Law enforcement agencies are defined by the quality of their leadership. Leaders play a major role in establishing a vision, setting organizational goals, and motivating officers to reach those objectives. On the other hand, law enforcement leaders who espouse the wrong values or who model inappropriate behaviors can create an atmosphere of apathy; frustration; and, in certain cases, corruption and abuse. To further complicate matters, the problems facing today’s law enforcement agencies are complex, often requiring the combined talents and efforts of dedicated people throughout the organization. To be successful, today’s law enforcement leaders must be equipped with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to build trust, inspire others, cultivate organizational change, lead teams, develop cooperation, and promote ethical behavior.
While leadership is one of the most important components of any successful law enforcement organization, it is probably the least understood. The image that many officers hold of leadership is often based more on anecdotes, stories, and legends than facts. The heroic vision of leadership featured in the news media and popular press has created a tendency among officers to think about leadership only in the context of authority, titles, and people who are in charge.1 The idea that leadership requires formal authority is one of several popular myths surrounding the concept and practice of leadership. Many of these myths have persisted for so long that they have assumed an air of legitimacy. However, when stripped of mythology, many officers are surprised to learn that leadership is really about teamwork; empowering others; and prioritizing the goals, development, and successes of others.