Trickle-Down Leadership

In the 1980’s, the term “trickle-down economics” was coined to describe the economic policies of President Ronald Reagan. To completely over simplify, these policies favored the wealthy with the thought being that the wealthy’s financial success would trickle-down to those lower on the socio-economic food chain by way of more jobs, better advancement opportunities, and higher wages. Translation – Having it better at the top would make it better on those towards the bottom.

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When it comes to the paramilitary model that law enforcement agencies are built upon, a similar “trickle-down” concept applies to leadership. There will not be a “flattening” of this model anytime soon; therefore, it is vital that leaders within law enforcement agencies recognize the role they play in this “trickle-down” leadership model. Unlike the economics concept which was based upon having it “better” at the top, the law enforcement version must be built upon leaders demonstrating such high levels of values-based, servant leadership that those positive leadership qualities “trickle-down” onto each tier of leadership below it.


When there is a dedicated, consistent flow of positive leadership at the top, over time it will fill its own vessel and trickle over the edges. If the vessel below is in position to catch it, then it too will begin to fill and subsequently trickle over its edges into the vessel below that. This will continue until eventually positive leadership will fill the lowest level of the structure and begin to overflow onto its base.

While the structure mentioned above is obviously a metaphor for the paramilitary model, the base is typically not considered to be part of the structure, but it most definitely is. The base in this example is representative of the community the department serves. Just as a structure cannot stand without a base, without the community, the existence of law enforcement to protect it is futile. The other key component to this metaphor is that what begins at the top has a direct correlation to the bottom of the structure and what happens to its base. One misguided or negative leader, at any point in the structure, can derail the messages and gains of positive leadership from above and prevent them from ever reaching the lower levels of the chain. This ultimately effects the community.

8 Trickle-Down Leadership Thoughts:

  • A law enforcement agency’s leadership style starts at the top, flows through the organization, and has a direct impact on the community it serves – positive or negative.
  • Leaders throughout the agency, not through carrots and sticks, but by example teach officers how to act, how to treat, and how much effort to give the community it serves.
  • The strength of the paramilitary model of leadership is also its greatest weakness if its values are not clearly defined and communicated through all levels. Create a written document of positive core leadership expectations that every officer is raised on from their first days in patrol.
  • Develop a testing process that promotes leaders within the organization who best represent the positive core leadership expectations of the organization; not just statistical producers or those with good managerial skills.
  • Successful law enforcement agencies that spend more time defining and reinforcing their mission, purpose, culture, and values spend less time creating policies, handling complaints, and dealing with discipline.
  • There is a direct connection between patrol officers and the community. Therefore, it is vital that law enforcement leaders treat their patrol officers with the same trust, dignity, and respect that the agency wants them to treat the community with.
  • Positive leadership is infectious (likely to be spread through the environment) and has long-term effectiveness on those around it. Negative, fear-based leadership is contagious (likely to be spread through direct contact) and has short-term effectiveness on those around it, but creates many long-term, negative consequences for both the people under that leadership and the agency.
  • At every level of the organization, each individual person has total control over the actions they take, the attitude they have, and the effort they give. True leaders provide the direction and an environment for them to succeed.

The concept is simple – Inspired leadership, improved policing, better communities. It all trickles down.

Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!



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1 Comment

  1. ahaz

    You make my arguments for me. Police are no longer police forces but rather paramilitary organizations designed to use overwhelming force against citizens.

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