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Shared Leadership in Police Departments
Terms like "innovation" and "disruption" are not words commonly used among law enforcement professionals.
Often filled with traditional methods, police departments have historically been structured in hierarchical fashion, with power largely concentrated in the hands of a select few and the masses knowing their place in the pecking order.
More often than not, these organizations are built around the idea of a brave, wise, solitary leader. But as the book "The Wisdom of Crowds" illustrated - the collective often knows more than any one single individual.
Strict hierarchy limits performance and the recent riots in Baltimore have shown that society pays a high price when policing goes awry. Police Chief Magazine points out: to stay relevant, modern law enforcement needs to flatten the hierarchy and create an environment of shared leadership.
Why Shared Leadership?
Given the recent headlines, law enforcement across the nation is contending with low morale. So much so that new Attorney General Loretta Lynch has made a priority of ”improving police morale."
What's at fault for the low morale? According to a 2012 report in Police Chief Magazine, low morale is not the result of stress in the field but from organizational pressures. Factors specifically in the report include "favoritism by administrators, poor communication, unfair and inconsistent discipline, and supervisory politics."
All by-products of a rigid hierarchy.
As in other organizations, low morale results in a rise in turnover and lowered productivity. But perhaps most important, "as morale decreases, use-of-force and civilian complaints increase. Officers with low morale have lower tolerances, may utilize poor judgment, and can exhibit negative feelings, all of which can hinder their performance of duties."
What happens when power is more dispersed as in a shared leadership program? In 2006, the Broken Arrow police department in Oklahoma experimented with shared leadership and found it improved "commitment, pride, morale, motivation, productivity, leadership development, and acceptance of community policing initiatives."
Instead of featuring a solitary heroic figure, the police departments of the future will revolve around teamwork. These organizations will be flatter, with fewer layers of management and lines of distinction. Decision making will be more inclusive and more responsive to community needs.
How to Create Shared Leadership
An environment of shared leadership can most quickly and easily be created by providing law enforcement the ability to make suggestions and offer information freely. While ultimate decision making authority will usually remain in the hands of management, officers in this system are free to voice their ideas at all levels.
This method of shared leadership is an effective low-risk method of engaging employees in the daily operations of a police department. It makes people feel valued by their agencies and gives them a stake in operations.
However this type of shared leadership is not necessarily a strength in many police departments. The article recommends police chiefs look to formal employee suggestion software to help create the proper communication channels.
In such a system, police chiefs are put in a role of asking more questions rather than offering answers, listening more than telling, and supporting rather than directing. Since routine tasks are delegated to employees, the chief can turn attention to big picture threats and opportunities. When employees are empowered in an organization, everyone benefits.
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