Case-Study-Driven Leadership Training from West Point: The 1992 Los Angeles Riots Led Law Enforcement Executives to the Department of Behavioral Sciences at West Point. Its Curriculum Would Evolve and Prove Effective in Enhancing Leadership. One Test Came September 11

Article excerpt

There is nothing magical about leadership, and there is nothing magical about teaching it or learning it. Leadership is the synthesis of cognitive, emotional, and social intelligence, acting upon and within the situational dynamics shared with followers.

Leadership by definition is the ability to influence others to pursue and accomplish organizational goals and objectives. Influence implies the ability to motivate followers to want to accomplish those goals. Influence is not coercive but rather the igniting of an internalized passion to meet organizational goals. Understanding motivational theories rationally communicated and applied to any leadership challenge will likely motivate followers.

These theories and their application can be effectively taught in a manner that provides new and future leaders with a toolbox of leadership skills, knowledge, and abilities. One such method has proven effective at the United States Military Academy at West Point and to law enforcement executives: the case study method.

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Leadership Training Prioritized

The 1991 arrest of Rodney King and the Los Angeles riots of 1992 served as catalysts for the development of training programs for law enforcement leadership. The 1991 Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), also known as the Christopher Commission, investigated the Rodney King incident and ultimately called for formal leadership training of police supervisors and commanders. Within The City in Crisis: A Report by the Special Advisor to the Board of Police Commissioners on Civil Disorders in Los Angeles, William H. Webster and Hubert Williams concluded that "the chief of police should make it a high priority to improve training, experience, and leadership of the command staff of the department."

Historically, the FBI National Academy and similar programs provided police management training programs. The curriculum traditionally focused on management skills rather than leadership skills. The demand for leadership training led officials of the LAPD to seek assistance from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Concomitantly, a group from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police approached West Point for the same reason. This unplanned confluence of law enforcement executives at West Point led to the development of a dynamic leadership training program.

West Point had been training military leaders since 1802, and its faculty had a proven and adaptable organizational leadership curriculum. With a respected tradition of academic and professional excellence, West Point provided a unique solution to the challenges of leadership development within law enforcement.

Partnership with the Military Academy

In June 1993, 10 command-level law enforcement officers attended a faculty development workshop at the department of behavioral sciences and leadership at West Point. Five of these officers were from New Jersey and five were from the LAPD. For four weeks, these officers studied organizational leadership and learned how to teach it to West Point standards. The following summer, five additional officers from New Jersey and five from LAPD received this training at West Point. Each of these sessions placed law enforcement officers with new and returning West Point faculty members. This combination of experienced military officers holding doctorates in organizational behavior and related disciplines with well-educated law enforcement officers provided the foundation for leadership development within law enforcement. The challenge for these law enforcement officers was not only to learn the course content within four weeks but also to learn the teaching methods used at West Point

Leadership, as taught at West Point, is not the autocratic, top-down, military style of leadership that one may surmise. Organizational leadership, as taught by the department of behavioral sciences and leadership at West Point, is designed to develop, "smart, thoughtful, and reflective leaders, according to the curriculum. …