What’s a Leader?

“Where there is no guidance a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” —Proverbs 11:14

As we all know, leadership is one of the key elements to success in any field.
Despite this, police departments too often place candidates into position of leaderships who aren’t qualified to lead, don’t want to lead and/or simply shouldn’t lead.

To begin our exploration, let’s start with a short story of a newly promoted field supervisor—what I call the “frontline leader.” This leader would come to work an hour early, leave an hour late, in addition to standing roll call with his troops and participating in weapons inspections. His uniform was impeccably pressed, and he made himself available for subordinate consultation, as well as consistently submitted these charges for appropriate department awards. His peers, conversely, never participated in inspections, were consistently late for roll call and showed up out of uniform. They never responded to jobs unless called.

One evening, the leader was approached by his peers in the locker room. These “supervisors” told this leader that he needed to curb his behaviors. He was “making them look bad,” they said. This leader chuckled and replied: “I don’t have to do anything to make you look bad. You do enough yourself. I am a leader, not a supervisor.” 

The bottom line: Anyone can supervise. It takes someone special to be a leader. Question: Does an effective leader make a good supervisor? And, more critically, what makes an effective leader?

“Of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are nothing but targets, nine are real fighters. ... We are lucky to have them. ...They battle the make. Ah, but the one, one of them is a Warrior ... and he will bring the others back.”  —Hericletus

The Leader
The U.S. Marines Corps lists 14 traits of leadership that they use as a guide. These traits are the backbone in the educational and training process of potential leaders as well as current leaders. They are dependability, bearing, courage, decisiveness, endurance, enthusiasm, initiative, integrity, judgment, justice, knowledge, tact, unselfishness and loyalty.

In the book Police Leadership, M.R. Haberfeld writes: “Ethical leaders have been characterized in a variety of ways. The main characteristics fall into three broad categories: being nurturing and service oriented, being just and honest, and being committed to common goals.

With the attributes of a warrior to the USMC leadership traits and Haberfeld’s characteristics, we are armed with information to assist in shaping our leadership by incorporating the below chart with the scenario that follows to answer the questions presented.

“The team leader should strive to cultivate and demonstrate the same mental attitude as the individual and project this to the team. Your job as team leader is to ‘live the example’ for all to see and aspire to be. We are not talking about perfection, but darn close. The individuals you are going to lead into harm’s way need to have the confidence and beliefs that your priorities are right. That priority is to fight smart and hard and bring the team members back at all costs.
                                                                                                                                     —Paul Howe

The Scenario
The commanding officer of a police department is always late. From meetings with command staff to training exercises, this commanding officer is never on time. The excuses offered are never relevant.

On one occasion, a police officer has a family emergency arise. So he calls in to make the  proper notifications about his situation to his superiors. But when he reports to work 45 minutes late, the commanding officer starts to scream at him for being tardy, if front of his peers.

Officers and Leaders
So ask yourself the following questions about the above scenario, based on the definition of leader we considered prior.

  1. Would you classify such a supervisor as a leader?

  2. Were they part of the solution or the problem?

  3. Would you follow them in the heat of battle?

  4. Have you ever put yourself or your schedule before your team?

  5. Have you ever pulled rank to your advantage?

  6. Have you ever admonished your operators and/or subordinates for something you routinely do?

  7. Have you ever expected your team to handle a job, even though you hadn’t trained properly for it?

Unless the issue of poor leadership is addressed, the outcomes the law enforcement world strives to achieve will elude us, and failure will follow. Law enforcement officers who question the characters of the people charged with leading them are at a tactical disadvantage, even before the action begins. With this in mind, each and every leader must understand that the example they set will resonate with their charges.

The bottom line: If they can’t count on you every time, they don’t. Our line of work is too dangerous for a lack of trust between teammates.


Danny McGuire, Jr. is a second-generation Chicago police officer and has worked in law Enforcement since 1990. In 1996, he joined the Chicago Police Department and in 1999 joined the Hostage Barricade Terrorist Team (HBT). McGuire has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Management from Calumet College of Saint Joseph, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, where he participated in a 700-hour therapy practicum with Forensic Clientele, and will graduate from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais Illinois with a Doctorate of Education, emphasis ethical leadership. He was promoted to sergeant in 2007 and is currently assigned to the Chicago Police Department SWAT Team as the coordinator of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Safety and Support Team, in addition to serving on the ITOA Board of Directors since 2008.



  1. Mish, F. (Ed.). (2003). In Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed., Springfield: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.

  2. Howe, P (2005). Leadership and Training for the Fight: A Few Thoughts on Leadership and Training from a Former Special Operations Soldier. Bloomington, IN: Author House.

  3. Burns, D, & Curnutt, J (2007). Basic Active Shooter Course 1 Instructors Guide. San Marcos: Texas State University.

  4. Haberfeld, M (2006). Police Leadership. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.



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