Written by Thompson, P.J.
Whether you work for a small rural department or a large metropolitan agency, if you are a female officer, you probably noticed something in the academy or perhaps as a probationary employee. You are a little different. You may not have been invited for beers after watch, you may not have been offered tickets to the game, or invited along on the weekend fishing trip. You didn’t really expect it. You got into the policing business for the work, not for a social life.
You watched as your male counterparts seemingly made the transition from “probie” to team member quickly. Perhaps it took a little longer, but eventually you proved you could not only do the job, but do it well. You work hard, you make good decisions, you know the job, and perform it well. Now, several years down the road, you have an opportunity to compete for a formal “leadership” position. Do you go for it or do you hesitate?
As a female considering a formal leadership role in a male dominated field, you have several options. You can try to be “one of the guys” but try as you might, you are just not. You can go to the other extreme, but do you really want to be “That Girl”? Didn’t think so. So you keep your head down, and you train and work hard in effort to earn the trust and respect of your colleagues. Yet frequently when leadership opportunities knock, you hesitate to step up. This begs the question, “Why?”
According to Bureau of Labor statistics, women now represent over 50 percent of the general workforce, and earn almost 60 percent of baccalaureate and graduate-level college degrees. However, in the law enforcement community we represent far less at between 15 and 17 percent. Figures in the fire service and emergency management are far more dismal. In public safety fields such as corrections, probation and parole, EMS, and communications, we fare only slightly better. Not surprisingly then, women represent very few of the formal leadership positions in public safety-related fields. These statistics clearly indicate a gap.
Enter Building Warrior Women: Leadership Tactics. The Building Warrior Women (BWW) mission is to educate, motivate, and empower women in public safety fields. LouKa Tactical, in partnership with Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, has developed a unique, innovative approach to leadership for women in public safety and first responder fields.
This creative approach is built on a foundation of “Authentic Leadership” (being yourself) drawn from corporate America, the armed services, and academia. It focuses on four areas of leadership tactics derived from characteristics of transformational leadership, blended with a splash of In Extremis, to keep it real.
As a gender, women tend to demonstrate great strength in many of the behaviors associated with transformational leadership. BWW Leadership Tactics emphasize identifying and exploiting strengths, and leveraging those strengths to develop areas where performance can be improved.
There is sufficient research to conclude that transformational leadership is very effective in public safety organizations. The essence of transformational leadership is the ability to inspire followers to strive toward something bigger than self. It is characterized by such traits as vision, motivation, empathy, trust, and optimism. On standardized test instruments (MLQ5x) women test high in many of the behaviors associated with transformational leadership. Women can, and do, make very effective transformational leaders in public safety organizations.
BWW Leadership Tactics is an approach designed to bridge this gap by highlighting the Four Flames of the BWW Leadership Torch. This approach capitalizes on personal and professional development in the areas of Confidence, Accountability, Nurturing and Ethics. The journey begins with the development of self, as only then can one hope to positively influence colleagues, institutions, policies and culture.
Each of the four flames is presented with research-based academic content and practical tools, combined with highly interactive instructional methods, and personal reflection. This synergistic combination results in significant positive aptitude and attitude changes for participants. During the two and a half day event, LouKa facilitators and FIU faculty begin a conversation about leadership. Dialogue includes presentations and guided discussions into each of the Four Flames.
Symposium participants first explore the role Confidence plays in their personal and professional lives. Through the use of a wide variety of interactive instructional methods, participants identify self-limiting behaviors and experiment with practical tools to aid in goal setting, individual professional development, and developing power bases.
Guided discussions focus on a variety of traditional and trending leadership styles, and how to identify and take advantage of developmental opportunities that align with established goals. Education, preparation, determination and trust are the cornerstones of confidence. Participants reflect on their individual strengths in these areas, identify areas in need of improvement, and develop an action plan to address deficiencies.
Participants then investigate the role Accountability plays with respect to leadership. BWW Leadership Tactics attendees participate in guided discussions designed to highlight the critical need for personal and professional accountability of self and of others. Leaders who hold both themselves and their followers accountable begin the process of building trust. Trust is perhaps the most essential element of leadership.
Among other topics, BWW Leadership Tactics participants are exposed to best practices for goal setting; directly, but compassionately, addressing failures to perform; providing timely, relevant feedback; and techniques for having productive developmental conversations with followers.
Nurturing is truly the Flame that distinguishes BWW Leadership Tactics from any other leadership style or approach. It is an essential component of transformational leadership. Unlike men, women enjoy the freedom to fully embrace it because it is coded in our DNA. BWW Leadership Tactics attendees experiment with and explore means by which to leverage this phenomenal strength, using techniques such as empowering, delegating and coaching.
Guided discussion and exercises explore the nuances of inspiring multi-cultural, multi-generational workforces and best practices for developing and harnessing the power and creativity of a truly collaborative work environment.
The final Flame is built around a discussion of Ethics. BWW Leadership Tactics attendees have an opportunity to reflect upon personal value systems and evaluate their alignment with organizational mission and values. Guided discussion and exercises focus upon the importance of an ethical component in the decision-making process.
Participants explore developing strategies for managing risk that reflect a sense of values and sound judgment. Participants also have an opportunity to review case studies, draw independent conclusions, and render value judgments on a variety of ethical dilemmas.
The Four Flames approach found in BWW Leadership Tactics provides a comprehensive framework for female leaders and aspiring leaders to develop practical leadership tools, acknowledge and understand the subtleties of gender bias, and develop/enhance the confidence to lean forward in leadership positions, all while remaining true to our authentic selves.
This BWW course challenges women in public safety professions to reflect and identify their own values, goals, strengths and limitations in a safe, supportive, empowering environment. Armed with this increased level of self-awareness, when the time comes and opportunities arise, true Warrior Women will not hesitate to welcome the additional challenge and responsibility of leadership.
Beyond the high-quality academic content and practical tools lies another powerful facet of BWW Leadership: mentoring. This often overused term holds deep meaning at LouKa Tactical. We recognize the power of positive role models in the lives of future leaders. We also recognize that among the most critical tasks of leadership is developing future leaders.
BWW Leadership Symposiums provide networking, coaching, and mentoring opportunities for women in public safety fields, by establishing a physical and social network designed to connect Warrior Women at every rank and capacity of the industry, from all parts of the country. Science tells us that women who see and are influenced by positive female role models are far more likely to step forward and “answer the bell” in their own work environments.
The mission of LouKa’s BWW Leadership Tactics is to help build competence, confidence, and strive to further propel women into formal and informal leadership positions in public safety-related fields regardless of rank. Women have added great value to public safety professions over the past half century.
BWW Leadership Tactics is specifically designed to focus on the value added and to help further develop current and future female public safety leaders to establish strategic vision and address the challenges of public service during the next half century, and well beyond.
P.J. Thompson has worked in public safety fields since 1982, in a variety of leadership positions. She has been a federal agent and certified instructor since 1991 and is currently working with LouKa Tactical in the area of Leadership Training and Organizational Development.