Leading and Empowering People

by Jim McDonnell



I firmly believe that being placed in a leadership position is an honor and a privilege, but it is also a tremendous responsibility. It is a privilege that carries with it the responsibility to inspire others, and to direct them to attain the vision and goals of the organization.

As First Assistant Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), I share the responsibility of leading the more than 9,700 sworn members and 3,000 civilian support staff of this organization, so that they can better “protect and serve” the four million residents of the City of Los Angeles.

What I have found in my study of leadership skills and practices is that our society is screaming out for leadership, especially transformational leadership. Over the past 10 years, the public’s interest in leadership issues has grown considerably. I believe that success in the 21st century workplace will require that managers know how to create high-performing teams, design empowering workplaces, and develop and manage effective partnerships, alliances and networks.

In order to create these high-performance teams, effective communication is one of the many key ingredients needed for success. Leaders need to share their vision, expectations, goals and ideas continuously, not only with their peers but, more importantly, with those they have the honor and privilege of leading on a daily basis.

Using the theme of communication as my backdrop, I equate today’s leadership with two communication terms: analog and digital. Analog communication is the way of the past, top to bottom, vertical, and rarely horizontal. When the boss says jump, the employee says “how high?” However, today’s generation demands more communication from their leaders, they want buy-in and affirmation that their ideas are being heard and taken seriously. I compare this way of thinking to that of digital communication: top to bottom, bottom to top, and side to side. Unlike the old analog system, this type of communication is more inclusive, collaborative and draws more effectively on the skills and knowledge of all team members.

Today’s leaders must think “digitally” when leading; constantly ensuring that the lines of communication work horizontally and vertically, and are always as clear as possible. More importantly, today’s leaders must “throw out the net” to capture input from all levels of the organization, as well as from external partners, rather than the more traditional top to bottom style of communication. None of us can predict where the organization’s next best idea is going to come from. It would be a tremendous missed opportunity to limit ourselves due to our unwillingness to alter our “style” of communication.

Policing is a “people business,” as is the case with any public service agency, or for that matter, any organization that deals with the public as part of their mission. Leadership is about leading for the benefit of others and not the enrichment of ourselves. It’s important for today’s leaders to understand that leadership is not about rank, position or title. Leadership is action focused toward the goals of the organization, while effectively harnessing the strengths, interests, skills and passion of those who actually will get us to our goals.

What is most important is the leader’s ability to lead and empower others for the greater good of the organization and those we serve. Today’s leaders are not larger than life personalities. They are the ordinary, everyday heroes like parents, co-workers, teachers, and spouses. We are all leaders, if we choose to take advantage of opportunities while others stand by and wait for someone to step up. Be that someone!

Guest blogger Jim McDonnell is First Assistant Chief and Chief of Staff with the Los Angeles Police Department; and a graduate of Leadership L.A.