How to lead without draining the life-blood from your officers

Among the key outcomes of effective leadership is the empowerment we provide to others, coupled with the motivation that comes from a sense of shared vision


I always hesitate to describe my management style when asked because while I think I know what answer the questioner is looking for, my interpretation of the question doesn’t lend itself to an easy and concise answer. I’ve always referred to the philosophy that leadership and management are not one and the same. As the late General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “You manage things and you lead people.”

On the surface, this makes perfect sense. While teaching leadership, I’ve often reinforced this theorem with the correlating question, “Would you rather be managed or led?” No one wants to be managed. When used in this context, the term “manage” diminishes the leader-follower relationship and makes it less personal. Conversely, we all want to be led by strong, effective and influential leaders. So my inclination when asked about my management style is to reply with the question, “Do you mean my leadership style?”

By changing the context of the question I can present an answer that closely mirrors my views on leadership and its ability to influence others – which I believe is the focus of the original question.

As the late General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “You manage things and you lead people.” (Photo/PoliceOne)
As the late General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “You manage things and you lead people.” (Photo/PoliceOne)

Leadership, Management, People and Things

Are leadership and management mutually exclusive terms, one having to do entirely with the personnel resources and the other involving only inanimate objects? If our primary organizational role is that of a leader of people and not a manager of things, does that mean that our management style is completely irrelevant?

With all due respect to General Schwarzkopf, couldn’t it be possible that we can manage people in addition to managing things?

One of the reasons that leadership advocates have come to abhor the term “management” is that the word has come to symbolize over-management, micromanagement and bureaucracy.

We occasionally see this in those law enforcement organizations in which we over-policy and micro-manage as a means of retaining control over our people and resources.

Command, Control and Coordination

This is especially common in command-and-control agencies that centralize the power and decision-making functions at top of the organizational structure. Over-management, over-control and bureaucratic babysitting are established as the organizational norms, and our reliance on them becomes even more necessary as they steadily drain the motivational life-blood from our personnel.

As a result, we gradually lose the leadership influence that is necessary to motivate and sustain performance.

That’s not management; that’s bad management.

Effective management within a law enforcement agency is primarily concerned with putting the right people in the right place and with the right resources, with the goal of creating positive public safety outcomes.

Ironically, the first component in this definition of management is the very component that we are not supposed to manage: people. You start to get a sense of the misunderstanding that nearly always happens when we try to assess management styles or, worse yet, when we try to separate them from leadership styles.

It is essential that we both lead and manage within our law enforcement agencies, and that is especially true for the human resources within our agencies. We lead so that we can have an influence on the motivation, satisfaction and performance of those whose efforts we use to achieve organizational goals. We manage those efforts – and the personnel resources that supply them – to ensure that they are in the best position to be successful.

Remember that among the key outcomes of effective leadership is the empowerment that we provide to others, coupled with the motivation that comes from a sense of shared vision and destiny. When they are empowered and inspired, the task of managing people becomes less about command and control and more about coordination.

Fuel for Your Ship

Inspired and empowered employees are the fuel for our organizational ship. Once they are on board, we can effectively manage and navigate toward our agency goals without fear of drifting off course. Without that fuel, however, we are eventually going to be forced to pull out our overly-bureaucratic command-and-control oars.

The great General Schwarzkopf was right. If all we do is manage, all we will manage are things. General Norman Schwarzkopf “managed” a million different during his illustrious career, and every one of those million things involved people – before he managed any of those people, he led them.

How do I describe my management style?

First I lead. Then I manage.

This article, originally published on 06/04/2014, has been updated. 

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