In times of turmoil and change, police need leadership

By Darrin Fulton  |   Jan 25, 2018

Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders are made, not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price all of must pay to achieve any goal this worthwhile.” But what exactly did he mean?

Well, it’s up for interpretation by each of us to some degree. Essentially, I think, he’s saying that anyone can be a leader, but it won’t be easy. Leadership is something that builds up inside of us. When push comes to shove, the great stand tall while the unsure stand behind and wait for direction.

Leaders, All

Each one of us has the opportunity to lead. Some are thrust into leadership positions, never knowing what they can achieve and never willing to try. But whether we actually grasp that chance is entirely up to us. The fact is, many, if not most people, would simply rather not lead. Leadership involves vulnerability. It’s risky. It can be hard, stressful, and lonely.

The thing is, we need leaders in law enforcement—now more than ever. In an era of major changes in policing, and with the microscope that we are under, people who choose to lead bring positives to not only those on the job but also those who are watching us.

My academy captain was fond of speaking of integrity. To him, this meant doing what’s right, even when no one’s watching and it’s not easy. Integrity is, I believe, a foundational building block of leadership.

We take the oath and wear a badge to do what’s right. We fight for what’s right, take on injustice, help victims and those who can’t help themselves. It may sound cliché or “superhero-esque,” but in some ways, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. That’s the ideal. When we do what’s right, lending a hand, we’re leading. It’s as simple as that.

The effects of good work are manifold and ripple beyond the immediate action. Citizens look at us and respect our work. Kids look up to us and maybe want to be like us some day. That’s how we take on a role of leadership. You don’t have to be a commander to lead. Some are great at being commanders, but inefficient as leaders.

We choose our direction. Yes, things may not always work out as we planned. In fact, they usually don’t. That doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. Again, this may seem like it has nothing to do with leadership, but, I would suggest, it’s the essence of leadership. We chart our course. We choose to press forward, or we choose to dwell on the past and what could have gone differently.

Why get stuck in the mud? Moving forward shows others that we will not give up, that we will continue to fight the good fight, and that, in a word, is leadership.

Make things better. The police leader looks at a crime-ridden neighborhood and asks, “How can I make a difference? Who can I speak with and engage with to help turn this community around?” Ask these questions and you will find citizens hungry for a better life and living conditions.

Leave the ego out. The police leader is not concerned with glory or awards or their name in the paper. The police leader instead seeks positive outcomes and is concerned with others rather than self. Leaders lift everyone up rather than drag them down. Officers want to work for them.

Leaders take risks. Police officers know from the second they put on the uniform each day to begin their tour that their lives may be at risk.  This too is a form of leadership.  Some take for granted the fact that this is a noble profession. Given what we witness on the job, it’s too easy to grow cynical and take a dim view of humanity. We have to find a way to better pull each other up, to have each other’s back, and to lead each other forward like leaders should do.

Leaders constantly improve. The police leader seeks out further education, training, and knowledge.  There are those who believe that after so long, they’ve seen it all, done it all, and know it all. However, the world continually changes. Learning new ways to complete tasks, finding a new technology that could benefit you or your department, and training on ways to stay safe should be part of every police leader’s ideals. The more training you have, the more you are able to pass on to others.


Many question what it takes to be a leader. Many never have the desire to ever be one.  But each individual possesses a trait or quality that sets them apart. For every failure, there’s knowledge gained and a success to be had somewhere down the road. For every leader, there are many more who could have led but chose to sit on the sidelines instead.