Leading Change: What You Need to Know

Police leaders: If you haven’t thought about how you effectively lead change you’d better start. You can choose to be the person who “makes it happen,” or the one who says “what happened?” It’s your choice.

So what do we know about change? I have made it part of my life to study the steps necessary in order to effectively improve a police organization. I write about my learning experience in Arrested Development, wherein I list seven improvement steps that I believe are necessary to lead organizational improvement in a police or sheriff’s department.

Over the years, I have been impressed by John Kotter and his lifelong work in organizational improvement. Recently, he published an eight step process for leading change. It’s worth reviewing along with what I learned about leading change.

During my career, I have always argued that police leaders need to know the business and corporate literature with regard to change and even attend seminars outside of the police world. That’s what smart cops do.

An effective police leader today and in the near future is going to have to be an organizational change expert. If he or she cannot or will not adopt the role of change agent they will surely fail not only themselves but the men and women they are privileged to lead.

Here’s a quick summary of Kotters “8 Steps:”

  1. Create a sense of urgency.
  2. Build a guiding coalition.
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiative.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army.
  5. Enable action by removing barriers.
  6. Generate short-term wins.
  7. Sustain acceleration.
  8. Institute change.

If you want to know whether this applies to policing take a look at what we learned about leading change in Madison — Kotter’s “8 Steps” parallels the process we used in the 1980s and 90s and I capture in Arrested Development. So read about it. Learn it. And start applying it. For example, the following leadership needs today will either make or break American policing:

  • Reducing the use of deadly force.
  • Increasing community-oriented policing efforts.
  • Implementing procedural justice as essential police conduct.
  • Raising trust and support among citizens of color.
  • Attracting and hiring the “best and brightest.”


  1. Lets find something to agree on;

    I find it quite fascinating how the blame rest on police officers across the board but lets face the facts not all of them are bad and that part we seem to be able to agree on.

    What I THINK lies at the core of this issue, and may I add most the times, it’s not the bad cops or the bullies that get killed it’s the one who shows up after the fact.

    Never the less we seem to be dealing with revenge killings here and that for me is the pressing issue and so what do we do about it?

    If we don’t look at why these things are happening we might as well be a dog barking at an electric fence after he got a shock for having a wiz… on it.

    Justice must not only be done but it should be perceived to have been done.

    However today in these police shootings we often see or feel like there’s absolutely no process that can assure anyone watching that it’s a fair and just process at work anymore and I think that people are getting frustrated at the system of justice as a hole and how it deals with Politicians, Police and the Public.

    Today in the newspaper there was the police shootings discussed and on the same page the 3rd officer was acquitted… not at all what one would expect to read in defusing a situation that seems to be expanding world wide.

    I think the days when everyone was expected to trust, wait and be quiet seems to be coming to an end in the world and being replaced with I will do what feels right….. for some reason I tend to think it’s a top down problem rather than a race police issue.

    When you don’t treat someone with Love and Respect you often loose it.

    I hope we can agree we have a huge problem here.


  2. When the good cops don’t do anything about the bad cops, they are just as guilty of committing the crimes that the bad cops do thus being bad cops themselves.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.