Leadership Styles and Police Incident Command

Leadership Styles and Police Incident Command Blog Header
Leadership Styles and Police Incident Command Blog Header

by Dr. Frank Trovato

Is there one best leadership style for managing crisis incidents? The management literature offers an abundance of opinions on this subject. For example in the police literature, the common styles identified by a number of police training facilities have included:

  • Authoritarian style: Leaders who communicate less with subordinates but approach tasks in a direct manner deemed effective in crisis situations;
  • Participatory style: Best characterized as the leader selling his ideas to subordinates to gain acceptance and consensus;
  • Laissez-faire style: Best known to promote innovation and motivation in people by providing autonomy to work and grow independent of the leader’s influence;
  • Transformational leaders: Characterized as charismatic and visionary, best known to lead and promote change in their organizations.

Other ideas on leadership have been addressed by notables like US Chairman and Former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who describes ideal leadership as the art of accomplishing more than management science says is possible; or, quoting from an historical and influential scholar, Aristotle, who describes the best leaders as “He who is to be a good ruler must have first been ruled (Aristotle, on Politics).”

“Good leaders are those who have the ability to always learn from others.” Essentially, a sound working definition that encompasses the ideal leadership styles mentioned thus far can be summarized by stating good leaders are those who have the ability to always learn from others, have achieved skills and abilities through experiences; are skillful in getting along with others; accept responsibility for their actions; and who will always demonstrate a clear mind under duress or crisis situations (Trovato 2013).

During a crisis, good leaders must quickly form a perspective based on an assessment of all potential risks that exist in a developing crisis as well as be able to direct and manage all available technical and human resources to deal with a situation.

The ability of leaders to communicate effectively is considered one of the most important skills used to influence others. Consider how many challenges a leader can face during a crisis such as the scale and nature of a crisis they are confronted with, the often available and incomplete information that is presented during a crisis, the environmental conditions that exist and the need at times to deal with less than clear objectives or conflicting procedures that can hamper how operations are to be conducted (Hart, T. & Trovato, F. 2013).

A crucial task for good leaders is to decide on a course of action after weighing all the risk factors involved in any given situation. Once the leader weighs all the risk factors involved, he or she must be clear on what needs to be done, re-examine the rationale why something needs to be done, and finally establish concise operating standards/procedures and measures on what goals need to be accomplished each step of the way.

As part of this analytical process, good leaders will always consult with team members who will have a keen sense of situational changes to conditions to ensure the decisions made are void of errors as much as possible. In conclusion, leadership styles during a crisis is about a leader making quality decisions, communicating clearly, trusting team members under their command and being able to apply human and technical resources in the most effective way possible.

With respect to trusting your team members, another important fact to consider is that in a crisis, feedback or communication normally flows bottom-up. Meaning, once a course of action is set in motion by the leader it is the front line team members who play a critical role in keeping leaders informed on what is unfolding on the ground.This critical fact cannot be underscored as this timely communication is what a leader relies on to modify decisions as the situation evolves.

Read Leadership and the Decision Making Process and Higher Education, Higher Potential: How seasoned police officers can increase their career possibilities while continuing to work.