Leading? Don’t Forget to Tell Your Stories

storytelling     Storytelling is a wonderful and effective way to teach a point. When I went around the country teaching Quality Leadership, I found that what my students most appreciated was the stories about my experience with police transformation and improvement.

I wrote this in my book:

“The stories I told seemed to be the most effective way I had to get my points across… That’s why they are so essential; through story, police officers begin to understand the nature of policing, how they are supposed to act, and what seems to be important.

“Unfortunately, in most police organizations there are more stories about the successes of traditional practices than community policing. In fact, the culture of traditional policing is full of stories which range from high-speed pursuits to drug busts and shoot-outs. Stories are effective, they capture a listener’s attention and, with regard to traditional policing, invariably involve the physical, not the service-oriented, side of policing. [Researchers] Chappell and Lanza-Kaduce found out that those traditionally-oriented stories were called war stories by police:

“The context of war stories shifted the setting; it became informal and relaxed—both for the storyteller and the listeners. War stories were ‘times out’ from the usual discipline that was expected. The recruits were allowed to laugh and enjoy themselves. The relaxed storytelling defined what was truly valued in police work and in the police culture.[i]

“I found, however, that a department transforming to a more community and problem-oriented culture can find just as many interesting and captivating war stories as those told about traditional policing.”


1. What is your favorite story about the most important values police hold? (For example, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey of Philadelphia told a story about his transforming experience at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Read it HERE.)


2. Think about the most important things police do: solve problems, help the helpless, protect civil rights, use force appropriately, each experienced police leader should have a positive story he or she can relate to younger officers about the important aspects of police work. Stories make a difference. Leaders tell uplifting and positive stories.




[i] Chappell, Allison T. and Lonn Lanza-Kaduce. “Police Academy Socialization: Understanding the Lessons Learned in a Paramilitary-Bureaucratic Organization.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Sage Publications, December, 2009.




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