Building trust and preparing security leaders

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Rob McKenna and Daniel Hallak from WiLD Leaders and Wanda Townsend, Security Consultant, discuss how security leaders can create a culture of confidence in their roles.

Security leaders

If we saw leaders in security and law enforcement as human beings, more like the rest of society than not, how would we prepare them for the challenging road ahead?

As professionals committed to the whole and intentional development of law enforcement and security leaders, that challenge is at the front of our minds.

At a time in history when we have little tolerance for failure in leaders and quickly villainize our heroes, leaders in law enforcement and security must bring a level of fortitude that is unparalleled.

Brokenness exists in the system and reform is undoubtedly necessary, but what kind of reform are we talking about?

We ask law enforcement and security leaders to be compassionate, empathic, caring and just to every one of their constituents and to pay attention to those constituents they may have a visible or invisible bias toward.

Entering the most volatile of human interactions requires a leader who is clear, sharp, adaptable, caring and decisive.

The preparation for any leader is an intense, ever-changing process, where failure is a guarantee.

So why does our trust in them seem to fail so quickly?

Developing their capacity as whole human beings with that responsibility will require a structure that incorporates their whole life experience and challenging conversations in a supportive environment.

We will only trust them once we build their resilience, allow for nuance and inspire them to realize their inherent value.

Following are seven strategies for building trust and reforming how we think about preparing a security leader.

Whether it’s an individual officer or senior leader in a department or agency, our hope is that the following suggestions will inspire new ways of thinking while reinforcing some of the things these leaders may already be doing well.

Seven whole leader development strategies

1. Commit to whole leader development

Preparing a whole person for leadership in security and law enforcement begins with a commitment to see these leaders as people with the capacity to move toward more wholeness despite the fragmentation that is a part of their lives.

A high-functioning leader is required to practice a complex set of developmental rhythms.

This includes a continuing awareness of their purpose, competence, experiences, support and the development of others.

We must invite them to examine their strengths and blind spots and provide the necessary scaffolding to make their whole development approachable and accessible.

2. Start with yourself

One of the top predictors of success for most leadership development initiatives is senior leader participation.

3. Double down on purpose

In the best whole security leader development efforts, purpose precedes action.

It is one thing for security leaders to be clear about what they are being asked to do; it is another thing to be clear about why they are the person for that job – at both a tactical and a personal level.

4. Focus on what you can control

Any police chief will tell you that most of what they are responsible for enforcing came from someone else.

Civil service regulations, changes in the law, local government policy, changing public opinion – all these things require mindfulness and awareness on the part of a security leader, much of which is beyond their control.

Despite all this, developing the practice of clearly delineating between those things within the leader’s control and those which are not is critical to a security leader’s agency.

5. Invite questions as well as answers

In organizational structures that require a strong sense of command and control, answers are often emphasized over questions.

Command and control structures are established most often in organizations where the stakes are high requiring decisive action.

It’s not surprising that in military or law enforcement settings, we see an emphasis on clear lines of communication and structures that define power and decision-making.

Ask: What motivates me? Am I supported? Am I still competent to do my job when the expectations have changed? What risks am I willing to take? What is my purpose?

These are just a sampling of the questions every security leader is asking in some way but may not be supported to ask out loud.

Creating a training system that invites the most important development questions to the table is what a whole leader reformation is all about.

6. Think like an entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs think differently.

As opposed to setting goals and then considering the resources that will be necessary to achieve those goals, entrepreneurs begin with four questions: Who am I? Who do I know? What resources do I have at my fingertips? What can I do with all that?

Because they start with those questions, entrepreneurs are perpetually hopeful.

This way of thinking is difficult for security leaders who have come up through the ranks where the risks associated with failure are high.

When the risks of failure result in life or death at any given moment, it may cause security leaders to apply that same way of thinking to everything.

However, even in the most risk intolerant lines of work, a bit of entrepreneurial thinking regarding solutions can be beneficial.

To the extent that an organization’s culture does not support entrepreneurial thinking, security leaders will feel pressure to focus on constraint instead of hope.

7. Build trust and support for yourself and others

Leading in security and law enforcement can be one of the loneliest jobs.

Building strategic support for a security leader in security and law enforcement is the process of ensuring that they have a network that challenges them and supports them at the same time.

It is the process of helping a security leader identify those who will give them feedback, those who will hold them up in the toughest of times and those who will provide them with the mentoring and role modeling necessary to become the leaders they could be.

Cultural transformation, building trust and deepening leadership capability is not an easy or quick-fix process.

It will not only be the responsibility of security and law enforcement leaders to create cultures of high stretch and support where whole leader development is the new norm – leaning into what has worked and integrating tactical preparation and whole leader preparation – but also a longer-term commitment on our part to provide the time and resources necessary to support the development of these critical leaders in our communities, organizations and our government.

About the authors

Wanda Townsend, M.A.A. is an Industrial-Organizational Psychology and NeuroLeadership Practitioner with over 30 years of experience in coaching, developing and leading high-performing individuals, teams and organizations.

For three decades, she has been energized by helping former employers transform their cultures through emotional intelligence training, neuroscience research and brain-based coaching.

She currently works as a Global Security Consultant and Training Coordinator.

As the Chief Commercial Officer at WiLD Leaders, Daniel Hallak, PhD focuses on making psychology and organizational science accessible to leaders on the job.

Daniel is a recognized authority on developing people and leaders, networking and building relationships, and living and working intentionally.

His PhD is in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, the science of making work better. Daniel is a TEDx speaker and has been featured in Forbes and Psychology Today.

Named among the top 30 most influential Industrial-Organizational Psychologists and featured in Forbes, Rob McKenna, PhD is the founder of WiLD Leaders and The WiLD Foundation, and creator of the WiLD Trust Platform.

His recent TEDx Becoming a Whole Leader in a Broken World is a manifesto on the critical role that developing whole and intentional leaders will play in our future.

Rob has devoted his life to developing leaders and transforming the way people are seen in organizations – developing them as whole.

This article was originally published in the June edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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