3 keys to choosing the right leadership training

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As resignations and retirements continue at a record pace, the need for good leadership training for the next era of police leaders is greater than ever.

While there’s always plenty of training available, it’s a bit harder to find the training that provides the best return for your organization’s training dollar.

When evaluating leadership training, keep these three keys in mind:

1. Content is king

Although there are dozens of leadership training options, the most important thing to consider is the content of this training. Training based on superficial views of leadership, including training that focuses more on concise sales phrases than actual leadership skills, is likely training that will not meet your organization’s needs. Carefully consider the depth of training provided and who provides the training to your staff. Ask for an outline of the training program and the qualifications of the trainers or presenters.

Training programs that have a national reputation or are developed by subject matter experts are always worth a closer look. Training experts come from a variety of backgrounds, but the best know their stuff and know how to present their material in a logical and thoughtful way. Look for past reviews from attendees who not only praise the style and delivery of the trainer, but also the content of the training materials.

An important factor to consider is whether the training program itself or the presenter has a publication history. Leadership experts whose work has been published, regardless of publication form, are more likely to have curated, thoughtful content and a higher level of professional review and acceptance of their material.

That’s not to say that new leadership training topics and new leadership instructors aren’t worthy of your investment. Some of the newest and brightest thought leaders are in the classroom and ready to provide excellent training. In these cases, check with others in your professional network to see if they have taken the training and get their feedback.

2. Have a plan and be consistent

In years past, many organizations’ leadership training plan was, well, not really a plan at all. A new sergeant would be promoted and the department would seek out any formation that was around and then register him. Six months later another new sergeant would be promoted and the search for training would begin again. Except that the second new sergeant might not go through the same training or receive the same quality of training. So, we end up with two new sergeants who have experienced different training outcomes and may have different views on leadership, neither of which is even compatible with the department’s existing leadership culture.

When evaluating leadership programs, keep in mind the short-term and long-term needs of the department. Ask yourself what leadership approach works best in your department’s culture and whether that approach would actually be embraced by higher levels of management. Leadership philosophies can vary widely, from traditional “command and control” to more modern behavioral science approaches to motivation and leadership. Not all organizations have the same needs, so it’s best to be selective and consistent in developing your leadership training plan.

Another thing to remember is that leadership training is not the same as management training. Leadership focuses on the development and motivation of employees through the ethical influence and decision-making of the leader. Management focuses on the technical skills needed to handle personnel or organizational issues, such as budgeting or planning. Although both are valuable, the two phrases should not be interchangeable. Carefully review the training program to ensure that leadership training focuses on leadership, not management.

3. Broaden your horizons

A mistake we often make in law enforcement is that we don’t look beyond our own horizons for quality leadership training. Excellent programs are available that can come from other professional disciplines, such as education or business. While law enforcement organizations are unique, the skills needed to effectively lead others are not. There are many outstanding and innovative leadership programs that may not have their roots in law enforcement, but can be a valuable addition to your training program.

Finally, I’m always a bit wary of any leadership training program that refers to the people within an organization as its greatest “resource.” People can be assets to an organization, but should not be seen as a resource. By definition, resources are things to be used or consumed, and by using them they are reduced in quantity and value. Assets, on the other hand, are worth investing in and developing to help them grow. When we provide our employees with excellent leadership training, we invest in their development, which only adds to their personal and professional value and brings better overall leadership to the organization.

NEXT: A Guide to Law Enforcement Leadership Training and Graduate Programs


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