How to Be an Effective Leader

Make your department’s vision a reality by adopting these positive management skills.

As a leader in your campus safety department, you know the importance of a strong, well-prepared campus. Effective campus safety is the key to saving lives in times of crisis, and you want those you lead to buy into your department’s vision. However, you may find that some employees don’t have the same enthusiasm for the vision that you do. They may be more focused on tasks that don’t focus on your agency’s larger campus safety goals. Or even worse, they may have little passion for the department, the campus or even their jobs.

These can be catastrophic to your agency in terms of fulfilling its vision, and these problems have to be fixed right away. It’s impossible to know how to fix them without understanding what stirs passion in people. In his book Lincoln on Leadership, author Donald T. Phillips noted, “Effective visions and organizational mission statements can’t be forced upon the masses. Rather, they must be set in motion by means of persuasion.” You’ll have to learn how to persuade people; you’ll have to develop influence with them.

Everyone wants to influence others. It is how you go about creating this influence that defines who you are as a leader and your success. In the United States, with the exception of being drafted into military service, most employment is voluntary. That includes being employed by a campus safety department. This means that others, to a greater or lesser extent, can choose to follow you or not follow you. You must find a way to get others to follow you when they don’t have to. In fact, you must do more than that; you need to find a way to make people want to follow you.

Leaders draw their power with others in several ways. Here are the least effective to most effective approaches:

  • Physical Power: People follow you because of the threat, real or implied, of using force against them. I remember an instance where I heard a police sergeant tell a police officer during a disagreement, “Would you care to step out back and talk about this?” They weren’t going out there for tea and crumpets, and fortunately others intervened before cops started beating up other cops in the parking lot of the police department. Needless to say, this is the absolute worst way to lead others.
  • Withholding Power: People follow you because they need something you control. This is a bit better than slugging it out in the parking lot but not by much. The threat by a leader to withhold pay or deny leave or benefits is a certain way of demoralizing employees and killing off any chance of building positive relationships. Never use this as a means of influencing employees.
  • Positional Power: People follow you because you’re in charge. In campus safety organizations, it’s usually because you “have the stripes” or you’re “the brass.” Positional power does very little to motivate people other than the idea that they have to do what you say because they want to continue to have a job. It usually sounds something like, “Do it because I said so,” or “I order you to do it.” It works, but not very well.
  • Permission Power: People follow you because they want to, and they allow you to lead them. This is really the first positive step in having influence with others. This is the stage where people like you well enough to want to follow your lead. The beginnings of a relationship between you and your employee have formed. In order to continue to build the relationship, you will have to go up to the next type of power.
  • Results Power: People follow you because you have been successful with them as a team in getting results. Your shift, division or department has been successful with you as the leader, so the people you lead continue to follow you.
  • Growth Power: People follow you because you have helped them grow. They know that you have their best interests at heart, and you will provide for them as individuals, not just as a team of employees. They not only grow within their current positions because of your leadership but can also grow into leaders of the future for your department.
  • Legacy Power: People follow you because you have been successful throughout your career with permission power, results power and growth power for so long that you have a legacy of success. When you have legacy power, people will not only want to follow you but will seek you out, no matter where you work, so that they can continue to work for you because of what you can do for them and the department. It will take you quite a while to build up this kind of power with others. This comes through slow, steady growth, built by the relationships and successes you have with others over time.

In order to maximize your influence with those you lead, you will need to be compelling. This means evoking employee interest, attention and admiration. Many leaders have trouble with this because they are too focused on trying to be compelling about things and processes rather than people. They try to sell those they lead on buying into the organization before they have bought into them as the leader. There is no way to get people to buy into the department’s vision unless they first buy into the leader. Once people buy into you as the leader, they will be able to buy into the vision.

Here are some of the things you’ll need to do to build your influence with those you lead:

  • Be trustworthy; all relationships are built on trust.
  • Be genuine; nobody wants to deal with someone who isn’t genuine.
  • Be sincere; put your passion for excellence on display for others to see.
  • Be a good listener; people want to know that the things they talk with you about have meaning.
  • Be well informed; people want to follow leaders who are educated, experienced and technically proficient.
  • Be altruistic; people want leaders who are selfless and focused on the success of those they lead rather than their own personal welfare.
  • Be right; when people come to you for help, have the right answers. If you don’t know the answer, go with them to find out together. If you can’t find the answer right away, give them your assurance that you’ll do the research and will get back to them ASAP.
  • Be polite; unless you are dealing with an emergency situation in which direct orders to personnel are required, requests for work from those you lead should be phrased in the form of a question. It might seem obvious, but asking nicely is an important part of being polite. “Could you help with the security checks this afternoon?” sure sounds a lot better than “Go do the security checks this afternoon.” Both convey the message, but the first one shows more respect for the employee.
  • Be a role model; show people what you expect from them by modeling how you want them to behave. If you tell them to do one thing but you do another, they will do what you do instead of what you ask.
  • Be grateful; thank people when they do something for you. If they’ve done something exceptional, thank them in writing in the form of a letter of appreciation for their file.

President Theodore Roosevelt once remarked, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” In order to build influence with people, you have to touch their heart before you ask for their hand. This builds lasting influence and will serve you, your department, your campus and your profession. There is only one way for your department to fulfill its campus safety vision, and it’s through the people who do the work to make it happen. An organiza
tion’s vision is about building a brighter future; by following these guiding principles, you can influence the people you lead to embrace that future.

Blaine Locklair is a lieutenant with Trident Technical College Public Safety in Charleston, SC. He is the author of Police Leadership & Supervision and a graduate of the FBI-LEEDA Command Institute for Law Enforcement. He can be reached at

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