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Legacy of Leadership Part 4: Administrative Leadership


Criminal Justice

As our Legacy of Leadership series comes to an end, this fourth (and final) article will focus on Administrative Leadership. Before we move forward, we would like to review the first three stages of our series quickly. Our first article took you through The Beginning. This article explored the beginning of our (and your) leadership journey, reflection on influential people, moments, choices, what was influential for us, what you can do to gain experience, and what can be beneficial for you and others. This inventory of your beginning or your current situation is the foundation for your personal development.

The second article moved into the Informal Leadership stage. The second stage discerned how you could be an effective informal leader, why informal leaders are so crucial for your agency, and a description of tactics personally applied in our careers.

The third article introduced the subject of Formal Leadership. Leading because your title requires it, the impact you have as a mentor, and the amount of energy needed to be effective. Each stage has its own challenges and rewards, and we illustrated points with personal examples in the hope you can apply these tips in your own professional setting. Administrative (or you might call it Executive) Leadership might have its own definition within your particular agency; it may be the chief, deputy chief, commander, captain, director, etc. This generally involves those who are part of your senior leadership team making decisions for the agency. Their actions can have sweeping effects on the entire department, section, or area of larger command.

As you rise through the ranks, either by promotion or appointment, selecting your team is not always an option. Hopefully, you have gained respect and trust during your informal and formal stages of Leadership (something to think about if you are currently within those stages). Your new team may now consist of sworn peace officers, non-sworn uniformed employees (corrections, community service officers), civilian support staff, and even contracted vendors. This means you may have to adjust your leadership style based on the collective bargaining agreement for each workgroup, differing contractual language, and other employment rules specific to each entity. While union contracts do not make for exciting reading, you owe it to your team to have a working knowledge of these rules to maintain harmony and consistency in the organization. When you have a delicate conversation with an employee, do you review the contract before walking into that meeting to familiarize yourself with the proper procedure? It may not seem like it, but it will be time well spent.

Additionally, having a professional and open working relationship with your union stewards will pay dividends. We both have experienced the benefits of open communication and transparency with our union representatives (remember, we are all on the same team). No matter their background, experience, or role in the organization, most employees want to be successful, engaged, and part of a strong team. In the current age of technology, it is easy to communicate via email, text message, or telephone. However, meeting people face-to-face as an administrative leader and having transparent and honest discussions is vitally important. When reaching this level of Leadership, if your lack of personal communication happens, As our Legacy of Leadership series comes to an end, this fourth (and final) article will focus on Administrative Leadership.

This generally involves those who are part of your senior leadership team making decisions for the agency. Their actions can have sweeping effects on the entire department, section, or area of larger command.

Legacy of Leadership: Administrative Leadership Jason Bartell and Jeremy Geiger consistently, it can be a recipe that promotes the perception amongst the ranks that you are out of touch, they are not important, or you just do not care anymore. As Theodore Roosevelt stated, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I (Jason) recently had lunch with some officers in the field, and within 10-minutes of eating lunch, they wanted to know why I was really having lunch with them and when the proverbial “shoe was going to drop.” Even though there was no agenda, and I simply wanted to see how they were doing, it was a lesson to me that I was not connecting with the “troops” as much as I should be. At its core, this means getting out of the office and meeting with your team in their environment. With the large geographical area in some jurisdictions and the unpredictability of shift work, this can be difficult to do. In the spirit of time management, an executive leader has to take advantage of those rare times when teams are together for mandatory events such as training sessions or roll calls – yes, even during the overnight shifts. Maxwell (2011) reinforces this principle by describing the importance of ‘walking slowly through the halls.’ For these face-to-face encounters to be meaningful, they do not necessarily have to always be about work; connecting on many levels with your team members is essential. Being authentic, genuine, and human with your team is okay! Getting out of the office is not a new concept, and as Phillips (1992) describes, Abraham Lincoln promoted this type of Leadership by “getting out of the office and circulating among the troops.” You may be saying to yourself that you already know this is important, but has this theory been put into practice in your leadership style? We know, easier said than done when budgets need balancing, politicians are calling, or your community wants an issue addressed. Me (Jeremy), I have begun the practice of scheduling face-to-face time on my shared electronic calendar. Even though the intent is always to “get out in the field,” calendars fill up quickly with meetings, administrative tasks, or the day’s emergency. When is the last time you scheduled time to meet the team informally? Be intentional; make it happen today. Now that you are getting to know your team better and they know you, what does the professional/work-related conversation look like? Setting clear expectations and listening are two of your most important tasks. Setting expectations but giving latitude and allowing others the opportunity to implement their ideas is also significant; empowerment and trust are two powerful tools for the administrative leader and your team’s success. If you have noticed, we have mentioned the word “team” several times in the preceding paragraphs. Having a strong focus on your team and their positive outcomes is a formula for the success of your department. Focusing on yourself, having tunnel vision, and forgetting about those people who keep the ship on course and headed in the right direction is a recipe for disaster. Encourage initiative, common sense, and out-of-the-box thinkers on your team (all while leading by example); the return on investments will be evident. In general, it comes down to one of Covey’s habits of highly effective people, “seek first to understand, then to be understood” (2004). Now, we will take this conversation a bit further and in a slightly different direction. At this level of Leadership, it is not just about knowing your own people. What? What do you mean? We have spent a great deal of time in each article emphasizing the significance of seeking positive outcomes with the people we lead. Was that just fluff? No, absolutely not. Along with knowing your own team, we must expand that influence outside our organization. How often do you meet with the other external stakeholders or other law enforcement agency leaders in your area? Do you take the opportunity to speak at local service clubs or charity events in the community? When was the last time you met with the community bank president, the area hospital administrator, or attended a meeting at the local high school? All of this networking may be time-consuming, but as the executive leader of your department, your decisions impact not only those who work for you directly but the entire community. In this day and age, transparency is not just suggested; it is required. As your agency administrator, you now have high-ranking, formal leaders working for you tasked with promoting your organizational vision. What if their philosophies are at odds with your own? What if a strong union inhibits your ability to implement timely changes effectively? In some cases, your direction and/or changes will not be embraced or are met with definitive opposition no matter how good the idea may be. In most cases within law enforcement, you don’t have an option to demote, reassign, or remove these employees – so what do you do? Overcoming these leadership challenges requires time, energy, and perseverance. You must be in it for the long haul and for the right reasons (your team). Support from those above you goes a long way as well! A large part of successfully leading change, managing widespread adversity, or implementing a new organizational strategy is creating a sense of buy-in and ownership we described in our installment of the formal leader. If you have the buy-in, you have applied some of the theories gained from your executive leader training sessions and built the professional relationships (internally and externally) required to make it happen. But what prevents these great ideas from coming to fruition? In some cases, these may be political influences, contractual restrictions, or another reason beyond your control. When this roadblock presents itself, what do you do? Leading through adversity, finding common ground, compromise, collaboration, and creativity is needed, all while operating with the utmost integrity to be successful. We both recently assisted with the navigation of substantial policy changes within our agency involving high-speed pursuits. Not all employees were on-board, but the decision was made with input from all levels of the agency; every voice was heard. In the end, the administrative leaders needed to support the change, lead by example, and be thoroughly knowledgeable about the change; sitting on the sideline was not an option. Training needed to be adjusted, and innovative ideas were implemented; getting out of an “old school” mentality was critical. The implementation was successful; it has made our agency more professional and our members and the public safer, all while balancing risk vs. reward. Whether a decision to change involves others or one solely made by an administrative leader, effective communication is a reason for the success or failure of the change. We both have experienced poor communication of a change during our careers, and we became those “why” employees. Why are we doing this? Why does this need to change? Why are we not doing it this way? We used this “why” approach in a professional manner, and it provided us with information we could then use to inform those around us (ah-haa…the informal leaders). Think about how you are communicating the next time a change is in your department. How do you leverage both formal and informal leaders to communicate and support your message and vision? If you have been patient, fostered a learning environment, and truly listened to your team, there may still be a few that do not embrace the vision you have established for the organization. At times, this non-acceptance can lead to unethical actions, violations of policy, and even a lack of any overall professionalism. In that respect, there may come a time as an Administrative Leader when you have to impose discipline in order to correct their unhealthy behavior. When that occurs, is the foundation of your discussion based on the vision and mission of your law enforcement agency, or has it become personal for you? If it is the latter, and it has become a personal matter, you have likely lost your authority and influence. A focus on organizational vision and mission becomes especially essential when the ultimate sanction of discharging someone from employment has to be imposed. In these tense settings, great Administrative Leaders have the ability to bring a sense of calm to the situation. When done correctly, an employee may still walk away with a feeling of support as their thoughts turn to self-reflection of their own toxic behaviors that led to this traumatic event. Make no mistake; this will certainly impact the employee and their family for years to come so it has to be done professionally. It would be best if you also considered the impact on the remaining workgroup. How is this best navigated when some of the circumstances that led to the discipline may be confidential? How the team is addressed in this aftermath can dictate the culture you want to instill in the entire organization. At the executive level, there are likely several opportunities for you to attend seminars, conferences, or courses on subjects such as effective organizational communication, ethical theory, or other general change management guidelines that have been successful for others. What sets a great executive leader apart after receiving all of this information is how it is dissected, broken down, and then applied specifically to their own organization. We all know that what may work in one environment may be a disaster in another. The successful administrator understands this and can look at their department from the 30,000-foot level to see what can be gleaned from all of this material to make it happen – because they know their people. Remember, don’t overcomplicate the regurgitation of information. I, Jason, recently took a photo of the PowerPoint screen during a presentation, and I handed out the photo at a staff meeting. The photo and the limited information (ironically about culture) sparked some great discussion amongst the leadership team. You don’t have to be grandiose with the information; discussing it with others might be enough sometimes. We would be remiss if we didn’t expand more on culture. We are not talking about your ethnic culture but the culture you create within your department or organization. Did you come into an effective culture (not needing adjustment), or are you in the position of recognizing a needed cultural shift? If cultural changes are needed, they must be addressed immediately but tactfully to ensure the possibility of any chance of success. Having a healthy culture within your organization is probably the single most important focus and will have the most significant impact on all your employees. Reflect here; are you looking through rose-colored glasses, or do some adjustments need to be made? Organizational culture is a massive part of your Legacy of Leadership. The overarching title of this series of articles was Legacy of Leadership. We have reflected on that during The Beginning, The Informal Leader, The Formal Leader, and finally, here within the Administrative Leader. We acknowledged the fact that the word “legacy” can be scary – we get it. Let’s get beyond the word and get into some thoughts you may be having, should start thinking about, or may have popped into your mind so far as you read the articles:

  • What type of legacy do I want to leave?
  • Do I need to adjust what I am doing or want to do?
  • I haven’t thought about a legacy, but I simply want to be successful, and lead people in the correct direction is doing the right thing.
  • “Legacy,” I just want to figure out this leadership thing first!
  • Must I leave a legacy?
  • Didn’t you say something about the beginning; why are we talking about legacies?

Long-standing leaders have a chance to look back on their career, reflect and share with others around them: where it began, how did it work, what the pitfalls were, and how can you mentor others; these are all questions you should be asking yourself. What will you do today, tomorrow, and the next day to be more effective and continue leading others down a path of success? Reflect – reflect – reflect, put it into motion, repeat; this is an encouraging recipe for moving down a path of excellence, and leading change when needed, which will foster a healthy legacy. This has been an enjoyable journey for us; thank you for taking the time to read, reflect, and think about your current or future role in Leadership. Thrive, keep yourself healthy, and look out a window of positivity every day. You, and others around you, will be better for it.


Covey, S. (2004). The seven habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change. New York. Simon & Schuster.

Maxwell, J. (2011). The 360° leader: developing your influence from anywhere in the organization. Tennessee.

Thomas Nelson. Phillips, D. (1992). Lincoln on Leadership: executive strategies for tough times. New York. Business Plus

About the Authors

Jason Bartell and Jeremy Geiger are both BA and MA graduates of Concordia University, St. Paul. In addition to their 25 and 21 years (respectively) of law enforcement experience in areas such as Field and administrative operations, Leadership through collaboration, organizational and strategic planning, training coordination and implementation, and mentoring and team building, they are also criminal justice adjunct professors. Jason enjoys spending free time with his wife and daughter involving a variety of activities, including traveling. Jeremy and his wife just became empty-nesters, enjoy traveling together, and are rediscovering life without kids around the house. Jason and Jeremy also take time for ice fishing on frozen lakes in Minnesota.