Law Enforcement Leadership May June 2018

Michael Carpenter

Are You a Good Boss? Do You Want to Find Out?

The reality is that honestly determining whether or not you are a good police commander can be difficult.

There may be people around you who will praise your virtues, no matter what you do. Of course, there will also be those whom you will not be able to satisfy, no matter how good you really are as a commander. Somewhere between those two extremes is the truth about your abilities. However, it is important for you to effectively evaluate your supervisory abilities in order to take the next step in developing a successful career path.

So, how do you cut through these extremes to learn how effective you really are as a boss? One way is to know what your subordinates (and bosses) want in a police commander. Then, you can evaluate yourself and perhaps make some adjustments to your management style to assume the attributes and accomplishments which are expected of a successful police commander.

To help you better understand your role as a police commander, we surveyed 600 police sergeants as part of a major research project we did several years ago to find out what they most respected in a good leader. Here are five of the top responses from that survey.

  1. Leaders Are Honest

Far and away, this is the single most important attribute police commanders must possess. Subordinates have clearly stated, in several surveys, that their commanders must be honest and have great integrity to be truly effective.

This is easy to achieve. Keep your promises or don’t make them. Deal with every person you come in contact with as an honest and forthright person, in an honest and straightforward manner. Your reputation will both follow and precede you. This positive reputation sets the groundwork for your interactions with those above you and below you.

  1. Leaders Have Good Common Sense

Practical problems in policing require practical and workable solutions. That requires “common sense” on the part of police command personnel.

But, what constitutes “common sense”? Common sense is the combination of your education, training and experience which leads to a successful conclusion to the problem at hand.

But, of course, you’ve heard the saying, “Common sense is not that common.” This ability to successfully complete the problem at hand (common sense) is seldom accidental. It is not obtained merely by putting in your time and doing the minimum of what is expected of you. It is obtained by hard work, study, attending schools, education, and learning from your (and others’) mistakes, as well as the successes. It is taking proactive and positive steps to become the best officer you can be, and then taking proactive and positive steps to becoming the best sergeant you can be, and then taking proactive and positive steps to…you get the idea.

  1. Leaders Take Command

A commander who doesn’t command is not a commander; he is merely someone with a title. Repeated studies have shown that the person who “assumes command” of the situation is viewed as the person in charge. Now, if the commander does not assume command, then someone else should. It could be a supervisor; it could be the informal group leader among the officers; it could be a commander from another agency if you’re involved in an interagency situation, but someone will assume command. If you have successfully developed the two previously mentioned attributes, then you will have the confidence in your abilities and the support of your peers and bosses (from working with you where you previously exhibited honesty and common sense) to step up and do the right thing.

Nothing is so weak on the list of “biggest mistakes that a boss can make” than a person who has a command position who is unwilling, or unable, to make command decisions.

“When in command, take command” is an age-old phrase which is as applicable today as it was in ancient times. A command vacuum will be filled, either by you or someone else.

  1. Leaders Are Fair

A true commander is fair to all – to his superiors, his peers and the people under his command. He is fair to all, regardless of their race, color, ethnicity, sex, age, or disability. It’s not the laws which ensure this; it’s the attitude of the commander which ensures this.

Based on this fairness, successful police commanders can be depended upon to do the right thing at the right time. Their subordinates know what to expect most of the time. They know that they need to be professional, motivated and thorough. They know that their commanders, at any rank, will require that they do the right thing at all times, consistent with existing laws, policies and procedures because their commanders do the right thing!

Further, they know that, if they do the right thing, their command officer will back their decisions and actions.

  1. Leaders Are Willing to Help

From an employee’s perspective, the one question which often determines whether a boss is a “good boss,” or not, is this, “Does my boss make my job easier or harder?” True police commanders are always willing to help their personnel and their constituents. Whether it’s clearing red tape for their subordinates, or solving problems for their constituents, they are always willing to help in any way they can.

“The Survey Says…”

So, now that you know what five attributes make you a “good boss,” how do you stack up? How can you objectively and fairly determine if you are a “good boss” or not?  Here is one way – take a survey! We have designed a “Supervisory Survey” for you to take which will clear out the guessing, eliminate the speculation and remove the extremes we talked about in the opening paragraphs of this article. It’s simple, doesn’t take long to complete and you might be VERY surprised at the results. To receive a copy of this survey, please send an E-mail with “Supervisory Survey” in the “Subject” line to

There are three steps which you need to take in trying to evaluate your supervisory or management effectiveness.

Step #1 – Fill out the survey. On a scale of 1-10, rate yourself for each trait. Be honest with yourself or the value of this survey is meaningless.

Step #2 – Now, it gets interesting. If you want to get a different perspective on you and your abilities as a supervisor or manager, make a copy of this survey and give this survey to each of your subordinates. Ask each of them to anonymously submit their opinion of your supervisory abilities in each of these ten categories on that same scale.  You might be surprised at the results of this survey (for good or for bad!) when you compare your opinion of “you” with their opinion of “you.” It is VERY important for a supervisor to learn to see things through the eyes of their subordinates. This is a very good exercise to start that “understanding.”

If you give the survey to ten or more subordinates, you can “throw out” the best and worst survey results. That helps to eliminate the extreme opinions of you which we mentioned earlier. Tally up the remainder of the scores and comments. Remember that this is what your subordinates think of your management style. The results may, or may not, agree with your results, but, nevertheless, we believe that what your subordinates think of you is far more important than what you think of you. Pay attention to the results of this survey!

Step #3 – If you want to continue to gather data on your strengths and weaknesses as a supervisor or manager, take the next big step. Make a copy of this survey and give it to your bosses. This may be awkward, or it may not work at all if you only have one boss, but you would be surprised at how many people above you with whom you interact have some insights into your abilities. So, pass this survey to as many command level staff as possible in your agency. Much like in Step #2, tally up the results and heed the comments. It is very important to understand what your bosses think of you (or, more accurately, what they think of your strengths and weaknesses as a supervisor or manager).

Use the information from all three steps in this survey to improve yourself, improve your management style and improve your career!

If you fail to assume your leadership position or fail to maintain the confidence of your personnel, you will fail in both your objectives and as a leader.

If you assume your leadership role; make reasonable, commonsense decisions; and take care of your personnel, you will be a successful commander. As such, you can look for a bright and successful future as an ever increasingly responsible police commander.

Note: Police Management Services, LLC is pleased to announce to the readers of P&SN that it is offering a new online supervisory training program. Successful completion will give students three Continuing Education Units (CEUs). For more information, please check their Web site at, or you can reach them by E-mail at, or by phone at (518)761-9708. Also, see their ad in this edition of P&SN.