On Leadership

images-1I am sitting in my office looking at the books I am considering for a new course I am teaching next semester: “Police Leadership in Changing Times.”

This caused me to reflect on my own leadership journey from a Marine sergeant, to teaching at the police academy, to organizing a group of college cops, and then to heading up two police departments. I made mistakes along the way. Thankfully, I learned from most of them.

My career in leadership was during an immense time of change. During my watch, police departments were integrated with both women and people of color. Women moved into leadership positions. Police candidates were smarter and more mature. A way was found to respond to public protest without using physical force and reality was put into the concepts of community and problem-oriented policing.

It was an era of rights: rights for women, people of color, and those who were LQBTQ. Each one of those rights caused a push-back within the predominately white, male organizations I came to serve and lead. These were not easy times.

What did I learn? Some were learned while doing, others by studying, and still others by being able to reflect on the past, know people and their history and anticipate the future.

For many years, I was comfortable with practicing top-down leadership. It took me some time to figure out it wasn’t working and then another period of time to get the courage to do something about it, something more effective.

When I had the opportunity to schedule my own training and career development I often chose a non-police management seminar. I subscribed to the Harvard Business Review, the New York Times, and was a member of the World Future Society. A meeting one summer of the World Future Society on the future of women changed my life. I went away with a new understanding and new eyes.

My response to stress management was to find activities outside the police world. For me it was competitive athletics:  running, skiing, biking, and martial arts. I also tried to develop my E.I. (emotional intelligence) along the way.

I spent two decades leading police in Madison, Wisc. This journey was divided into two phases: the first eight years bringing women and people of color into the organization, enabling women to advance, and managing a volatile tradition of public protest without using violence.

The next 12 years continued through to my retirement and was characterized by changing our top-down, coercive style of leadership to one that was more collaborative, team-oriented, listened to rank and file officers, and was committed to continuous improvement while working intimately with the various communities we served.

It was during this second phase that I discovered the world of leadership outside of policing. As examples, the works of Tom Gordon (Leadership Effectiveness Training: Proven Skills for Leading Today’s Business into Tomorrow), Robert Greenleaf (Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness), W. Edwards Deming (Out of the Crisis), Mary Walton (The Deming Management Method), John Kotter (Leading Change), Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization), and Steven Covey (Seven Habits of Highly-Effective People).

During the course of the second phase, my team and I were able to craft a strong vision, a maxim, in the words, “Quality from the Inside Out.” What this meant was that we, as a police organization, needed to work on the inside of us first before we attempt to lead out — prepare the inside (individually and collectively) before we attempt to improve our service delivery!

For formal leaders, it meant learning a new leadership (which was captured in “The 12 Principles of Quality Leadership”), practicing it, receiving feedback on how we were doing from those whom we led, and continuously improving on what we were doing.

For the organization, it meant the same things. After all, every officer is a leader because true community-oriented policing is only possible when police officers acted as leaders within the specific neighborhood they served.

When this was all accomplished, we were then in the position to go into the community, listen, and help them effectively respond to and solve problems in their neighborhoods.

For leaders, it meant doing interior work, improving their “E.I;” emotional intelligence (the ability to understand, manage, and effectively express one’s own feelings, as well as engage and navigate successfully with those of others) and then the leader’s skill in practicing each of those 12 Leadership Principles.

This enabled the creation of a strong, competent, emotionally sound, collaborative, accountable and transparent police organization that was in the best position to actually serve and protect the community and fulfill its mission to them.

The Madison Police Department


We are a dynamic organization devoted to improvement, excellence, maintaining customer satisfaction, and operating on the principles of quality leadership.


“Closer to the People; Quality from the Inside Out”



We believe in the dignity and worth of all people.

We are committed to: providing high-quality, community-oriented police services with sensitivity, protecting constitutional rights, problem-solving, teamwork, openness, planning for the future, continuous improvement, and providing leadership to the police profession.

We are proud of the diversity of our work force, which permits us to grow and which respects each of us as individuals, and we strive for a healthful workplace — (1986).

From my leadership library, I learned from Greenleaf that if one wishes to lead, he or she must first learn to serve others — servant leadership. It is a powerful idea because it stresses the needs of others above self; a very good thing to think about when has power over others.

Gordon taught me the negative consequences of exercising coercive power in leadership. One point he made I vividly remember – the more coercion you use in your leadership to get the job done the less information your subordinates will share with you (information that is vitally necessary for you, as a leader, to be effective).

Deming got me thinking about collecting data, systems, and how to improve them. When things go wrong it is most often not the person but the system. And the best way to fix and improve the system is to ask those who are doing the work. Additionally, Deming introduced me to the power of the Japanese concept of “kaizen” — continuous improvement.

Kotter taught me the essential steps in implementing organizational change; from creating a sense of urgency, casting an energizing vision, empowering employees, and sustaining wins.

Senge planted the powerful seed in my mind about the police department becoming a learning (and then teaching) organization – helping other police organizations to improve.

Covey got me thinking about what came to be called “emotional intelligence” and asking creative intellectuals like Herman Goldstein and the late Frank Remington of the University of Wisconsin to be on my “kitchen cabinet.”

This second phase of change that I led was the most satisfying, creative and effective. It went on for a period of thirteen years until I retired.

As I contemplated retirement, I thought one of my captains should take the helm and propel the organization further into the future and into sustaining excellence. That did not happen.

An outside chief came in and stayed for a decade. By the time those who were part and parcel of the Great Reform came into top leadership much had been lost. While the department kept its commitment to diversity and community policing, I find it difficult, now two decades after my retirement, to see the vision we once had. In 2012, I wrote this in “Arrested Development:”

“Transformation isn’t an exercise in capital, but in brainpower. It doesn’t cost money to cast a bold vision, or to raise the hiring standards, or to internally train officers and their leaders with existing resources. It doesn’t cost money to listen, and it doesn’t cost money to continuously upgrade the systems in which we work… And it doesn’t cost money to sustain an outstanding, community-oriented police department because with the changes I am suggesting comes trust, cooperation, and community support—things no money can buy.

“But, it will take time. It will require bold leadership from the police themselves. It can’t begin in the squad room; it has to begin with the chief… If police are to realize their potential as Constitutional officers, their leaders will have to take and be the first step… 

“Every time I visit Madison I see the results. I see a police department that is highly educated, many of the officers with graduate and law degrees. I see a police department that is extremely representative of, and responsive to, the community it serves—nearly 30 percent of the officers are women, and over 10 percent are men and women of color. But most of all, I see a police department which is respected, effective, fair, supported, and appreciated by the community.”

Would I like to see more? Of course. Do I think the Great Vision has been forgotten? Possibly.

I recently observed the department handling two questionable officer-involved shootings, an non-cooperative, intoxicated white man, and a black teenager suffering from a drug reaction, along with a forceful arrest of a teenaged girl of color. I expected more from the department.

Does the Madison department still follow the “12 Principles” in their leadership? Are they committed to continuous improvement and being the best police department in America? Only they and their citizen “customers” can answer that question. Being an outsider now, I simply do not know.

In the meantime, I will write, teach, and do all I can do from my senior position to help make quality policing in America a reality.

Leadership is never a destination — it is always a journey. All in all, if you can’t or won’t develop your SELF, you’ll never be an effective leader.

P.S. From my days in the Marines, I remember the “Commandant’s Reading List;” books that we needed to read at various leadership levels from recruits to field grade officers. It is a list in which a military leader can expect to have his or her world vision broadened.

So why not a list of books in which graduating criminal justice majors with leadership aspirations should be engaging?

Required Texts:

  1. The Extreme Future – James Canton. (2006).
  2. The Deming Management Method – Mary Walton, Dodd-Mead (1986).
  3. HBR’s (Harvard Business Review’s) 10 Must-Reads on Change Management – Harvard Business School Publishing Group (2011).

Reserve List:

  1. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Workbook – Maxwell (2007)
  2. Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works — Jay Newton-Small (2016).
  3. The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society: Task Force Report: The Police, President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice (1968).
  4. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t – Jim Collins (2001).
  5. HBR’s (Harvard Business Review) 10 Must-Reads on Leadership (2011).
  6. Leader Effectiveness Training – Thomas Gordon (2001).
  7. Leadership 101 – John Maxwell (2010).
  8. Leading Change – Kotter (2012)
  9. The Memory Jogger 2 – Goal/QPC (2016).
  10. Police Leadership in a Democracy, Jim Isenberg, ed. (2010).
  11. Policing a Free Society, Herman Goldstein (1977).
  12. The President’s Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing (2015).
  13. Principle-Centered Leadership – Covey (1991)
  14. Reaching Out: Interpersonal Effectiveness and Self-Actualization– Johnson (2012)
  15. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness – Larry Spears, Ed., and Robert Greenleaf (2012)
  16. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Covey (1989)
  17. Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function, American Bar Assn. (1972).
  18. The Team Handbook, 3rd Edition – Peter Scholtes, Joiner, and Steibel (2003).
  19. The Transformational Leader (Wiley Management Classic) – Tichy and Devanna (1997)
  20. Turn the Ship Around – David Marquet (2012).





  1. Unfortunately in policing ideas are inextricably linked to people. When those people move on those ideas do not remain. That phenomenon occurs in the military too, but to a lesser extent. The principle difference is that in the military there is an organization-wide commitment to thinking about how they accomplish their mission. At all but the highest levels politics does not intrude into the day to day operational concerns in the military. We desperately need to emerge from the political era in policing.


  2. Thank you for your insights. There is a dearth of leadership in policing today and it primarily results from leaders who don’t discover the leadership concepts beyond the realm of policing. We promote people and expect that they will just know how to be a good leader because they were a good officer. It doesn’t happen without conscious effort and those that invest the effort are too few. We need to develop our police leaders from early on in their careers because they are leaders every time that they step out of their cars


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