View Full Version : On Leadership

09-05-2008, 01:57 AM
The following article was publisdhed in the Broward PBA Centurion, page 6. http://bcpba.org/pdf/Centurion/2008/Sep ... %20Web.pdf (http://bcpba.org/pdf/Centurion/2008/September%202008%20Web.pdf)

On Leadership.

Sgt. Jim Gort

Police departments are considered “paramilitary” organizations. This would indicate that we follow basic military protocol and organization. For those who have served in the Armed Forces, you know that in most cases this isn’t a reality.

However, following the basic premise that we are, or should be, following a quasi-military custom, on the question of leadership it may be appropriate to look at the leadership of some military commanders.

When you think of great military leaders, some names come immediately to mind: Grant, Lee, Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur, Schwartzkopf, and Powell, to name a few. All great leaders of which volumes have been written in regards to their abilities and successes. And sometimes even the lesser known leaders can offer us real life lessons that can be used to enhance our abilities within our agencies.

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Allen West is a career Army officer. Serving this nation around the world, he is a combat veteran of Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, served on the Korean DMZ and has trained many Afghan Army Generals. You may have heard of LTC West from an event that happened in Tikrit, Iraq, shortly after the US invasion of that country. LTC West’s intelligence division received information that an Iraqi Police (IP) Sergeant was working with the insurgent forces feeding intelligence to the opposition who were setting roadside bombs, ambushes and seeking to kill American soldiers. LTC West had the man brought in for interrogation, which did not produce any fruitful results after many hours of interviewing. LTC West, knowing that the IP Sgt was a part of the insurgent forces responsible for attacks on his soldiers, and that more attacks on US Soldiers were likely, took matters into his own hands and eventually fired a live round several feet past the insurgent’s head. This was enough to get him to talk and he subsequently confessed to being involved with the enemy as well as giving enough information on his fellow terrorists to find and neutralize the threat in that area of operations. Afterward, there was not one attack on LTC West’s soldiers. Several weeks later, the Army lawyers found out about the incident and began an investigation on LTC West for his actions resulting in a military hearing. Those same actions which, undoubtedly, saved many American lives.

Now, by no means am I suggesting a new interview technique with this story. What is important to take from this real-world incident is that LTC West did not ask or order an enlisted soldier to do what he did. West did this himself, taking the responsibility for the safety of his troops as well as the consequences that might have followed. He put his soldier’s safety before his own personal interests, knowing full well that his actions could (and indeed did) end his fast-track to higher military command and most likely a General’s star. During his military trial, the prosecution asked him if he were able to go back in time and change his actions that day, would he? His reply was, “When it comes to the safety of my soldiers, I would run through Hell with a gasoline can.”

The lesson here for us is clear. When it comes to leading people, leading police officers, we have to take into account not only the organizational checklists, procedures and norms, but we must also care about the relationship part of the leadership dynamic. We must care more about the men and women who work with and under us, than about our personal ambitions within the agency. A leader cannot earn the respect of his or her subordinates if there is no trust. The rank and file must know that they can trust the leadership to always do the right thing to the best of their ability and that they will always be treated fairly no matter what. If you look back at some of the greatest leaders in our military history, this has been a common theme and one that is often missing from many police agencies. The mission of the department should always be the primary concern for all members. Immediately after that should be the leader’s responsibility to his or her subordinates, as well as for them.

Those in leadership positions often talk of empowerment, ownership and other key buzz words. Are those of us in leadership positions willing to turn those key and important words into actions and lead by example, not by lecture? Are we willing to put the needs of our agency and the welfare of our officers above our own personal ambitions? If we are, we will flourish as an agency and a profession.

I had the opportunity to speak directly to LTC West about leadership and he iterated the following. Earn the trust, then the respect, of your people by holding them to a higher standard and giving them the freedom to fail while encouraging their creativeness and enthusiasm. Don’t be the guy who says, “Well that’s just the way that we do it here.” Never lead them into harms way unless it is absolutely necessary, and even then you need to be right there with them. LTC West has said many times that, “Simply, I am a soldier’s soldier. I have no subordinates; companion brothers are how I see them. I was never a superior, just the senior person.” LTC West earned the respect and loyalty of his soldiers.

Your focus as a leader should be on the accomplishment of a common goal (the mission / vision of your agency). He further states that this requires these “Four C’s”: Courage, Competence, Commitment and Character, and that all of these traits can be developed. A leader must lead from the front and place the well-being of those they serve above their own. Our profession needs to be paramilitary and our leaders can learn much from exemplary military leaders like LTC Allen West.

I heard a recent story of a command staff officer from one agency who said of another leader in the same agency that he “leads with his heart and not enough with his head.” Personally, I think he was wrong in judging this other commander in a negative light. We have to lead with our heart as well as with our heads. This Commander was the same guy who, after someone made a silly mistake, he didn’t ‘put them on paper’. He would say, “You see what you did wrong? Don’t do that again.” Then pat him on the back and tell him to ‘get back in the game’. He earned both trust and respect for “leading with his heart”. And this is bad? I can tell you that those officers worked harder and smarter for that commander as opposed to doing what they were told by someone who says to because he/she has rank on their collar. I can tell you this because I was one of the officers under him. We can all think of ranking officers in our departments who manage the policies and SOPs but do not lead. Our leaders must be willing to develop the relationship aspect of the leadership dynamic to be successful, and we should heed the examples of military leaders like LTC West.

LTC Al West has since retired and is living in South Florida. As a direct result of his leadership qualities, LTC West was asked to run for the Republican seat of US Congress in Florida’s 22nd District. This area encompasses parts of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. There has been a recent book written about the LTC West and his leadership that can be found on the web, A Missing Link in Leadership; The Trial of LTC Allen West. You can also learn more about LTC West at http://www.allenwestforcongress.com

01-11-2013, 03:31 PM