Leadership Truths

Leadership is a way and a choice. Don’t fall for order-givers, abusers, and coercive persons — they’re not leaders! Leaders enable others to grow and thrive for the good of the organization and its mission.

Here’s what a longtime colleague and friend, Chief Mike Masterson (now back at Boise PD) has to say about leaders and leadership. He, like me, was greatly influenced by the work of leadership gurus Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner,

He recently shared the following with his senior leaders.


“Good morning all, In a meeting last month I referred to a ‘leader’s moment of Truth’ basically anytime, anyone witnessing your actions as a leader as the opportunity to form an opinion, good or bad or your capabilities as a leader. The four moments of truth are;

  • How you spend your time.
  • The questions you ask,.
  • How you handle critical incidents or decisions, and
  • The behaviors you reward.

[See Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, 1987. }

“I have used these truths to guide my leadership behaviors for the last forty years and believe they have been a major part of my success and longevity.

“Recently, I’ve found that the authors have continued their research in leadership behaviors and have developed more contemporary tenets based on those findings. Here’s more insight into what they have learned and shared.”


Ten Truths about Leadership

In the last 30 years James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the highly regarded leadership classic The Leadership Challenge, have studied leaders all over the world. They understand leadership.

The question they get time and time again is “What’s new in leadership?” They answer that while the context of leadership as changed dramatically, “the content of leadership has not changed much at all. The fundamental behaviors, actions, and practices of leaders have remained essentially the same since we first began researching and writing about leadership over three decades ago.

Much has changed, but there’s a whole lot more that’s stayed the same.” That is probably the fundamental truth of leadership development. With that understanding, we can develop leaders in all contexts and weed out fact from fiction.

Based on thirty years of research—more than one million responses to their leadership assessment—Kouzes and Posner have gathered together in The Truth about Leadership, the ten truths that have stood the test of time and they hold true both globally and cross-generationally. They devote a chapter to each of these ten concepts: [Ed. Note: I will add some of my learning to each of the ten truths.]

Truth #1 You Make a Difference.

Before you lead you have to believe that you can have a positive impact on others. When you believe you can make a difference, you position yourself to hear the call to lead.

[You make a difference because everyone watches everything you do. Remember this!]

Truth #2 Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership.

If people don’t believe in you, they won’t willingly follow you. You must do what you say you are going to do. This means being so clear about your beliefs that you can live them every day.

[You are what you say and do. Your word matters greatly. Follow thru is vital.]

Truth #3 Values Drive Commitment.

You need to know what you believe in because you can only fully commit to the organization or cause when there is a good fit between what you value and the organization values. This is true too, for the people you lead.

[Who are you? What are your core values? — You know, the ones you’d die for! To really know who you are takes work. Engage in the process!]

Truth #4 Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart.

You have to be forward looking; it’s the quality that most differentiates leaders from individual contributors. You need to spend time reflecting on the future. Big dreams that resonate with others inspire and energize.

[Leaders always are looking ahead — visioning. They read outside policing and they grow by understanding trends and potential threats.]

Truth #5 You Can’t Do It Alone.

Leadership is a team sport, and you need to engage others in the cause. You need to enable others to be even better than they already are.

[Leading is not about you, but about us. Build a credible, honest, smart team. Listen to them and process what they say. Eventually, work for 360 degree feedback from those above. around, and “under” you.]

Truth #6 Trust Rules.

To enlist others, you need trust. Build mutual trust; you must trust others too.

[Just like a marriage, trust is the glue that holds relationships together. If you ever break trust it takes a sincere apology, a commitment to do better, and 100% openness and accountability to those whose trust you have broken. Not all of your decisions will be perfect, you will struggle, and make mistakes. Be honest about them and exactly what you are going to do to rebuild that trust.]

Truth #7 Challenge Is the Crucible of Greatness.

Great achievements don’t happen when you keep things the same. Change invariably involves challenge, and challenge tests you. It introduces you to yourself. It brings you face-to-face with your level of commitment, your grittiness, and your values. It reveals your mindset about change.

[Being a manager of a stable system is a cake-walk. Leading is another thing. It involves change, challenge, vulnerability, and your unwavering commitment. It comes with the territory.]

Truth #8 You Either Lead by Example or You Don’t Lead at All.

You have to go first as a leader. That’s what it takes to get others to follow your lead.

[If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen — because you are on display to your officers, community leaders, and just about everyone else. You are the first improvement you will ever make.]

Truth #9 The Best Leaders Are the Best Learners.

Learning is the master skill of leadership. Leaders are constant improvement fanatics.

[Being a leader today is to be always learning; be a student of not only policing, but of life itself. Leading demands that you are always a student.]

Truth #10 Leadership Is an Affair of the Heart.

Leaders love what they’re doing and those they lead. Leaders make others feel great themselves and are gracious in showing their appreciation.

[Leaders are passionate about what they do and the people they are privileged to lead. No one will ever be more committed and passionate than you exhibit each and every day to your officers and the community.}

These truths should form the basis of any leadership development program. Even more, they are the motivation behind the right kinds of behaviors that go into the formation of good and sustainable leadership.

There are no shortages of problems and opportunities…. Leadership is not about telling others they ought to solve these problems. It’s about seeing a problem and accepting personal responsibility for doing something about it. And it’s about holding yourself accountable for the actions that you take. The next time you see a problem and say “Why doesn’t someone do something about this?” take a look in the mirror and say instead, “I’ll be the someone to do something about it.”


  • Are you a leader? If so, is this you? How do you rate yourself on these 10 truths of leadership?
  • How about those whom you lead? What do they have to say? Are you confident and humble enough to ask them how you are doing as a leader?
  • When are you going to start and how will you know you are improving?
  • Having honestly answered these quest (and I hope you do), are you willing to change and improve your leadership behavior this coming year?

A very Happy New Year to those of you who visit and follow this blog! I thank you for your interest and commitment toward improving the art of policing.