nexus of the problem at the apparent dis­connect between traditional hierarchical police management and the COP imperative for line officer empowerment. The other major obstacle for COP involves getting beat officer buy-in for a more holistic problem-solving approach to po­lice work. Employee empowerment may be a useful strategy on both counts.

Whether through formal structures such as a Leadership Team or more infor­mal approaches, employee inclusion has the potential to improve decision making, foster ownership, and overcome line offi­cer resistance to community policing and change in general. This was demonstrated in the BAPD case by both quantitative and qualitative data that indicated employee internalization of the department's com­munity policing mission following imple­mentation of empowering strategies. It seems that participation provides officers with greater latitude and authority, while commitment fosters greater acceptance of agency goals, including COP.

Morale and Organizations
As reported here, the research suggests that participative police administration can help make employees feel more valued and supported by their organization, more committed to its objectives, can cultivate better labor-management relations, and may even promote greater productivity. It also suggests that inclusion promotes com­munication at all levels and helps bridge the traditional schism between manage­ment and line officers. But even if inclusion and empowerment did nothing more than raise morale it would be worth the investment. Morale is a simple concept but an important one that we police leaders some­times overlook. Whether through shared leadership or other strategies, police administrators would do well to attend to the affective and intangible qualities that define morale in their organizations. ■


1 P. Drucker, Managing in the Next Society (New York: St. Martin's, 2002). See also J. Belasco and R. Strayer, Flight of the Buffalo (New York: Warner, 1993).
2 S. Kim, "Participative Management and Job Satis­faction: Lessons for Management Leadership," Public Administration Review 2002, 62(2), 231-241.
3 See any of the milestone works by Abraham Maslow, Douglas McGregor, Frederick Herzberg, or Rensis Likert.
4 See P. McLagan and C. Nel, The Age of Participation (San Franciso: Berritt-Koehler, 1995). The authors do a good job of summarizing some of the observed benefits of participative management.
5   U.S. Department of Justice, Broken Windows and Police Discretion, by G. Kelling (1999).
6 J. Wilson, What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (New York: Basic, 2000).
7 H. Goldstein, Problem-Oriented Policing (New York; McGraw-Hill, 1-990); S. Mastrophski, "Commu­nity Policing and Police Organizational Structure," in [ital]How to Recognize Good Policing: Problems and Issues, edited by J. Brodeur (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage); W. Skogan, "Community Policing: Common Impediments to Success," in Community Policing: The Past, Present, and Future, edited by L. Fridell (Washing­ton, D.C.: Police Executive Research Forum, 2005).
8 L. Fridell, "The Results of Three National Surveys on Community Policing," in Community Policing: Past, Present, and Future, edited by L. Fridell (Washington D.C.: Police Executive Research Forum, 2004).
9 National Police Research Unit, "Optimizing the Organizational Commitment of Police Officers," by
K. Beck (2005).
10 For a recent appraisal of millennials in the police workforce, see J. Henchey, "Ready or Not, Here They Come: The Millennial Generation Enters the Work­force," The Police Chief 72 (September 2005), 109-118.
11   D. Klingner and J. Nalbandian, Public Personnel Management: Contexts and Strategies, (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1998).
12   W. Hurd, "In Defense of Public Service: Union Strat­egy in Transition," Working USA 7 (January 2003), 6-25.
13   J. Magenau and R. Hunt, "Police Unions and the Police Role," Human Relations, vol. 49, no. 19 (1996), 1315-1343.
14 Skogan, "Community Policing: Common Im­pediments to Success," and J. Flynn, "The Merits of Community Policing in the Twenty-First Century: The View from the Street," in Community Policing: Past, Pre­sent, and Future, edited by L. Fridell (Washington D.C.: Police Executive Research Forum, 2004).
15   N. Van Yperen, A. van den Berg, and M. Willer­ing, "Towards a Better Understanding of the Link Between Participation in Decision-Making and Orga­nizational Citizenship Behaviour: A Multilevel Analy­sis," Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psycholo­gy 72 (1999), 377-392.
16   R. Eisenberger, P. Fasolo, and V. Davis-LaMastro, "Perceived Organizational Support and Employee Diligence, Commitment, and Innovation," Journal of Applied Psychology 75 (January 1990), 51-59.
17   S. Armeli, R. Eisenberger, P. Fasolo, and P. Lynch, "Perceived Organizational Support and Police Perfor­mance: The Moderating Influence of Socioemotional Needs," Journal of Applied Psychology 83 (February 1998), 288-297.
18   G. Cordner and D. Kenney, "Tactical Patrol Eval­uation," in Police Program Evaluation, edited by Larry Hoover (Washington, D.C.: Police Executive Research Forum, 1998).
19   S. Ospina and A. Yaroni, "Understanding Coop­erative Behavior in Labor Management Cooperation: A Theory-Building Exercise," Public Administration Review, vol. 63, no. 4 (2003), 455-469.
20   Officer participation in decision making strongly predicted feelings of organizational support (r2 = .62), which, in turn, predicted a significant portion of the variance in organizational commitment (r2 = .36).



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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