3 Leadership Traits to Avoid When Supervising Street Cops

Leadership 101

For obvious reasons, I cannot divulge which agency or specific names of officers that I work with. It wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway.

Leadership, both good and bad, isn’t isolated to just one department.

Or one profession.

Toxic leadership crosses all barriers, both professionally and personally.

The truly unique profession of law enforcement has allowed me a front row seat to what I call the good, the bad, and the ugly of both the scum of our society and the leaders of those who face it.

And I’m not just talking about the job itself.

I’m talking about leadership.

Now there have been a thousand articles written on this topic by high ranking officers, police chiefs, criminologists, and P.H.D’s. I’m thinking that, like me, after the first paragraph you are ready to claw your eyeballs out.


One word.


Long winded.


Okay, so that was more than one word.


I take leadership and its core principles seriously. I am not proclaiming to be an expert in the field of police leadership or the second coming of Vince Lombardi or Bill Belichick.

Men far greater than me have dissected and written at length on the topic. If you prefer a more scholarly or academic breakdown of the topic I understand.

But just like that old saying, “you know it when you see it”, great or poor leadership is easily recognized.

This article should be a reminder to all of us in a position of leadership, to know and recognize, with self awareness, when we slip or fall into one of these categories.

1. Not knowing or having done the job

This goes counter to what some managers will tell you. They will say that you don’t necessarily need to know the job of your subordinates.

And they would be exactly right.

But this article isn’t about being a toxic manager.

It’s about leadership. Specifically, leading cops on the street.

I, like most of you I’m sure, have had supervisors who have come in and tried to fake their way into gaining the respect of their underlings.

It usually doesn’t go well.

We have all witnessed a boss who has been paralyzed to action when making a decision out in the field.

When the sh#t hits the fan, do you want the boss who knows the job or a manager?

“The 10 Truths All Cops Know”

You want a leader.

Every single time.

There is nothing worse than having someone in a position of leadership who can’t make a decision.

This is usually a result of either only doing the job for a short time or having never done it all.

2. Being an asshole

I remember watching a documentary not long ago about the late Steve Jobs.

It delved into the history and rise of the tech giant. It also spoke of his leadership of the company that was at best not very pleasant.

The documentary did a skillful job of glorifying him in the way he would treat his employees.

Like dirt.

“But Sarge, he was so brilliant and smart and changed the world….”

I guess when someone is dead their asshole ways become overlooked if they can make a good phone.

For some unknown reason, a few bosses think that being mean to their people is how you should be.

When I first came into police work, almost every supervisor I came into contact with was a king prick. And yes, the female bosses weren’t much better.

Not every supervisor I had operated in this manner but there were enough that made me determined not to be like them.

I have mentioned in several of my articles that I am a former Marine.

Most would think that, because of this experience, that I would be a complete hard ass when dealing with my officers.

I am.

But it is never in a demeaning or demoralizing way.

Most have a preconceived perception of the Marine Corps  and it mostly comes from what they have seen on TV or the movies.

Not every interaction between a PFC and a Marine Platoon Sergeant is like the opening scene of Full Metal Jacket.

Most Marines in positions of leadership act more as mentors and coaches rather than hard asses.

Okay, there were a few who were your worst nightmare but most of them were afraid of getting fragged in the field so it was rare.

3. Not supporting your employees

Support means a lot of different things to different people. The support I am talking about is the kind that makes people feel like you care.

If you don’t care about your people then you should never consider yourself a leader.


“But Salty, I DO care about my people, I swear I do!”


Then show them you care with your actions.

I’m talking basic here.

Like asking them how they are feeling and show them you genuinely care about their well-being.

If they are having personal problems outside of work, listen. The hardest thing for bosses to do sometimes is listen.

And I’m not talking about doing the bare minimum for your people that HR says you have to do.

I’m talking about going that extra step, no matter how small, that shows that before anything, you care about them as a human being first.

Like checking on them at least once in 6 weeks after they have suffered a grade 3 sprain while playing basketball with their 11 year old son.

Or shoveling snow from the driveway of one of your injured officers even though they have 3 teenage boys.

That would be a good start.

“The Top Ten Rules of Good Police Leadership”

You can find other ORIGINAL articles like this one and more at The Salty Sarge Facebook Page.


  1. Salty, former Sgt. Lt. and Ass. Chief here, add to this the common comment : “If you don’t like it here , leave” ; or the old “hey, one you are in a command postion you will understand” like I am a fucking idiot right?

  2. They literally got me a cookie cake with “if you don’t like it, LEAVE!” when I switched PD’s. Pension and m-f shift reigns supreme against decent working environments

  3. great advice. Hopefully, you were in a challenging MOS in the Marines. not a supply sergeant or a helicopter mechanic,. As a former corporal in the Grunts, I learned if your in combat, your cant be a hardass, if you court martial them, they don’t care-at least they are not being shot at.

  4. I have a bit of a twist to this. I’m federal wirh a small agency, and have over 32 years of local, state and fed time. For the past two years, i have had the honor of working for the worst micromanaging, hateful, racist (she’s African-American), favorite-playing boss I’ve ever had at ANY job, including high school. I literally hate/loathe coming to work. She and I worked together as peer agents and were good friends. I always thought a lot of her, but when she promoted to the top position in our office (we have one boss in a small region – nowhere to flee), she became a maniacal witch (but only to the white and hispanic personnel – I’m Hispanic). She’s living proof you can know the line aspects of the job, and still be the worst manager from the deepest recesses of Hell, by treating your people like dirt. So now, I’m counting the days to make my 20, so I can go clean toilets at Golden Corral; the figurative equivalent of my job.

    • What you are talking about here comes under the heading, “Workplace Psychopath.” Psychopaths exist in all walks of life and with the appropriate research are quite easy to identify and deal with. They usually follow a well defined pattern, with easily identified traits. A very simply written book on the subject, “Working with Monsters,” was written by John Clark, a specialist in this area. I acquired the book in an effort to understand a new Manager who ruled using fear as his main instrument. I had the book at work and he spotted it and asked what I was doing reading it. Having been somewhat caught out, I responded that I was reading it with a view to understanding his management principles. For some reason, he didn’t last long in that position.

  5. you can tell her, in a joking sort of way, a guy in colorado, gary, was in the Marine corps. the day he was promoted to Corporal, another corporal told him if the only way you can get people to do things is by threating or force, you don’t belong in a leadership position. Someone actually told me that when I was promoted.

  6. That’s good advice Gary. I try to remember that, sadly, those of us who learned the value of servant leadership are greatly outnumbered by those who practice “legitimate authority” leadership. Always remember that managing is not the same as mentoring. I was in a promotional interview for my agency and they asked me to define my philosophy of leadership. I replied that, in the condensed version, you lead people- you manage problems. The managers in the panel had the deer in the headlights look and asked what that meant. I later told that story to a coworker marine buddy who just laughed and said “well, what’d you expect?” I always expect more.

  7. Great article! Couldn’t agree more. I’ve noticed the supervisors I’ve had who couldn’t make a decision was typically because they were too afraid to just make one. It was very frustrating to deal with. If you’re a coward or a selfish asshole you shouldn’t be a supervisor. Period.

  8. Regarding “and for some unknown reason”((@ promoted..they turn into..// and ” I can’t wait for my 20 , to retire”. Take-make the time to..Learn about (All )..people, ..what makes us good-works-has a future-is attractive-esteemable-unselfish-what has promise-etc…, also learn about all people’s..our common failings(to include yours, ..to win out, ..you have to take yourself out of the equation in most respects, and to do for Principles(have to be above the problem-part of the solution,..and even to care of the offending-offensive person’s well being and i.e. personal growth(and genuinely try to care?[they can’t even respect or like themselves, so good luck to all others..not as ill]? I’d suggest 12 Step program along with a workable faith(Law and the laws you inforce[we, in many ways], and your authority come from one source(all is about teaching each generation certain all important and necessary things,.[it is not history that cares that each person would have the opportunity to learn] ….i.e. (?) and a faith that is Highly Compatable with your work..the laws and Law in general. From there You will see that There’s plenty of things that You and Others Can Do ..To Correct Any Situation that doesn’t ultimately serve for a good to..real good purpose.

  9. my personal favourite from my immediate superior when ever a difficult job or roster change occurs, “I’m glad it’s not me”

  10. You are absolutely right on this one!!!! In October of 2015 I hit a wrong way driver to keep her from hitting the people traveling behind me on the freeway. I was off for a year due to having suffered a brain bleed, concussion and a herniated disc in my neck. When I went back to work I received my annual evaluation and I received a “meets standards” and when I asked my supervisor what I needed to do to get an above standards rating he looked at me and simply said “try showing up to work.” Needless to say, I went on to have my neck fused and was medically retired and he went on to another squad where he is making their lives miserable by being an A bad leader. The difference between a good leader and a bad leader makes all the difference in the world for the people who have their boots on the ground doing the work.

  11. Insecurity is one of the biggest problems in managing others. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. She obviously does not feel that way. It’s either that or she’s trying to run you off because you don’t do your job.

    • Currently there are many leaders in our dept that cheated on the promotion test and/or received unjust merit bump ups. So far I’ve been hearing when they are the shift commander they call around to the Lt’s that passed the test legit and ask what do I do? God help us all when the real shit hits the fan and our leaders are all cheaters!

  12. My favorites are “I’m the GD chief” and “we’ve always done it this way”… when I hear the second one I always get two sticks and start rubbing them together.

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