Officer: Be a Servant Leader


Are You a Servant Leader?



Today’s note for Police Chiefs:

You have not only a responsibility to serve your officers, but also the community. You are their chief as well. Sometimes these two duties come in conflict — like the use of deadly force. That’s when you have to ask yourself Greenleaf’s third question:

  • What is the overall effect of my leadership on those who are under-privileged and will they benefit by my leadership or not?


“Robert Greenleaf defined the term “servant leader” as follows:[1]

  • The servant-leader is servant first… That person is sharply different from one who is leader first…[2]

“Servant leadership is primarily having a focus on others, not oneself. It is that focus on others that makes a talented leader. The preeminent leadership test, Greenleaf noted, is for leaders to be able to ask themselves three questions:

  • Do those under my leadership grow as persons?
  • Do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servant leaders?
  • What is the overall effect of my leadership on those who are under-privileged and will they benefit by my leadership or not?

“These three questions can, of course, be used to evaluate our leaders—but first they should be used to evaluate our own leadership style. Most all of us will, one time or another, be put into some kind of leadership position where others will be dependent upon our direction. This may be in our home, work, or in a volunteer community group.

“According to Greenleaf there are also two other serious maladies that confront our society:

  • Widespread alienation.
  • The inability or unwillingness of persons to serve.

“”No two attitudes could be more disastrous to any society than these two—a sense of disconnection and the avoidance of serving others. I sense that even today those two maladies continue to confront our society as our economy and place in the world falters.

“Greenleaf also foresaw the chief institutional problem of most of our public and private organizations, too high a priority on telling others and too low a priority on doing…

“Servant leadership isn’t a new idea. An essential aspect of the concept is that people who wish to lead must first serve—that is, they must know what it is like to serve others rather than increasing their own wealth or power. The benefit of servant leadership is that those who receive it experience personal growth as they become involved in the working and decisions of the organization, are listened to, and consulted as to what can be done to improve the work they do.

“Many of today’s management consultants, like Stephen Covey, build on Greenleaf’s concept when they highlight the important characteristics of good leadership. These kinds of leaders:[3]

  • Inspire trust by building relationships.
  • Clarify purpose by creating goals to be achieved.
  • Align systems so that there is no conflict between what they say is important and what results they measure.
  • Able to unleash talent in other people.

“The world is vastly different today and ever-changing, Covey said. If we can develop leaders who can withstand and embrace the changing times by deeply rooting themselves in these principles of great leadership, then we can develop great people, great teams, and great results” (my emphasis).[4]

[An excerpt from Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police (2012)]


[1] For more about Robert Greenleaf’s work see

[2] Robert Greenleaf. The Servant as Leader. An essay. 1970. Larry Spears, ed. and R.K. Greenleaf. Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (25th anniversary edition.). New York: Paulist Press. 2002.

[3] May 28, 2011; 1124 hrs.

[4] Steven Covey. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1992.


  1. Once again, you bring up excellent points, Chief. My experience at my former agency was that as the leaders moved up the ranks, they consolidated more power. For example, as a sergeant, one did a certain number of jobs, then they made lieutenant and continued to do that job, plus controlled more. What eventually happened was that–literally–the assistant chief weighed in on even the smallest personnel assignment. Where squad supervisors had previously been given the ability to pick their people, now the a/chief had to have the final say. He scrutinized every move by every latent investigator, everyone. The result was that no one was empowered. I told my boss before I left, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll just go handle the next radio call, because you don’t really want a sergeant running a squad. You want to do it.” That prevented me from having the impact I wanted and needed to correct bad behavior, resulting from the excessive focus on stats. That’s why my blog this week addressed the Compstat model gone awry. Thanks for your leadership. Take care.


    1. Sounds all too familiar. That’s why we developed Quality Leadership and had officers rate and give feedback to their bosses as to how they were doing. Some bosses didn’t like it but they changed their behavior and they clearly knew my expectations!


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