Meta-Analysis of Leadership in Policing and Crisis Management

Updated on December 6, 2016

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Leadership, in general, is a widely discussed and researched topic when it comes to filling government roles. The attributes we desire most in our leaders such as charisma, stress immunity and fearlessness often come packaged with more psychopathic qualities such as self-centeredness, a lack of empathy and impulsivity (Dutton, 2016). However balanced or off-balanced, these are traits that make decision making in crises that much easier regardless of how unfair or uncomfortable the decision may be and they are characteristics much required in leaders in fields such as policing and politics. Often we jade the darker traits with words like “brash” or “decisive” so as not to undermine the good that is ultimately done by way of those traits. This paper seeks answers for questions like: what would an ideal leader look like in policing and would they be free of those darker traits? Could they have those psychopathic traits and still be successful in the sight of their subordinates and public? How is a balance defined by those leaders and their subordinates? This is a brief discussion over the literature on the definition of leadership in policing and the qualities deemed most ideal or toxic.

First, it is necessary to look at the general community’s and the policing community’s notions of leadership and how it is defined. Then the discussion will turn to the requirements of the higher echelons of police work and how those requirements vary from daily duty to crisis management. Questions arise regarding the overlap of characteristics required to seamlessly accomplish both in the event of superimposition of both or transition from one to the other. It is also necessary to review evidence of what has worked historically with regards to relationships of subordinates with supervisors as well as supervisors with each other and other departments and agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has standardized its idyllic version of leaders in crisis management so a brief comparison with leadership in policing studies will be overlaid to identify the characteristics that are designated as most ideal in both daily life and times of crisis. Finally, a brief statement will be made on future research required to determine a general consensus on characteristics and their successes and failures that would most efficiently fill the roles of law enforcement leadership, regardless of the circumstances they will face.

Defining Leadership in Policing, Existing Research & Discussions

It is commonly known – almost inherently known – what defines a good leader; like pornography, we know it when we see it. It is subjective to our perceptions of what needs doing, how we like to be told how to do it, how we think things should be done and the type of person we believe should get to make those decisions. Because of this subjectivity, even Merriam-Webster’s dictionary (2016) is obtuse in defining leadership as “a position as a leader of a group, organization, etc., the time when a person holds the position of leader, the power or ability to lead other people.” Even in various studies, leadership is either defined as a list of qualities or traits that may either be dark or encouraging but influential none-the-less or leadership is defined as a relationship between an individual or group of individuals and their followers. One is a vastly broad definition and the other is ambiguous and situational. However, one study seems to define the nature of leadership itself as a “value-neutral” term that implies social influence and interaction between a leader and followers that’s effectiveness is based on the groups abilities to achieve their purpose and goals (Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser, 2007).

In policing, due to the nature of the quasi-military environment the definition is generally relational and goal oriented (Andreescu and Vito, 2010). The hierarchical structure, culture and purpose of law enforcement encourage a collective of individuals who represent their subordinates both in practice and in ethical fortitude in order to meet the expectations of the public they serve (Bruns and Shuman, 1986; Schafer, 2009). The interaction and mutually reciprocal respect or understanding between a leader and its subordinates is determined as successful or unsuccessful based on the outcomes and in policing, the outcomes are not limited to merely statistics such as arrest rates and tickets issued but public perception of security as well. Much argument has been made to the end that leadership in policing exists on all levels from the chief to the newly minted patrolman who is forced to make “executive decisions” in the field at a moment’s notice (Andreescu and Vito, 2010). Padilla, Hogan and Kaiser (2007) claim that leaders are only able to come to power if they have susceptible followers and conducive environments. Maintaining a balance that reflects the most optimal level of achievement is a defining characteristic of a successful law enforcement agency or department and decidedly a group activity.

The group, then, must be trained into and become capable of those executive decisions by leaders. In policing, supervisory roles have been studied copiously and defined in various ways. Primarily, B.M. Bass’s transactional, transformational and laissez-faire definitions seem to represent the over-arching themes under which most other leadership definitions fall (Bass, 1994). Transactional is defined as being task-oriented and dependent on systems of rewards and punishments; a clear designation of the leader follower roles and their purposes. Transformational is considered more egalitarian and people oriented providing more intellectual stimulation and problem-solving opportunity for both leaders and followers. Laissez-faire is a lack of interest in the leader to devote much to the goals of the organization allowing for a great amount of individual freedom of discernment for subordinates (Engel, 2002).

In 1977, Jack Kuykendall established five styles of leadership: 9/9 – high production oriented, high people oriented, 9/1 – high production oriented, low people oriented, i.e. transactional, 1/9 – low production oriented, high people oriented - transformational, 5/5 – moderately production and people oriented and 1/1 – low production oriented, low people oriented, i.e. laissez faire (Kuykendall, 1977). Engel created a widely supported set of leadership styles that included traditional, innovative, supportive and active leadership techniques. While hypothesizing that innovative would have the most effect due to the charismatic and motivational traits describing it, Engel found that each style was nearly equally represented in studies done in both the Indianapolis, Indiana and St. Petersburg, Florida police departments and that active – not innovative - was the most influential style with regards to subordinate behavior (Engel, 2000; Engel, 2001; Engel, 2002; Engle and Worden, 2003).

In 1977, Hershey and Blanchard discussed leadership as a method of communication in which the leader engages the audience or subordinates in a reciprocal conversation and then uses a combination of factors including support, psychology and facilitation to win over the followers. The styles of leadership defined by communication included telling, selling, participating and delegating and each elaborated a varied balance of the three engaging factors. The four different communication styles fall much along the same lines as Kuykendall’s model with exception of the 5/5 model and Hershey and Blanchard’s focus on communication versus Kuykendall’s production value focus. Telling (much like Kuykendall’s 9/1 model) is high task oriented, low relationship oriented; selling (like 9/9) is high task, high relations; participating (like 1/9) is low task, high relationship and delegating (like 1/1) is low task, low relationship oriented. Telling and selling seemed to be the most dominant styles of communication in policing and participating and delegating being least effective (Hershey and Blanchard, 1977). Vroom argued that this was due to the participant’s personal drives; whether they wanted to be told or participate and in policing there is a greater expectation of being told due to the para-militaristic structure (Burns and Shuman, 1986).

Andreescu and Vito (2010) discussed Haberfeld’s stratification of the varying styles by purpose within each police force. Haberfeld argued that all four of Engel’s styles could be accounted for in every police department depending on the role they were meant to fill: traditional at the district level, innovative at the department level, supportive at the middle management level and active at the sergeant, street level. Schafer argued the ambiguity of any of the roles as “one person’s self-centered egoist is another person’s confident visionary” and that efficacy, not style was the key characteristic in productive leadership (Schafer, 2010, 647). Bryman discussed that the type of study to define leadership styles inherently affected the outcome of the definition because each study would be in context to a specific desired outcome, therefore leadership could only ever be defined in context or situationally (Bryman, 2004; Bryman, 1996).

Likert devoted some time to discussing management style and orientation, as well, and defined leadership not as separate styles but as a complete system that incorporated a variety of styles necessary to achieve a variety of goals. He identified four subsystems within the whole: exploitative – authoritative, benevolent-authoritative, consultative and participative-group. System 1, exploitative-authoritative had a Machiavellian approach that covered the one-half of the transactional approach defined by top-down decision making, punishment and humiliation. System 2, benevolent-authoritative covered the other half of the transactional approach that included reward but still managed to create top-down decision making environment. System 3, consultative falls more along the egalitarian lines of Engel’s innovative style or Kuykendall’s 9/1 style in which subordinate input was highly considered in the decision making process and finally, system 4 which is representative of Bass’s transformational style where decision making input is incorporated from across all lines of the organization. Collectively, goals are discussed by the whole system and decisions about which goals to focus on are set by the top executives (Likert, 1967).

Various other research has also focused on the “darker” side of leadership – not what makes a good leader but what defines a bad one. Barbara Kellerman wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review called “Leadership: warts and all” that pointed out that most studies devote themselves to the idyllic and positive side of leadership and that by placing the trait on a pedestal it ignored the negative and despotic side of leadership that, in many cases, built the modern world (Kellerman, 2009). Negative impact researchers also argue that not only does style not define leadership but neither does success or achievement of a desired outcome as Hitler and Stalin were highly successful as leaders but their “goodness” was obviously in question (Alston, 2013; Einarsen, Aaskand and Skogstand, 2007; Dutton, 2016; Padilla, Hogan and Kaiser, 2007;Schyns and Schilling, 2012). Padilla, et al. broadly discussed destructive leadership versus constructive leadership and felt that the line between the two was based on the characteristics and methodology of the leader.

A Norwegian study by Einarse, Aasland, and Skogstad cordoned off a grid of four traits that tended to pro or anti-subordinate or organizational behaviors. Supportive-disloyal leadership lead to pro subordinate behavior that was simultaneously anti-organizational. Constructive leadership, likewise leads to pro-subordinate behavior but with a positive outcome of pro-organizational behaviors. Tyrannical leaderships inspired pro-organizational behaviors but led to anti-subordinate behavior and derailed leaderships led to both anti-organizational and anti-subordinate behaviors (Einarse, Aasland, and Skogstad, 2007). Schyns and Schilling (2013) pointed out that the Norwegian study found that a third of employees studied felt they were victims of destructive leadership on some level but that other reports done by Aryee, Sun, Chen and Debra (2008) and Hubert and van Veldhoven (2001) found much lower rates of destructive leadership prevalence.

Schyns and Shilling therefore identified four conceptualizations of destructive behavior: perception versus actual behavior, intent, physical, verbal and non-verbal behavior and inclusion of outcomes. The point-of-view of the follower is identified in perception versus actual behavior and the nature of the leader’s intent becomes relevant to the point-of-view that was taken. Additionally, whether the outcomes were intentional or unintentional affect that point-of-view. Finally, how the leader carried themselves in communications throughout the process from goal to outcome adversely affects point-of-view and often clarifies intent. Therefore, Schyns and Shilling took four concepts of leadership and identified what created perceptions of destructive leadership. Those concepts included leader-related, job-related, organization-related and individual follower-related perspectives that defined the level of destructiveness or constructiveness of the leader. How willing were the subordinates to follow the leader? What is the context of the leadership and how much satisfaction can arise from it in the job? What is the leader’s commitment to the organizations goals? Throughout the process, what was the affectivity levels of the individual followers? (Schyn and Schilling, 2013).

Schyn and Shilling asked these questions, but ultimately the discussion, as do all the discussions on leadership, veered into particular qualities that defined the leaders themselves. Those qualities are the building blocks of all the styles, concepts, perceptions and models of leadership and while none can single-handedly accomplish define leadership, the matrix of all of them together becomes the brushstrokes with which the picture is painted.

Qualities of Leadership in Policing and Crisis Management

Throughout the studies done on leadership in various careers, the qualities overlap. Researchers tend to package them in a variety of ways and groupings so as to better organize them but the genuine overlap of all the studies always comes down to the specific traits of the individuals in leadership positions and how they influenced that person’s ability to lead and accomplish goals. In the policing community there are several qualities that seem to be most pervasively desired but vary in nomenclature such as motivational, having a supportive attitude towards goals and subordinates, and a willingness of the leader to have done or do what they are asking of their subordinates. Other qualities serve to describe leader’s ability to achieve the goals and outcomes of the organization such as being task oriented, driven, committed, decisive and knowledgeable. Still other qualities are used to define the nature of the leader themselves and their ability to inspire followers such as tyrannical, egalitarian, motivational, stable, manipulative or charismatic (Bass, 1994; Bruns and Shuman, 1988; Einarsen, Aasland, and Skogstad, 2007; Engel, 2000; Kuykendall, 1977; Mazerolle, Darroch and White, 2013; Padilla, Hogan and Kaiser, 2007; Schyns and Shilling,2012).

In this year’s article about the United States presidential election, Dutton pointed out that psychopathic qualities were somewhat necessary to fill leadership roles in public service organizations. Varying shades of narcissism and megalomania are required to fulfill the necessary role of confidence in leadership. Pushing one’s own agenda is only destructive when that agenda does not align with that of the follower’s but, regardless, a level of self-centered impulsivity or risk taking in times of crisis can make decision making effective and efficient. Additionally, there is a slight edge to some degree of limited empathy because, no matter what, some perspectives will always be offended or feelings hurt when decisions get made (Dutton, 2016).

Policing Qualities

Roy Alston, Chief of the Dallas, Texas police department recognized qualities of toxic leaders to be demoralizing, humiliating, Machiavellian, arrogant, self-serving, petty, inflexible, sociopathic, purposeless, and uninspiring (Alston, 2013). Schafer identified unsuccessful qualities such as resistance to change, failure to lead, egotistical, unable to raise funding or influence labor organizations, uninspiring and incapable of establishing a development system to meet goals (Schafer, 2010). Bullying, manipulative, humiliating, harassing, absenteeism, shirking, fraudulent and production of exaggerated self-achievement where characteristics discussed by Einarsen, Aasland and Skogstad (2007).

Padilla followed in the same vein as Dutton and identified five critical qualities: charisma, personalized use of power, narcissism, negative life themes and ideology of hate to describe destructive leaders (Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser, 2007). Engel identifies with these qualities in policing by codifying them in the traditional style of police leadership (Engel, 2002). However, Padilla points out that equally important are the qualities of followers such as having unmet needs and low self-esteem and maturity or the colluders who often have ambition and sincerely questionable ethics. The qualities of the environment that brings the leader and followers together are also relevant (Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser, 2007). There must be instability and a perceived threat - which in criminal justice there is constant instability due to the ever-existing chaos of crime. There must also be a clear set of cultural values, which in policing is identified in the goals and purposes of police: deter criminality, punish criminality, enforce law and serve the community with which you are trusted.

Qualities that are desirable in constructive leaders such as strategic thinking, indirect leadership capacity, vision and forecasting aptitude, unity of command ideals, ability to delegate authority, objectivity and conceptualization were categorized by Thomas Baker in his book on effective police leadership. He established categories of qualities required for community policing such as strong character, positive core values, ability to build an ethical climate and apply those ethics and the capacity to hold themselves and their followers accountable to those ethics.

““Can do” police leaders apply “moral force” to police organizations. Leadership is not merely expedient; it is also moral and ethical whose essential elements of moral leaderships are expert power, confidence and competent leadership…the wise leader acknowledges limitations as well as assets. Only then can leaders maximize strengths and weaknesses. Self-assessment is essential before moving into key leadership positions. This assessment will help identify the officer’s personal values and philosophies of leadership (Baker, 2011, 24-35).”

Baker’s studies claimed that the leadership qualities were reciprocated by the community quality of support for SARA planning, support from Neighborhood Watches, support from subordinates with regards to community policing and the community-at-large’s support for Community Oriented Policing (C.O.P.) (Baker, 2011).

Kuykendall’s study on policing identified four instrumental values that were characterized by specific qualities. Philosophy of management was dependent on the attitudes and assumptions of the leaders; qualities that included creating job satisfaction and intellectual stimulation as well as high efficacy and affectivity. Planning and goal setting of leaders was pivotal on the ability to be decisive and organized as well as having the aptitude to establish evaluative measures to ensure goals were met. Implementation was the third instrumental value and was defined by the leader’s ability to put the plans into action, motivate the followers to align with the plan and be supportive in the actions taken by subordinates. The final value was identified as evaluation which was summarized by having qualities that constructively reviewed the outcomes and participation levels and measures of both the leader and the followers; an ability to self-assess and punish or reward accordingly to encourage preferred outcomes (Kuykendal, 1977).

Categorizing styles according to specific qualities, Engel identified multiple desirable traits in various studies of police leadership influence on patrolmen and other leaders. The qualities that defined the categories included decisiveness, power distribution, personal relations with coworkers, supervisory relations with coworkers, task-orientation level, inspirational ability, innovative capacity, quality of expectations of community policing and level of aggression with regards to legal enforcement. However, Engel ultimately noted that qualities and style seemed to be less valuable to subordinate behavior than mere presence of supervisors which inherently identifies a trait of participatory level or “involvedness” (Engel, 2001).

Crisis Management Qualities

Leadership in emergency management and crisis situations is a pivotal role for police and law enforcement agencies. Two distinct principles define the goals of effective crisis management and they are the development of the capacity for an organization to respond flexibly and the practicing and rehearsing of worth that will be required during a crisis (Clark and Harman, 2004). Leaders must embody those principles as guiding lights. Effective communication and coordination with speed, credibility, consistency, and accuracy with other agencies, the media and the public is vital. Internal and external needs and problems must be identified by leaders and clear goals must be set quickly. Tailor-made solutions must be made on the fly, so creativity and strong organizational skills in individuals as well as their organization are effective traits in leadership roles (Taneja, Pryor, Sewell, and Recuero, 2014). While a certain degree of openness is required, an ability to set limits on “group thinking” that prolongs the path to solutions mid-crisis must be owned by leaders. Facilitating democratic decision making while being decisive in a time of calamity must be balanced (Rosenthal, t’Hart and Kouzmin, 1991).

While much of the characteristics, such as decisiveness, overlap with daily job leadership in policing there are other qualities that become fundamentally more important in isolated times of emergency. FEMA specifically designed courses in the wake of Katrina for leadership by way of its National Incident Management System or NIMS. Katrinia is considered the “grand failure” of the U.S. emergency services coordination capabilities, or lack thereof (Farazmand, 2007). All emergency personnel and law enforcement on any level are required by federal mandate to be oriented in this leadership training. Understanding of leadership structure, roles and required qualities is specifically defined.

Similarly, various law enforcement journals and catalogs regularly produce incident specific volumes in order to specify the necessary traits required for various incidents such as pandemics, active shooters, mass demonstrations and natural disasters. The importance of effective leadership if further expanded from leader-follower relations to leader-leader relations and with the expansion comes a new set of characteristics required to possess such as being an effective communicator, able to identify boundaries and responsibilities and capacity to make impulse decisions that may save or take hundreds of lives.

Qualities outright called for by FEMA include vision, direction, coordination and motivation towards immediate goals in an emergency situation. Other value characteristics include expertise in achieving goals and shared missions, trust building, facilitation of change, personal influence, flexibility in a changing environment, and political savvy. Cooperation is especially necessary when various law enforcement and emergency management services are working together with community leaders. Preparedness, integrative assessment capability, personal qualifications such as licenses and certifications like CPR and first aid training. High standards of integrity, openness, trust, respect for others and honesty are key. Leaders must be able to foster commitment from other leaders and the community at large, integrate perspectives and influence operational decisions. Creating a sense of urgency and inspiring people to take action and be involved in planning for the future is required (, 2016).

Reflective qualities are also crucial. Self-assessment, self-reflection and the ability to solicit authentic feedback from other leaders and subordinates. Listening skills and approachability must be cohesive with a flexibility to adjust to changing environments and public perceptions of how the crisis is being handled. In crisis management the leader must be able to play the hired hand, the broker, and the hero at the same time (, 2016). The ability to generate clear, concise and meaningful documentation of the crisis is necessary along with the capacity to be objective when noting failures of not only the community and other agencies but of oneself (Ramsey, 2010). The openness to utilizing contractors and the humility to delegate work to more qualified individuals is necessary in specific situations of emergency (Russell, 2010).

Boin identifies three phases of crises and five tasks that are crucial to leadership entities. The phases are: 1) the incubation period in which the event develops at a focal point, 2) the onset in which the focal point spreads to an expansive disaster covering various jurisdictions, and 3) the aftermath in which leaders must identify failures and mistakes made by themselves and their subordinates and plans must be made to avoid those identified in future crises. The five pivotal tasks in a crisis are sense making, decision making, meaning making, terminating and learning. Leaders are required to identify a uniform picture and make sense of it to the public, must make meaningful decisions that lead to a termination of the event and then must be able to appraise the successes and failures of themselves, other leaders, subordinates, and the community as a whole (Boin, 2005).

Training on equipment, planning for fatigue in crises with long durations, being able to balance and coordinate daily work that must continue with crisis management needs is pivotal to maintain the community in policing. During pandemics, the situational awareness and training on proper health protocols to keep officers healthy and capable working is essential (Luna, Brito and Sanberg, 2007). During active shooter and sniper situations, tactical awareness and command, operational command and competence can make or break the ability to coordinate with other leaders and bring the assault to a close. The ability to keep constant communication open and not delay decisions must advance the event towards termination. Joint Operations Centers must have leaders that can see the big picture and locate and negotiate the necessary resources to bring the weight of the agencies against the perpetrator(s) (Narr, Toliver, Murphey, McFarland and Ederheimer, 2006). Being an effective task force leader in multi-jurisdictional crises such as natural disasters require the ability to balance the needs of the task force with those of the agency, must be able to recognize chain of command and the reciprocity that is involved in simultaneously being a leader and follower, must be able to relinquish some control to other leaders, control support of participating agencies and distinguish between executive and operational responsibilities. A leader must have the capacity to limit participation when it violates the roles of others, meet unique demands, identify specific roles and responsibilities of subordinates and cohorts, and information must be managed efficiently and in a timely fashion (Murphy and Wexler, 2004).

Paul t’Hart argues in one study that a leader’s capacity to identify social symbols, rituals and notions of power during a crisis are the most important qualities of that leader. Effective communication of local tones, colloquialisms, and identification of the structures of rituals and hierarchies within the community is critical to navigating the political system for emergency management leaders, task forces and law enforcement entities. Crisis-handling devices recognized by t’Hart include framing, ritualizing and masking. When a crisis breaks down the social system of a locale for a particular time, the response to the situation must be framed accurately to set the public at ease. Preparedness and practice with training and drills, particularly in law enforcement, must be ritualized and second-nature. Masking includes the ability to manipulate the situation and public, calm them and the media, utilize charisma and competency to take control of information and perception to appear credible and trustworthy even in the face of insecurity (t’Hart, 1993).

Reflection of Key Qualities and Proposed Study of Leadership

Heavily identifiable as law enforcement leadership qualities are superb communications skills, humility, strength of character and the ability to participate in anything a leader might ask of their subordinates. The task of leadership in law enforcement is difficult regardless of it being a regular, low-key day or a full-bore catastrophe. There is a multitude of studies identifying styles and models of leadership as well as qualities and requirements and while they all do a good job of clarifying the needs of a leader, they are unable to hone in on the specific definition of leadership itself.

As the law enforcement community extends to and is integrated with private security, emergency management organizations, federal agencies, the media and the public it would be ideal to create a study in which current leaders and subordinates of various positions within the community as a whole provide their notions of and expectations of law enforcement leadership. As a public servant, law enforcement leaders must be able to express key leadership qualities for both daily activity and crisis management and they must accept and meet public expectations. The study should be done to identify a systematic and collective set of requirements in order to meet the needs of the public on any field.


Leadership in policing is a broad topic with much agreement and disagreement on defining it, however, the perspective of its general ramifications towards success or failure seem identifiable via study, research and evidence-based practices. More research is needed to fill in the gaps that clearly exist and lead to failure. Questions must be asked such as how do we educate leaders to respond to situations with initiative and commitment? What do we do with leaders that are ineffective but charismatic? How is it that they are even put in leadership roles to begin with? What is the failure of the public or subordinates that leads to destructive leadership? How do we insure constructive leadership?

Perhaps leadership is a metaphysical theme of activities committed in spontaneous situations or perhaps it is a state of being for individuals who inherently possess a particular group of traits. What is clear is that there are effectives methods and qualities of leadership and there is wildly ineffective models and styles that are toxic to everything they come into contact with. It is necessary to specifically identify the methods that are particularly useful to policing because leadership in policing is a matter of life and death to the community it commits to serve.


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