Recognizing Potential Law Enforcement Executives

By Gaston, Arnett | Corrections Today, June 1997 | Go to article overview

Recognizing Potential Law Enforcement Executives

Gaston, Arnett, Corrections Today

Jim Lundy, an internationally recognized expert in the identification, training and development of effective managers, has written a book titled Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way. Given the increasing complexity of our nation's correctional agencies, it has become clear that we may have to adopt the philosophy suggested by the title of Lundy's book if we expect our agencies to be viable in the new millennium. Viability begins with the quality of leadership, and if correctional agencies are to avoid going the way of the dinosaur, leadership must be the best possible. Law enforcement agencies are recognizing a long-acknowledged need in private industry: the fast-tracking of managerial candidates.

This article summarizes findings from an exploratory study that contribute to developing a fast-track management system for law enforcement. The research formulated and tested a law enforcement executive management (LEEM) profile. The profile is based on the personality characteristics, skills, knowledge and abilities of demonstrably effective executives within an agency. It provides a good starting point for looking at career development issues in law enforcement.

Selection Methods

The criteria for selecting law enforcement executives today are not as sophisticated as they could be. Traditional selection from the ranks runs the risk of elevating individuals who are expert in the duties mastered through experience but who may be deficient due to a lack of exposure to the full range of expertise required by new executive functions. Selection from outside the department may introduce needed new talents and policies but could fail if the individual selected is unfamiliar with the traditions, policies or local culture of the new environment. Most law enforcement agencies do not have the luxury of granting potential managers educational leave or training sabbaticals. Agencies often select the people who are "in the right place at the right time" for high-risk jobs.

Research and field evidence indicate that effective executives learn to be effective through a maturation process where skills. knowledge and abilities are developed and enhanced. This is why, particularly in the private industry, significant resources are devoted to identifying and training those who demonstrate leadership potential. Given that executives are developed, not born, law enforcement, like private industry, needs to minimize the risk associated with current selection processes through a surer method to identify and measure management abilities.

The research described here was conducted under the Visiting Fellowship Program of the National Institute of Justice. The study developed some exploratory hypotheses about the personality, performance and skills that predict success in law enforcement management and leadership, based on the performance of existing executives. This study marks a pilot effort to discover traits exhibited by effective executives and to measure prospective candidates for promotion against these traits.

Findings supposed all three hypotheses presented:

* Certain management, personality, cognitive and "Type A" variables are significantly more widely represented among populations considered to be effective managers than in nonexecutives. These traits can be identified for management selection and development.

* Significant relationships appear between management-potential variables in the executive group which do not appear among the random sample of nonexecutive personnel chosen for comparison.

* Some individuals among the nonexecutive group display management potential similar to that exhibited by effective managers. Although relationships between desirable variables may reach significant levels in the nonexecutive group, they usually appear more strongly among executives.

Critical thinking ability at various ranks, ages and educational levels

Rank                 % scoring
                in deciles 7-9

Line staff                 17%
Supervisor 1               19%
Supervisor 2               21%
Executive 1                56%
Executive 2                75%
Executive 3                57%
Age Range            % scoring
                in deciles 7-9

21-25                      11%
2-30                       23%
31-35                      17%
36-40                      41%
41-45                      41%
46-50                      44%
51-55                      33%
56-60                      25%
Level of                                       % scoring
Higher Education                          in deciles 7-9

None                                                 17%
< 1 to 2 years undergraduate                         23%
2 to 4 years undergraduate, associate
degree, or both                                      12%
Bachelor's degree to 2 yerars beyond
bachelor's degree                                    38%
Master's or doctorate                                61%

Method of Research

The research formulated and tested the LEEM profile. …

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