SWAT Team Leadership
Written by Jim Polan
Stripes on a sleeve or brass on a collar do not define leadership. A true leader will make a decision without having all of the facts - a poor decision is better than no decision at all. A decision maker has the courage to stand by his decision with conviction. Leaders possess the ability to use their imagination to accomplish the goal and are willing to fumble the ball at times before they throw the touchdown.
A true leader projects a level of confidence and uses his imagination to inspire others. Leaders will talk about the future and establish short and long term goals without making promises. They are more prepared than others and are able to deliver at least one good idea at every meeting.
Personal credibility is a must. Once you lose your credibility with peers, subordinates or supervisors, you will not regain it. A true leader is not concerned with making friends but is concerned with "doing the right thing."
A true leader will treat people fairly. He will strictly honor the old adage, "Coach in private, praise in public." Leaders cannot rule by fear, intimidation or retaliation. Public or peer humiliation is not a trait of a leader. Strong interpersonal relations exhibit the ability to effectively communicate with your team.
A leader is concerned about team success not individual attention. A leader will not act as a dictator, but seek out suggestions from others. A true leader will realize that more ideas are better than one idea and that the right answer may not belong to them. A leader is not fearful of others who may have ways to improve a tactic or strategy. True leaders surround themselves with strong, bright performers.
A true leader is physically fit, since this establishes a level of confidence and command presence. Fitness provides a positive first impression. They both talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk. Physical fitness shows you are disciplined, motivated, confident in your ability, and able to reach your goals. It demonstrates a level of enthusiasm and motivation.
The leader must possess the skills and abilities to demonstrate and participate in the task he leads. Verbal explanation is not enough. A physical demonstration is required to establish a level of acceptance. If there are standards or qualifications that members of that team are expected to hold, then the leader must also live by those standards.
If you have just arrived to the team with an administrative appointment, you must rise to the occasion. Reading a book will provide you with knowledge. However, observation and participation will give you wisdom and allow the team to develop a level of respect. Watch and learn that physical fitness, firearm proficiency and tactical ability share a three-sided triangle.
During physical fitness training, the leader will run with the team, perform push-ups with the team, and be a part of the physical fitness qualifications. You demonstrate your commitment to the team lead by example. During firearms training, you must shoot with the team and demand high standards. You reflect commitment and dedication by participation with the team.
You lead by example. You lead from the front. During tactical training, gear up with the team with your assigned equipment. Keep your helmet on, be the first to put on a protective mask, and the last to take it off.
The team won't remember the numerous administrative decisions that were made by you, the long budget meetings, or the interference that was provided with other command level personnel to continue with a safe mission. But they will remember when you ran, shot and picked up brass. The bottom line is a true leader will lead by example - nothing more, nothing less.
Jim Polan is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement. He retired as a Captain with the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Police, where he was assigned to Tactical Operations (SWAT). He is currently a Captain with the Seminole, Fla Police. He is also an adjunct instructor for the University of North Florida, Institute of Public Safety and Miami-Dade Community College. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2012
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