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4 Crippling Leadership Mistakes

Dr. Richard Weinblatt

Leadership by Non-Example

A few years back when I was a police chief, I had a patrol officer knock on my office door and pose what I thought was an excellent question to have from his vantage point. He wondered why the second in command and I wore our respective full duty belt (including on-duty weapon, OC pepper spray, ASP baton, and two handcuffs) and bulletproof vest, along with the same dark blue shirt that the rest of the agency’s sworn personnel wore. He observed that most chiefs would usually wear a white shirt, only an off-duty style pancake gun holster, and ditch the bulletproof vest.

My reply was along the lines of: “As a sworn officer, we expect you to report for duty with all of your gear ready to handle any calls for service or issues that come your way. How can we expect you to do so if the executive staff can’t or won’t do the same.”

I recall a similar conversation that occurred between a patrol officer and a police chief many years back in another state. That interaction helped to shape my view of leadership and what not to do.

In that case, it was I who was the patrol officer in the dark shirt questioning my chief (who by the way is long since out of the policing field). His practice of non-leadership by example had him wearing a white shirt without a bulletproof vest, duty belt, or even a firearm. All he had was his “Chief” badge and shoulder patches on his white shirt. It was hard for me to respect the man or hear his message as he lead by non-example.

The concept here is simple and permeates across much of what the effective leader does. He or she stumbles badly if leadership is not shown by example. Oftentimes even the valid message from the top is lost because the troops do not even take the time to hear the message. The messenger has sabotaged the message’s delivery by not leading by example. Almost everything in leadership disasters can be linked up with a leadership by non-example philosophy.

As has been proven in wartime situations (and remember, most agencies are run on a paramilitary model), the troops love to follow the general who is armed like them and is physically and mentally with them leading the charge. They are not asked to do anything that the iconic leader wouldn’t do him or herself.

While we certainly do not want to equate service in a law enforcement agency with being in a wartime environment 24 hours a day as an occupying force, policing by its nature and structure engenders some of those comparisons. An effective leader, leads by example.

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