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Leadership From the Line

Leadership From the Line

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it” —Theodore Roosevelt


What is it that officers need from their supervisors? What do they expect? When I first thought about my expectation of leadership; the line officer’s expectations of leadership, I immediately began to think about all the things you normally hear from the rank and file.  I’ve spoken with several officers who work for departments of varying sizes across the country and while the answer to the issue certainly seems to me that it depends on whom you ask, there are distinct and common trends that always come up in conversation and it are those trends that all of us, including our leaders can learn from.

Despite the sometimes gruff nature of this profession, we’d like our leaders to be developers, supporters and advocates alike. I’d bet you could ask most any officer and they’ll tell you their favorite supervisors have been those who’ve taken a personal interest in their subordinates. These are the leaders who know your name, know your wife/kids names, etc. They not only ask questions about your personal lives, but (wait for it) actually recall the conversations later and follow up!

Officers tend to gravitate toward supervisors who see mistakes as teaching opportunities as opposed to opportunities to punish.  This is where leaders who  “go out on a limb” for their people earn their “stripes” if you will. 


It is absolutely alright to provide guidance, but not always necessary to “meddle” in every aspect of your officer’s assignment.  Micro-management has to be number one on the list of officer pet-peeves as it pertains to expectations of leadership.  Officers want their supervisors to have trust in their ability to get the job done.  Some of the best supervisors I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with on patrol, have been the ones who didn’t show up to every call.

When they did show up unexpectedly, it was to assist and not just stand around looking important.  Leaders have to not be afraid to get into the mix and get their hands dirty by working with their team.  Notice I used the word “with”.  We don’t need overseers.  Sometimes we need an extra set of hands.  Officers want the opportunity to do the job they love without having to worry about an ever-present pair of eyes looking over our shoulder.

Avoid Complacency

While “Lead from the Front” is a cliché, it remains a rare commodity in today’s leadership and it must continue to be addressed. These days leadership demands that our officers be able to multi-task a dozen things at once. We’re expected to participate in continuing education, while at the same time moving the organization forward, and still providing the same great customer service the community has come to expect. Most officers do not have a problem with these kinds of expectations. All we ask is that leadership is making those same strides. Leaders…..don’t get complacent! We need leadership to always be striving to better themselves, and to move the organization forward. If leadership becomes lazy, you can expect your officers to do the same, and resentment will undoubtedly set in. Complacency is contagious, both leaders and subordinates would do well to avoid it.

Personal bias or the perception of it on the part of leadership cannot be tolerated. As officers we expect our leadership to be fair, unbiased and ethical. You’re probably thinking, of course! Yet there wouldn’t be a perceived need for articles like these if it were that easy. Supervisors simply cannot allow their personal bias’ (and we all have them) to affect their decision-making, especially when it comes to working with your subordinates.  Leaders have to be aware that we, as subordinates, are constantly scrutinizing their ethics. As such, the bosses cannot leave any room for anyone to question their ethics.

Ultimately officers want to feel like they have some sort of say in the way they are supervised.  Supervisors should be open to actually listening to their people, and giving the time and attention to feel that their opinions and contributions to the organization matter. We stray away from the leader that dictates what will be done, when they don’t have all the facts, or even a good understanding of the issue(s) at hand. This is where collaboration from your team comes in. Yes, leaders will be making a decision that will ultimately be followed by the officers, just remember to make it with all the facts/opinions being heard, and know where your officer’s concerns lay.

It is very important for leaders to communicate with their officers. Sounds simple right? But this is very essential, and apparently not being done as often as you think. Supervisors have to talk to be able to communicate with their officers in a clear, polite, and respectful manner. We don’t need you hoarding information. Holding on to information is not power…’s a lack of confidence in your ability so when possible, share information. This isn’t conducive to a good working environment.  Leaders need to share their wisdom/insight with their officers, and encourage us to do the same with you!

Both leaders and subordinates must create an environment where everyone on the team has each other’s back  Understand this does not mean create an environment where the team “covers up” for someone’s wrongdoing.  What this means is that the team works as a cohesive unit and that when one member is struggling, the others can jump in and assist. Leadership included. Sometimes this means the leader needs to identify people who are “slacking” on the shift and address the issue(s) surrounding the poor performance. This needs to be addressed sooner than later, and well before the shift as a whole begins to resent the low performer and the manager for not doing their jobs.
In all honesty I have the greatest respect for those leaders who create their own identity as a supervisor. We don’t want you to mirror other supervisors and strive to be exactly like them. Take the good you see in all other supervisors and make it your own style. Supervisors need to understand themselves, and their own abilities. Remember you were promoted. You didn’t all of a sudden gain automatic wisdom. Know your strengths and weaknesses and don’t be afraid to seek guidance from those people on your team who have more experience in the areas you don’t. You should challenge yourself to be a great leader, and one that is followed and respected by his team. We will follow!


Are you a Line Officer with an interest in Leadership?  Join Officer McGuire & submit your thoughts on “Leadership From the Line”.  Submit your article to




About The Author

Malcolm A. McGuire

Malcolm McGuire is a 12-year law enforcement veteran, and currently serves as a patrol officer with the City of Denton Police Department in Denton, Texas. He is a hostage negotiator and advanced law enforcement instructor. Malcolm teaches on various topics, including Cultural & Generational Diversity, Professional Policing and Special Investigative Topics. He is a United States Air Force veteran and is currently assigned to his unit’s training section where he is responsible for keeping unit members up to date on training tasks both expeditionary and law-enforcement specific. He is a Below 100 Trainer and Adjunct Instructor with the Tarrant County Criminal Justice Training Center in Fort Worth, Texas. Malcolm is a contract consultant with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program, a U.S. Department of Justice Initiative conducted by the Office of Justice Programs through Fox Valley Technical College. He assists in developing and implementing law enforcement training nation-wide. He has taught courses on Conflict Management and Effective Communication to public safety leaders in both Kigali, Rwanda and Kamulu, Kenya. Malcolm holds a Master of Arts Degree in Dispute Resolution & Conflict Management from Southern Methodist University and is a certified mediator in the State of Texas.

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