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Legacy of Leadership Part 1: The Beginning


Criminal Justice

The Criminal Justice field and the law enforcement world are ripe with acronyms. As you read the main title to this article (Legacy of Leadership), it may have led you to laugh out loud because perhaps you have not thought about leadership and legacy in the same sentence, the topic of leadership is funny to you, or maybe you said, “great, another article on leadership.” Either way, you have read this far, so the intrigue of the article has you hooked already! Join Jeremy and me on this journey of self-awareness and reflection. Our Legacy of Leadership series will span four journals and touch on four leadership categories (The beginning, informal leaders, first line, and executive/administration). We will share personal situations we have encountered over the past 20+ years in law enforcement, along with some of our experiences in life before entering this profession. We hope to bring a realistic and down-to-earth look at leadership (not simply theories), but we also recognize we are still on this journey of learning. Sit back and enjoy this easy read about The Beginning.

Jeremy and I (Jason) are two humble, reflective leaders in law enforcement who are constantly learning from those around us, both the good and the bad. Like many others, we progress with trial and error while making strides and mistakes along the way. We want to start a discussion on leadership not only for personal development but so you can have the courage to continue these conversations at your organization with those you work with or perhaps those you are mentoring to lead in the future. These conversations can dramatically impact organizational culture and ownership – leading to positivity and a healthy work environment. We both embrace life-long learning, we want to help those around us, and we want to help you raise the bar in your environment, all with an optimistic outlook on success.

“Legacy of Leadership” is a daunting statement and title to a journal series because most people are reluctant to venture down this unknown path. Maybe you do not even want to admit you are thinking about it. It’s okay, take a deep breath and hang in there with us. Don’t fret and worry so much about the legacy aspect, as this will come as we move along together. You will figure out what best fits your paradigm and how this might help you navigate the road ahead or help you reflect on the imprint you want to leave behind.

We want to talk about leadership in law enforcement from the beginning, from our beginning. Where we both began, what fueled us to this leadership path, how it’s created a friendship, and where we’ve gone from there. This is not a history lesson about where leadership began; instead, it is reflections from both of us to hopefully help you better understand your path.

Leadership for us started early, but we both agree it was most definable in high school. Yes, high school! Whether this involved being a track team captain, doing well with schoolwork, being a positive role model for others, being the go-to person at our first jobs, or grabbing particular traits from our parents, leadership began here. As a result of the guidance we were given, and although we did not know it then, a few basic actions stood out in those ‘early years, which may have set us apart from others and gotten us noticed. Looking back, this may have opened up opportunities for us more often or before they were provided to others. While they may not seem like much, these early qualities include:

  • Being on time and consistently dependable
  • Accomplishing tasks in the timeframes set
  • Taking on jobs that others do not wish to do
  • Being respectful with courteous interactions
  • Having a positive attitude

Although a leadership role in law enforcement wasn’t on our minds in high school, this is what we are talking about when we ask you to reflect. Maybe it’s farther back than high school, perhaps not, but reflecting on it is critically important for this beginning step in the process.

As I (Jason) ventured into college to obtain a law enforcement degree, those leadership opportunities continued. Throughout college, I looked for more challenges, focused on good grades and gaining additional knowledge, but mainly I was driven by my ultimate goal of getting a job after college! The structure of specific, collegiate-level law enforcement training here in Minnesota allowed me to use a few of the above qualities. While in college, I attended my first instructor course for the PR-24. If you know what a PR-24 is, you have been around for some time; if you’ve never heard of it, google it (this is not a DVD workout program – that is P90X). This instructor experience impacted me about a year later, as you will soon read about – be patient with me.

After college, I had the enlightening (not sure how else I can describe this) experience of attending a 14-week state-level training academy (modified stress academy). I was a naïve kid with a 2-year degree who had never been placed in such an overwhelmingly stressful training environment like this, but it was a character-building experience. Pride and determination forced me to move forward without hesitation, and it once again gave me leadership opportunities I had never imagined. Leading a group of cadets on a formation run or working together as a team member to better the group or individuals was influential. Thinking about myself and merely pushing others aside often crossed my mind (and probably happened from time to time), but the friendships from that experience live on today. Graduating at the top of my class forced me to lead and set an example during and after the training; people watch whether you like it. As I sit here and write this, it makes me smile about how those powerful experiences built my future, yet I had no clue at the time. These types of incidents are what you should reflect on as you think about where your leadership path began, what you have learned, and what you’ll do with it today.

I promised you I’d get back to talking about the instructor class I attended in college. I taught my first PR-24 class about one year after college, as a new law enforcement officer, in the basement of our office. I remember my sergeant (influential leader) saying, “those guys have never been so engaged in a training session; what did you do?” Encouragement and feedback such as this were priceless; I was hooked! Was I teaching, leading, or communicating well? What was it back then (23 years ago) that worked so effectively? I didn’t know, nor did I care too much at the time, but I know it felt good to influence others positively. This simple class inspired me to teach and lead others as the years pressed forward. How has positive feedback ignited you, or how have you inspired others with the feedback you’ve given? This is also where I started to understand accountability more clearly. I’ve always felt accountable for my actions, but when you start teaching, you become accountable to keep others safe, teaching them the correct skills, and passing along the right message.

I’ve never been one of those “doom and gloom” law enforcement officers. Not every day has been filled with magical fairy dust, unicorns, or rainbows, but I’ve always loved my job and been happy they actually paid me to do this. From the beginning, being positive has been a powerful tool for me. I generally don’t let things back me or stifle growth, as life is too darn short of jumping on the negativity bandwagon. This attitude doesn’t do anybody any good at any time, period!

About four years into my career, I switched agencies and again attended another 16-week State Patrol Training Academy (modified stress academy). Many of those around me asked if I was a training academy junkie; I assured them this would be my last one. Another challenge was on the horizon, and at least I had a better idea of what I was getting into this time. Like everyone attending the academy at the time, my focus was on survival and doing my best. My law enforcement experience or leadership was minimal coming into this academy, but forging new friendships and creating additional leadership opportunities were ahead. I met an individual in this academy (Jeremy) who I would learn had a similar childhood, different yet intense “beginning,” and our friendship would prove valuable. Learning from each other would further guide us into the law enforcement leadership path we continue to venture upon…

Although Jason and I (Jeremy) have crossed paths many times and our professional careers in law enforcement have seemingly been intertwined with the same organization for the last 20 years, in the beginning, our foundations of leadership have come from different sources. Along with our high school experiences mentioned previously, like most people, our fundamental leadership skills were introduced at a very young age by our parents, relatives, and others who were close to us in our developmental years. Even though we did not know it at the time, we genuinely believe these guiding core values, personal morals, and the observed work ethic we witnessed instilled the tools for growth and success we treasure today. Once we took the scary leap into adulthood, where our words, actions, and behaviors were no longer closely scrutinized by those who care about us, our experiences and environment could strengthen, weaken, change, or adjust those leadership foundations.

Up to this point, the unconscious learning process of leadership took place mainly by observing others. The conscious thought of formal leadership development and practice did not occur until I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Basic Training or “Boot Camp” is probably what you imagine it would be, focusing on military skills, individual discipline, and combat tactics. At the same time, it was also about being placed in roles of small-team leadership to assess various situations, develop a plan and then evaluate those decisions in ways only the U.S. Marine Corps can do.

About halfway through the 13-week basic training, I was placed in the role of First Squad Leader and got my first exposure to positional power in leadership. Over the years, I have realized this was undoubtedly a prestigious title at the time and in that specific environment. Still, the learned principles of being effective as a leader in that role should be used sparingly. Leadership, at its core, is about influencing and inspiring others to do things they would not normally do in situations. If positional power is the only thing a person has going for to make that happen, the battle is lost, and respect for leadership is diminished.

Before this, I had considered myself a reluctant leader; this meant that if no one else stepped up or I was directly called upon to do something, I would take action – but only the minimum required. In other words, I had no problem staying in the shadows and practicing good followership. Along with many other benefits, one thing the military service did (at least for me) was to provide the confidence and courage to take that first step towards leadership without specific assignments or directions. Rather than waiting for the problem or issue to present, planning and forward-thinking became paramount. This simple principle is as important now, 22 years after my military enlistment ended, as it was back then.

This article started with acronyms because they are a fundamental part of the primary law enforcement vernacular; it may be hard to believe, but acronyms are even more prevalent in the military, especially in the Marine Corps. The 14 USMC Leadership Traits especially evidence this, JJ DID TIE BUCKLE. My initials are J.J. In the beginning, my only interest in these terms was, “what does it have to do with me and my belt?” Then, I realized I would be tested on the words, so I memorized them. It was not until later, when I was promoted and when I started my law enforcement career, that these terms resonate and can be applied to leadership in any setting (Hurtt, 2012):

  • Justice – Practice being fair and consistent
  • Judgment – Ability to think about things clearly and calmly so good decisions are made
  • Decisiveness – Ability to make timely decisions and implement them properly
  • Initiative – Taking action in the absence of orders
  • Dependability – Certainty of the proper performance
  • Tact – Ability to deal with others without creating offense
  • Integrity – Character and moral soundness
  • Enthusiasm – Display sincere interest and exuberance in performance
  • Bearing – Favorable impression with appearance and personal conduct
  • Unselfishness – Avoidance of personal advancement at the expense of others
  • Courage – Proceeding in the face of fear or criticism with calm and firmness
  • Knowledge – Understanding the art or science, knowing your people
  • Loyalty – Faithfulness to others
  • Endurance – Mental and physical stamina in the face of hardship or stress

If we asked a group of people to name the qualities of an effective leader, I am sure each of these terms would make a list. Creating the list and memorizing the words is easy; the challenge is understanding each and then putting them into personal practice in your environment. Like many things in life, we have probably said to ourselves, “if I only would have known then what I know now, I would have done it differently.” Leadership is in this same category, and as more experience is gained, we find ourselves reflecting on the lessons taught early in life and applying them to the present.

Brick by brick, we both built our foundations leading up to this point in our lives. In 1998, that would change, and we would combine our experiences when we both attended a State Patrol Training Academy together as cadets. Although we did not know one another before the first day, we seemed to gravitate towards each other, and as we look back, leadership developed in the academy setting as well.

Reflect on those people you may have “gravitated” toward during your beginning. Was it beneficial (gravity to another is not always good)? Can you explain why and what you learned from this person? As Jim Rohn (2012) said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Reflect on this statement, but also think about those you lead or mentor; are they surrounding themselves with the “right” people? We can both say it was mutual respect, but we also believed we could learn more together, and best of all, we could be honest. Open and honest conversations as new friends were powerful, but maybe even more importantly, maintaining this mutual respect as time moved along has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on how we’ve learned from each other.

Now that we have reflected on The Beginning, our next steps will be to take you through the dynamics of The Informal Leader, The First Line Formal Leader, and the Executive / Administrative Leader. Even though there are various hierarchies in every organization, you may have already noticed we do not associate the word leadership with title or rank. It should not be used synonymously with management or supervision. Leadership can start from day one, be practiced at any level, and when it is consistently displayed, those promotional opportunities or healthy life experiences will undoubtedly present themselves.

Sharing our humble beginnings in this first article is an effort to provide the groundwork and present moments of reflection in your leadership journey. In the same spirit, we also need to embrace the foundational differences of our partners in leadership and appreciate the many ways to solve a single problem – we can learn from each other. When you find the right person/s or surround yourself with others containing positive energy to share the ups and downs of leadership, it is much more rewarding. For these reasons, it is essential to understand where your leadership developed, where it is now in the current stage of your career, and where you can take it in the future to create your Legacy of Leadership.


Dye, J. (2011). Backbone; History, traditions, and leadership lessons of marine corps NCOs.

Long Island, NY: Osprey Publishing.

Hurtt, P. (2012). JJDIDTIE BUCKLE; Improve your career by learning understanding and

Implementing the USMC leadership traits. San Bernardino, CA. Perry Hurtt Publishing.

Rohn, J. (2012). You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
Retrieved from

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 in various activities, including traveling. Jeremy and his wife just became empty nesters, enjoy traveling together, and rediscovering life without kids around the house. Jason and Jeremy also take time for ice fishing on frozen lakes in Minnesota.