Why do our leaders struggle with leadership?

The supervisory environment in law enforcement agencies has long been dominated by what is commonly known as the “command and control” culture. In its most simplistic form, “command and control” is an authoritarian style of supervision in which decisional authority rests almost exclusively with a few at the apex of the organizational chart. Neither initiative nor professional development are necessarily encouraged and, in its worst form, are ardently discouraged.

As the law enforcement profession has evolved, and as officers have become more autonomous and more capable of exercising initiative and effective decision-making, the need for “command and control” has steadily diminished. In its place, we have slowly evolved towards contemporary quality leadership practices in our organizations. Among the key components of quality leadership are the delegation of authority and the empowerment of others within the organization.

Unfortunately for our profession, many of our leaders were left in the abyss during the transformation from “command and control” to quality leadership. With few mentors and fewer role models, we too often depended on our organizational leaders to “find their own way” and develop for themselves those characteristics of quality leadership that our organizations now needed. To make things worse, we sent our supervisors to “leadership” schools and then assumed that their development as leaders was complete because they came home with a certificate. It is no wonder that when their under-developed quality leadership skills failed, many leaders reverted back to the comfort and expediency of “command and control.”

When leaders struggle, keep in mind that they are only as good as their development has taken them to that point in time. Command and control leadership is easy to learn and easier to do. Quality leadership practices take time to learn and are difficult to apply effectively. Learning leadership is a process, and like any process worth doing, there will be struggles along the way.