The Complexity of Police LeadershipBy Dr. Geoffrey Leonardelli, Rotman School of Management, University of TorontoThe world of police leadership must be complex. From the outside looking in, I see the challenges of police work itself, including law enforcement, conflict management, and community building among them. Add to that the complexities of an organization that requires coordination, judicious deliberation, and the navigation of politics, those in leadership positions can feel easily overwhelmed.Yet leadership effectiveness is, simply put, about people understanding people. It is a skillset that can be learned, and that depends quite simply on leaders investing in themselves. With social-scientific discoveries, self-awareness, and powers of observation and communication, leaders can pull others together around a common goal. Among others, the below three skill sets help to get you there:
  1.  Build honest intergroup relationships. To lead well often requires different groups of people – community groups, precincts, the multiple teams within a police service – to work together. Leaders must often build trust across such boundaries, but this can be challenged by what is at times called a tribal mindset, where people see their group as independent from or at odds with those outside their own (an “us versus them”). Rather than seeing the differences as the source of conflict, leadership development can be a means to using differences as windows to understanding and complementarity. Such tactics have improved relations between, for example, Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and indigenous and non-indigenous populations throughout the world and can build bridges across silos in the workplace. In this regard, those intergroup differences become infrastructure to building honest intergroup relationships.
  2.  Recognize that what appears to be resistance need not be. Leadership is founded in creating change through social influence, but at times, our efforts to persuade others fail to yield the results we seek. It’s tempting to chalk it up to a strong form of resistance: “They must be against the changes I’m seeking.” Such strong conclusions belie the fact that they may be trying, but facing challenges with adoption, not yet see the value it brings or even be aware of changes you think you have successfully communicated. Dialoguing with others helps to diagnose that what on the surface might be seen as resistance may be much simpler to address.
  3. Win-win decision-making. There is a natural politic that arises among different components of a police organization, as well as when police leadership engages with outside stakeholders such as city officials and community stakeholders. Such a politic manifests as a multi-party negotiation, with the potential for coalitions, hidden or different agendas, and group dynamics that target preferred outcomes rather than team engagement. One way forward is to look for opportunities that create mutually beneficial outcomes for all parties involved and to sniff out interests who might not be so aligned.
Leadership positions can at times feel overwhelming. Yet, we recognize that skillsets such as those above that enhance strategic and interpersonal development can create a sense of empowerment and make such leadership positions more manageable.Professor Geoffrey J. Leonardelli (Ph.D. in social psychology) is Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and cross-appointed in the Department of Psychology. He seeks discoveries that assist people in their personal growth, help businesses diversify their leadership, and support organizations, communities and society-at-large become a better "Us". Dr. Leonardelli has more than 41 publications and a co-edited book detailing his contributions. He translates social-science research into how people can improve themselves and their interpersonal skills (e.g., leadership, team, and negotiation skills) and create organizational change. Dr. Leonardelli teaches in the Police Leadership Program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. For information on the PLP, please click here.
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