The Adaptive Leader | Police Oral Boards | Leadership Training

The Adaptive Leader

If you have ever been a candidate in a promotional process for a formal leadership position, you most likely had to get through an oral board panel. In almost every oral board that I have been a part of, there is a question related to “leadership style”.

The question typically goes like this… “Can you tell us about your leadership style?”

Of course, there are so many directions you can go with this question. You can certainly provide the panel with your knowledge of the various leadership styles (e.g., Autocratic, Democratic, Servant, Transformational, etc.).

Or you could tell them which leadership style you primarily operate from. “I consider myself a servant leader and here is why…blah blah blah.” These are not necessarily bad answers, but you can do better.

The reality is you probably transition through a variety of leadership styles, depending on the circumstances, the person or group being led. And that transition can occur many times throughout the same day, or even the same incident.

For example, let’s say you are Dispatch Supervisor and serious call comes into the call center. You have two dispatchers working the call, one is brand new to the job and the other is a veteran dispatcher. The new employee is clearly struggling in getting the necessary information and entering it into the CAD. Based on the seriousness of the call, you may step in and direct the dispatcher in a very autocratic leadership style. Why? Because lives could be at stake and there is a critical time issue.

The veteran dispatcher is handling the radio traffic seamlessly and she is even taking the initiative to help officers on scene set up a perimeter without being asked to do so. With this employee, you are more likely to take on a Laissez Faire leadership style. Why? Because she knows what she is doing, and you do not need to step in and be a micro-manager.

After the call has been handled, you discover the old headsets the dispatchers are using have been consistently malfunctioning. On the heels of some other similar complaints, you decide to take on a Democratic leadership style and enlist the help of the entire Dispatch team to pick a new type of headset for the group. Why? Because they are the ones using the equipment day in and day out and you want them to have some ownership of that decision. You are much more likely to pick the best product if you make the decision as a team.

You also realize the newer Dispatcher was visibly shaken after the call and seems to be “out of sync” for the rest of her shift. As a servant leader, who takes care of her people, you pull the new employee aside at the end of the shift and ask her how she is doing. You tell her you noticed how the call affected her and you let her know about resources available to her, such as Peer Support or EAP.

In one call, you can transition through numerous leadership styles, depending on the need at the time.

So, when you get that question in that promotional interview, you may be better served to say “I consider myself an adaptive leader. I can adapt to the circumstances of the situation or to the specific person or group to be led. There are times I may need to be autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire, servant or transformational. I can be versatile and agile as the circumstances dictate.” That is a “A” answer.

If you want that answer to be an “A+”, you could follow it up with “I would like to give you a recent example of how I displayed an adaptive leadership style…” To have those examples at the ready is critical to separating you from the rest in the process.

Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into one leadership style…you are so much more than that!

Now go out there and practice that adaptive leadership style!

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