Command Issue June 2020

The Leader in Me Why you have the power to lead others well and serve others well

By Roy and Judith Bethge

Leadership starts in the mirror. From the moment you wake up, the most important person you lead is yourself. If you don’t do that, you can’t lead well in other areas of your life or organization. Personal leadership failures are not always catastrophic. Sometimes the impact of my poor self-leadership choices is only visible to me in the moment, such as the ache when I get out of bed in the morning because I skipped my nightly stretching routine instead of taking the 15 minutes just to do it. Sound familiar? Other times the impact is quickly repairable with a conversation and apology or requires a longer consistency in changed behavior and intention. But there are moments when our lack of self-leadership has a dire, unexpected, or catastrophic impact with continued ripples and aftershocks. And in law enforcement, these moments can quickly become broadcast on the evening news or trend on Twitter. This article aims not to analyze the leadership failures and inadequacies dominating the news cycles for the first half of 2020. There will be plenty of time to revisit and assess the leadership processes and decision-making by those in leadership roles throughout the coronavirus pandemic and riots.

This article is a focused and timely reminder to each of us of the power that the leader in me and the leader in you possesses to serve others well and lead others well. If you have not been leading yourself well these days or months, now is the moment to decide and begin again. A reference list of some helpful books is provided at the end to get you started or remind you of who you want to be and the leader your organization and sphere of influence needs you to become. In this first section, we will focus on how the leader in me identifies personal core values that drive my behavior and decision-making to act rightly and own my part in things.

Core Values. The priority in leading yourself begins with identifying your three to five core values that guide your thinking, decision-making, and actions as well as act as the boundary line that you will not cross or sacrifice for anything or anyone. If you’ve already done this, now is a good time to re-examine your core values to ensure that you are living and leading in alignment with them. If you have never taken time to identify what you value most at your core, this is the time to do it. A Google search of “core values inventory” or “life values inventory” will provide some sample self-quizzes that can guide you in determining your core values. I was first introduced to the idea of intentional core values several years ago when a friend recommended that I read the book by Gus Lee called Courage: The Backbone of Leadership. In his book, Lee takes the reader through the process that he used to identify and argue that the top three high core values are integrity, courage, and character. The book had such an impact on me that I reached out to the author to find out more. As I processed the reasoning, I saw that the three high core values of integrity, courage, and character represented the top three guiding principles that I wanted to exhibit in my own life, in my relationships with others, and in the organization that I led. I wanted to make sure that I reminded myself daily of those core values, so I had a sign made for my office at work and in my home so that I would see them, and others in my life would see them and help me stay accountable to my core values.

Once you identify your core values, try them out for alignment in your daily life, decisions, and actions. Ask yourself, “How does this process, action, decision, attitude, choice, etc. positively reflect and align with my core values?” Encourage a trusted friend or colleague to help you stay accountable to them by privately calling you out when you fail to lead yourself or in your organization from those core values.

Acting Rightly. In Jack Colwell and Chip Huth’s book, Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect: Transforming Law Enforcement and Police Training, Colwell and Huth take the core values of integrity, courage, and character and put them into action within law enforcement agencies and the law enforcement profession. Acting rightly is to act with courage to do the right thing in a situation, to act with integrity in our interactions, and to act with character in the way that we treat all people. Colwell and Huth focus on the power of unconditional respect for others that emanates from the core values and has the power to transform our systems, interactions, and outcomes. Acting rightly means acting in alignment with our core values and not cutting the corner. The behavior we tolerate in ourselves and in those we lead and supervise becomes the new level of normal and acceptable operating conditions.

Owning my part. The problem is not with everyone else. The problem starts with me first. As a leader in my organization, I have to own my part and build the strength of my character over time. Owning my part is about practicing self-discipline and living by the rules and expectations I set for others. It takes courage. There are no special rules for leaders of organizations, and the damage to an organization or a leader’s credibility and impact when she or he makes excuses for why the rules do not apply cannot be overlooked. A scan of the news in 2020 provides many examples of leaders across the country who made rules and orders one way and then did the exact opposite in their personal lives. Owning my part is about leading myself first so that I am in the best place to lead my team and organization. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, both U.S. Navy Seals, write in their book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win, about the need to take extreme ownership as the leader of a team to set the example and process but also instill confidence in the team to decentralize command. While mistakes and missteps are inevitable as a leader and on my team, when I own it as the leader, I set aside my ego to learn from those failures to lead better. When I own my part, I inevitably build my credibility and impact with the team and organization. Ask yourself, “Am I a leader who talks and walks in the same direction?”

To Serve Others Well. Many of us who chose to become part of the law enforcement profession did so out of a deep desire to serve our communities and help others. That service aspect of policing happens most directly in our patrol units and frontline connection with the community and visitors within our jurisdictions. But after time, you see how the service component of policing becomes more significant and more profound in its application throughout all parts of the organization. Sometimes we forget that as leaders, we are not only serving our communities but serving the people in our organizations who do the most direct serving of the community. As we progressed through our careers, and the direct impact of service seems to become more and more intangible, we have to remind ourselves that the job of a leader is to serve others—both inside our organizations and within the community. We can do it well, or we can cut corners to our detriment. But as you rise in rank or responsibility in your organization, you must be intentional about understanding the current realities and conditions of your community and team to serve them best. Serving others well includes acting for others with empathy, listening to others to understand, and doing good for others and on behalf of the organization.

Empathy. The seat of empathy comes from a deep compassion for other human beings. And sometimes it feels like policing does anything but promote compassion in us with everything that we see and experience on the job. Empathy and compassion are not weaknesses, but rather powerful ways of being that can change a life, change organizational culture, and change a relationship with the community. To serve others well includes cultivating empathy with the people and community members we serve—even when it’s hard. It’s about respect. Cowell and Huth define genuine compassion as “empathy for others with a strong desire to relieve suffering” (p. 102). We find it easier to be empathetic with people who are like us and have similar life situations. But the most critical test of our integrity and character may be cultivating empathy for people who are not like us and have different stories and life experiences. So start close to home—who in your department or organization is it hard for you to connect with? How can you change that relationship by growing in empathy? Maybe start with a conversation and find out that person’s story. 

Listening. One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears— by listening to them. –Dean Rusk. To serve others well and develop empathy also requires building your capacity as a listener. When a leader hears and listens to understand, she or he can gain more in-depth insight into the issue, story, and situation of the other person. One of the keys to listening is learning how to self-regulate your emotional response. Emotions can either be mastered or hold us hostage. In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson et al. provide tools and insights into how to have meaningful conversations and dialogue when the stakes are high, emotions are strong, and opinions are opposed. Listening for understanding is an essential part of the process of growing empathy and serving others well. Maybe the next time you’re in a conversation with someone and not connecting or understanding, ask them, “Can you tell me more about that? Can you share more about what brought you to see it that way?” Ask for more information and listen carefully. Sometimes listening and understanding the backstory helps us lead others better and take action that is appropriate and helpful.

Doing Good. Leadership is a call to action for what is right and good. For many of us during these days of 2020, the greatest demonstration of our courage as leaders will be found in the compassion to understand and engage in meaningful dialogue that positively and constructively changes the relationship of law enforcement with the black community. Patterson et al. in Crucial Conversations provide a model of dialogue that focuses on using tools to find a way to the center of dialogue called ‘the pool of shared meaning.” This pool represents the free flow and best of collective thinking and exchange. It is surrounded by a buffer of safety for that dialogue instead of us resorting to silence or violence in our interactions with each other. But how in these days can we find community members who want to dialogue and solve problems? Seek out community leaders, clergy, school leaders, neighborhood business owners, and start a dialogue.

It takes courage to ask for help. Even if your community is not in crisis now, establishing a trusted relationship and dialogue with those who can help you solve problems will be a great resource to aid your agency’s mission to serve and protect. Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, talks about the power of vulnerability in our stories and experiences being essential to opening up healing conversations—which we so desperately need today. To serve others well is to use your leadership for good and to promote the welfare of others in your agency and community. Cowell and Huth note that “justice exists only when compassion is spread abroad and compassion exists only when justice is spread abroad” (p. 102). Does your agency exhibit justice and compassion within your department? Does your agency represent justice and compassion within your community? Empathy and listening are essential in doing good, pursuing justice, and serving others well.

To Lead Others Well. Know thyself—Socrates. The environment in 2020 in which we lead is complex and demands that we employ and develop every asset that can help us to lead well. I want to remind you that leading others well has to begin with leading yourself well. But how accurately do you know yourself as an individual and leader? I did my first leadership assessment at the recommendation of a friend almost six years ago. The insights and coaching that the assessment and process provided me helped me better see how I lead and what areas of my leadership and personality were potential derailers or limiters of my growth. Since then, I have done updated assessments at different points in my career to help me become the leader my organization and my team needed and to work through my constraints. Since retiring from active service, I have used these assessments through our leader development company with individuals and agencies who want to know themselves to lead their organizations and teams well. The power of knowing yourself, especially through a tool like a Hogan Assessment, is the game-changer in serving and leading others well. Leadership coaching groups have been shown to improve output in leader consciousness, competency, confidence, and congruency (Fusco, O’Riordan, & Plamer, 2015). In your organization, leading others well includes modeling the way and leading with authenticity.

Modeling the Way. As the leader of your team or organization, you do not get to pick whether or not you are a role model. You are—to someone. Whether it is in your interactions with colleagues or subordinates within the department, your work on a committee or inter-agency task force, or your presence and interactions with the public, a leader in law enforcement is always a model for what is acceptable and the values of the organization and the profession. This is why leadership starts in the mirror by identifying your core values. In leading others well, these core values, right actions, and personal ownership come to work. How do you model what it means to be a leader who is willing to shine a light within your organization and lead others towards improving and growing your organization’s positive impact and relationship with the community?

Leading Authentically. Authentic leadership is a growing area of research because of its positive impact on organizational climate and commitment, communication, job engagement, and job performance at the individual, team, and overall organization levels (Fusco, 2015). Authentic leaders have an acute sense of self, an unbiased processing and accurate observation of self-information, behavior that is genuinely self-congruent, and a relational orientation characterized by openness, honesty, and sincerity (Fusco et al., 2015). In law enforcement, the authentic leadership model has developed to address the societal value of legitimacy as a critical component in effective policing. Legitimacy depends on perceptions of fairness and due process by participants impacted by police interventions (Neyroud, 2011). To lead our communities and organizations well, law enforcement leaders must recognize that the currency of police-community relations is legitimacy. This perception of fairness and due process—of justice—in the day-today relationships comes from leaders who live and act in alignment with their core values, serve with empathy through listening and doing good, and lead their organizations and others well by modeling the way with authenticity. And so today in 2020, as we face complex challenges and desperately needed healing in our communities, would you commit to invest and develop the leader in you to serve others well and lead others well? Your organization, your community, and our nation needs your best.

References Brown, Brené. (2013) Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books, Print. Colwell, Jack L., and Charles Huth. (2010) Unleashing the power of unconditional respect: Transforming law enforcement and police training. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, Print. Fusco, T., O Riordan, S., & Palmer, S. (2015). Authentic Leaders are... conscious, competent, confident, and congruent: A grounded theory of group coaching and authentic leadership development. International Coaching Psychology Review, 10(2), 131–148. Lee, G. (2006). Courage: The backbone of leadership. In D. Elliott-Lee (Ed.), Courage: The backbone of leadership. Jossey-Bass. Patterson, Kerry. (2012) Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. 2nd ed. Place of publication not identified: McGraw Hill, Print. Peter Neyroud, Q. P. M. (2011). Leading policing in the 21st century: Leadership, democracy, deficits and the new professionalism. Public Money and Management, 31(5), 347–354. 40962.2011.598346 Willink, J. and Babin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs lead and win (First edition.). New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Roy Bethge retired in 2017 as Deputy Chief of the Buffalo Grove, IL Police Department. He holds a Master of Science and Criminal Justice and is pursuing a Doctorate of Strategic Leadership from Liberty University. He is co-founder of the leadership development consultancy The Virtus Group and serves as Chair of the Education and Training Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and member of the Education and Training Committee for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. Mr. Bethge also serves as a Subject Matter Expert and Lead Instructor for Louisiana State University’s National Center for Biomedical Research and Training. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Judith Bethge began her career as an assistant state’s attorney in Northern Illinois, eventually practicing in both the public and private sector. Judith is passionate about learning, teaching, and training others. She is now a high school principal outside of Chicago. In addition to her Juris Doctorate from the University of Illinois College of Law, Judith holds a Doctorate in Education from Liberty University. Her dissertation research focused on mindset and transformation. Judith’s focus is on coaching and equipping others to be as effective as possible in the learning environment. She has presented webinars on courageous leadership, feedback & questioning, and professional development for educators to maximize learning for 21st Century learners. Judith leads The Virtus Group team as President. She can be reached at [email protected]