By Deputy Kurt Barbour (Ret.)
“The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders, and continually develops them” - John Maxwell. Does rank equate to being a leader? The answer is “NO.” John Maxwell is an author and speaker of leadership. While John has no experience as a police officer, his words ring true and can be applied to law enforcement. Leadership is vital in so many regards to the law enforcement community, and yet, what emphasis is placed within organizations to create more leaders? Some view the achievement of rank as being a leader. I submit that while rank can be a leader, it is not exclusive to rank. Leadership is a quality rather than an actual title. It is possible to have a rank over others, but that does not equate to being a leader. When I speak of “leader,” I mean effective leadership.
I retired from the field in June of 2023. Still, I continue to instruct nationally (through Homefront Protective Group), law enforcement, and the military on the finer points of various law enforcement-related topics, including effective communication, body language, and a host of other topics. I have had the opportunity to have multiple supervisors and have met many people in my career. I have met some who were great leaders and others who did not realize the concept of leadership. I learned from both groups how to become an effective leader. I retired as Commander from one of the larger SWAT Negotiations teams in Illinois, where I had the opportunity to test my leadership lessons.
I know all too well where a person in a ranking position feels threatened by a team member and fears that person will advance beyond them. This creates a culture of animosity, which stunts growth within the team. If we are not continually growing, we are declining. I once compared leadership to a seedling, “Leadership is like a seedling. It takes care and nurturing to grow. A true leader will inspire others to become leaders themselves by providing that care and nurturing” (Barbour, LinkedIn post, September 2023). A leader is not someone who is threatened by their team's growth, but is supportive of it and inspires growth from every team member. I wanted a team of leaders who used critical thinking and knowledge to formulate constructive and powerful ideas. Leadership can only be measured by the success and growth of the team. A leader is PART of the team and not the team itself. A leader is only a spoke in the wheel. Having leadership qualities not only inspires others to follow, but also to strive for perfection. People will follow an effective leader not because they have no choice but because they want to.
Having effective leadership has many positive effects on the organization. An effective leader will boost morale, provide individual growth, and retain officers. Humans have specific values they hold important in a job. Besides pay and benefits, officers want to feel valued, be able to grow in the organization, and feel they are part of an organization that supports them. I have observed people in leadership roles who don’t truly understand the value of effective leadership. In a time when recruitment and retention of qualified law enforcement officers is on the decline, effective leadership is one way that can be efficiently utilized for improvement. An organization needs to realize the value of an effective leader. I mean, really know it, not just pay it lip service.
Growth as an individual and team includes the need for training. Not just training that is mandated, but training for growth in other aspects of interest to that individual (this is part of the nurturing process). Understandably, sometimes resources don’t always allow for training. However, training is a crucial part of growth and creating a knowledgeable team and, thus, a tool used in the retention and recruitment of new officers. Officers leave organizations because they have better opportunities elsewhere. It only makes sense to have the best opportunities available through effective leadership to retain and recruit officers.
There are courses for training supervisors, such as staff and command school. I know that effective leadership is part of this course; however, this QUALITY is not always an emphasis for an individual. To be a true leader, we must embrace leadership as a quality and not a product of rank. I realized this concept and that all in my team can be leaders. In being leaders, they had the power to solve problems and inspire growth in others. By providing this quality of effective leadership and inspiring others to be leaders, people wanted to be part of that team.
Effective leadership is a goal that will continue to grow because we can never truly stop learning what it means to be a LEADER. Continued efforts to be an effective leader will result in better morale, retention, and recruitment because others will follow an effective leader. Remember, we lead from the front, not the rear.
Kurt Barbour retired in June 2023 with over 20 years of law enforcement experience. Kurt has been in corrections, patrol, and detectives (undercover and specialized teams). Kurt was the Commander of a large Crisis Negotiations Team. Kurt is also an instructor who instructs nationwide Federal, International, State, and Local Law Enforcement Officers and Military on various law enforcement topics such as interview and interrogation, detecting deception, tactical de-briefing, body language, de-escalation techniques, officer safety, narcotics investigations and a variety of other law enforcement topics through Homefront Protective Group, the nation’s leading provider in reality-based training. Kurt obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Springfield and is completing his master’s in forensic psychology at Purdue Global University.
Deputy Kurt Barbour (Ret.)