During my lengthy law enforcement career, I learned about the word leadership from several bosses. I was taught how to lead, and I was taught how not to lead. Hopefully, I tapped their good and bad knowledge and tweaked what I learned into a successful leadership style.

Every profession has leaders, but leading people is a vocation rather than a slot. When a doubter fusses about road conditions, a hoper will demand that the government make the necessary repairs, whereas a true leader might change the route.

Being aware of one’s own character, emotions, objectives and wishes are qualities that help make a true leader. True leaders know what they do well and what they don’t, then surround themselves with people who can take up their slack. Making quick decisions is tantamount to good leadership, but those decisions have to be appropriate decisions. Moreover, a good leader knows the difference between punishment, retribution, fairness and proper training. Fairness could be one of the most difficult traits to face because one person’s favor is another person’s foe.

Most employees are not unintelligent clowns who need a boss telling them how to find the water fountain, but they do need a cheerleader. They need a member of their team to pat them on the back, encourage participation, speak positively, and swing and sway to support the team. They need someone who is passionate about the organization.

The best leader isn’t someone who accomplishes the most or creates the best work, but rather the person who is successful in directing others to get ‘er done. A good leader always assumes personal responsibility even if the final product does not produce the intended outcome. Good leaders compliment in pubic, they do it frequently, and they always criticize in private. Unfortunately, many people wear their feelings on their sleeves. Criticism should be an assessment and not a condemnation. For people to know how to get better, they first have to know where they have been. To me, a critique is tantamount to a roadmap or a GPS that guides and directs people in the proper direction.

Leading by intimidation is another type of so-called leadership that is not often recognized. Stalin, Lenin, and Gen. Douglas McArthur were all very powerful leaders, but people followed Stalin and Lenin because of intimidation and McArthur because of respect.

I felt an aversion to a former police chief who lead his troops by infusing fear and proving us with many angsts. Sure, we were always busier than parading leaf cutter ants carrying 20 times their body weight. But his intimidating manner kept us marching in circles and accomplishing nothing. His method of leading was more like dictating Marxism or Communism. We simply worked to survive rather than achieve. We quickly turned against each other because we were working in a toxic environment.

We had a weekly staff meeting where the chief barked orders and told us how much we were going to accomplish. When the meetings were over, no one around the table, except the chief, had a clue what we were supposed to do because communication had left the building. He was great about asking our thoughts, but he shut us down quickly if anyone disagreed with his opinion. In short, our meetings were more like a staph infection than a staff meeting. His energy should have been contagious, but it was contaminating.

To the city council and to outsiders, our chief was a strong leader, upfront and personal. But to those of us who worked with him, he was a bawdy, bullying bad boy and a boastful, boisterous blight upon our department. We knew that his destructive mannerism was nothing more than an attempt to cover up his acute inferiority complex.

My wife, a retired school teacher, worked with lots of great teacher-leaders. One teacher used a rubber stamp to place a smiley face on the top of student’s hands when they excelled. One student told her that he liked the stamp because he could look at it all day.

Intimidating leadership is anything but true leadership. These folks shout their demands, they think that they are the only person who matters and they feel indispensable. A true leader inspires and empowers others to be successful so that they too can be successful. When true leaders get promoted, they take it as an opportunity to achieve more, not take a back seat. Handing out praise and rubber stamps can assist in job protection, but everyone is dispensable.

Charlie Sewell is a retired Powder Springs police chief. Email him at retiredchiefsewell@gmail.com.

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