Author Archives: John Vanek

About John Vanek

I am a sergeant with the San Jose (CA) Police Department. I manage the San Jose Police Human Trafficking Task Force. The Task Force is comprised of various Federal and local law enforcement agencies committed to identifying and rescuing victims of human trafficking. We partner with the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking to provide assistance to trafficking victims. Since 2006 the Task Force and Coalition have trained over 4,000 individuals dedicated to combating modern-day slavery.

3 Reasons to Begin Your Personal Leadership Journey

My goal is helping others become more knowledgeable, engaging, effective leaders – especially those working in law enforcement or other public safety organizations. But the sad truth of the matter for most of us is that developing our personal leadership capabilities and practices require personal effort. Most of us will be given little, if any, leadership training beyond the minimum required as we rise through the ranks. If we really want to become more effective leaders (by “effective” I mean we inspire others to be better at their jobs, make those around us feel valued and believe they are contributing to the organization’s goals and, we offer a vision for improving the organization and those we serve) we must commit ourselves to a leadership journey that cannot be completed simply by reading a book or two, or by attending a leadership program. It takes effort. How we can become better leaders will be the recurrent theme of this blog, but for now let’s examine three reasons (though there are many more) why becoming a better leader needs to be a personal effort.

1- We Need Good Law Enforcement Leaders!
During your career, how many individuals in leadership positions have you observed that you would consider effective leaders? Keep in mind that some supervisors and managers can accomplish their jobs of supervising and managing without exhibiting the traits described above In his book, Challenging the Law Enforcement Organization: Proactive Leadership Strategies, Jack Enter relates his asking law enforcement personnel what percentage of their past and current supervisors and managers displayed true leadership behaviors (p. 27). Most responded that only 5-10 percent displayed real leadership! Take a few minutes and make a list of the supervisors and managers you have worked with and, using the simple definition of effective leadership offered above, determine how many you would rate as effective. Now ask yourself, Do I want to be an effective leader, or among the (probable) majority who are something less?

I worked with several effective leaders during my career, but many were less than effective, and some were terrible. I tried to learn from the effective and tried not to emulate the ineffective or bad. (Though, to be honest, there were times I failed at both.) Good leaders are not easy to come by, so the first reason to develop your leadership knowledge and traits is simply because good leaders are needed and they are hard to find.

2- Organizations Don’t Foster Leadership Development
What has your organization done to develop your leadership knowledge and skills? Probably very little. If it makes you feel any better, most law enforcement agencies don’t provide much support. Typically, leadership development opportunities only become available upon promotion: you get promoted to sergeant, then you attend some form of supervisor’s training; you get promoted to lieutenant, then you attend administrator training. If you are lucky, these trainings include the discussion of leadership as being not only a part of supervision and management, but also as a set of practices which transcends these two job descriptions. As described in this article from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, this traditional process of promoting and then training puts “the cart before the horse”, and is not the best method to prepare future leaders, or an agency for their leadership needs. In short, law enforcement typically promotes individuals into positions of authority and then expects them to perform. Leadership skills and practices should be developed in advance – even if you have to do it yourself.

3- Leadership is Not Only for the Workplace or Organization
Too many of us see leadership as something we do at work or as a result of our position within a group, such as being the president of club. But the study of leadership principles and practices includes benefits that enhance us personally and in just about every type of social engagement. For example, developing ourselves requires the ability to reflect upon how we currently practice leadership, along with our past successes and failures. To be an effective leader demands we take the time, and have the ability, to look at ourselves. This ability to analyze how we do things is equally important in how we view our parenting, our relationships, and how we engage with our community. The study of leadership can enhance our lives.

So here are three reasons to take responsibility for developing your leadership skills. What are some other reasons you can think of? Share them so we can all enjoy the food for thought.

Defining 21st Century Leadership

Defining 21st Century Leadership is not an easy thing to do. Just as our world is more complex than in the past, defining the leadership traits, skills, and practices most effective for our world today is also complex. Indeed, one element of the definition is understanding that complexity is everywhere in our lives, and that leaders need a variety of skills if they are to succeed. When examining leadership as practiced in the law enforcement community, one critical understanding is that the rank we wear on our uniform sleeves or collars alone will not guarantee success. And if practice our leadership solely based on our rank, we can guarantee failure.

Successful leadership requires a degree of insight into how we as individuals, and as organizations, view the problems we encounter. Are we successfully solving the problems we face today? Is our current level of skills and knowledge adequate for the problems we face? These questions are not as simple as they may seem. Just asking ourselves these questions can be difficult to do. (Although doing so is one sign of leadership.)

If we are not solving the difficult problems, then we must ask ourselves how can we change the way we act, think, and lead to be more successful. And this is where 21st Century Leadership (or, simply, 21C) practices come into play; 21C is a body of practices, skills, and theories which offers us many different tools to be successful leaders. It is a toolbox, or a quiver, in many respects, but requiring a much more thoughtful approach than the “I outrank you, so do as I say” approach of the past. (Regretfully, there is still far to much of this type of leadership in all professions today.)

A key 21C principle is accepting – and promoting – the understanding that all of us are involved in the practice of leadership; being a leader does not require formal rank or authority, and those whom we might simply describe as “followers” are just as critical as those with authority.

Defining 21C Leadership is not simple, but here are three key elements to understand:

  • Our world is more complex than in the past and as a result a broader range of leadership skills, practices, and knowledge are necessary.
  • As leaders we must ask, “Am I, and is my organization, solving the difficult problems we are facing today, and, if not, what am I doing to improve my leadership skills and practices?”
  • Leading from positional authority, and not understanding or respecting the roles played by others, is a recipe for leadership failure. Leadership is a process in which we are all involved.

From these key elements we can begin to grow into more effective leaders – which is really what 21st Century Leadership is really about.