The Meaning, Value, and Experience of Strategic Leadership for Law Enforcement Executives in Today's World

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Virginia Tech

As an FBI Agent leading the FBI National Executive Institute (NEI) I met a number of law enforcement leaders who, after becoming the chief their police department, related that they thought they knew what the chiefs’ job was until the first day they took that position. Contemporaneously, I learned from one of my NEI students, who had also attended the Army War College (AWC), that the AWC strategic leadership courses educated Colonels before they became Generals. These seminal events gave me the idea to provide the NEI with studies on strategic leadership in law enforcement. The outcome of a preliminary literature search evidenced a paucity of research for strategic leadership involving law enforcement executives and suggested the need for a study. The chiefs of police in the Major Cities Chief (MCC) Association were an appropriate population for such research since a wealth of wisdom resided in them. This study was aimed at determining what their experience taught them about two global questions that guided the inquiry: (a) What is the meaning and value of strategic leadership for law enforcement officials in today’s world, and (b) What is the developmental process involved in transitioning from tactical to strategic leader. A mailed instrument was used to gather data, including asking who the participants considered the best strategic leaders in the MCC. Ten chiefs were thereby peer-selected for face-to-face interviews that augmented, gave more richness, and more depth to the data. Findings suggest that while strategic leadership is still in process and escapes a finite definition, it includes a big picture, systems/contingency view of dealing with issues rather than incidents, continuous lifelong learning for themselves through assignments, reflection, and education, but also involves developing their followers through mentoring and delegation. This study found that the MCC perceive themselves as strategic leaders. Their transitional process of becoming a strategic leader included mentors, conflict, courage to stick with right decisions, integrity, and political perspective. Further statistical analysis and study is recommended comparing these data with other leadership studies to give a more distinct definition of and a model for strategic leadership both in law enforcement and the general population.

Law Enforcement, Strategic Leadership