Mentorship Prepares Young Officers for Leadership Opportunities
Many people approaching retirement might be thinking about how they’ll enjoy their upcoming leisure time. My thoughts are on the legacy that I’ll leave as a leader in public service.
I’m a member of the Baby Boomer generation and I know when I retire, so will millions of my generational brothers and sisters. Before leaving for our well-deserved rest or a fulfilling second career, Boomers should be mindful of what our exodus will do to the organizational structures of the government offices and public and private industries that we leave behind.
While all businesses are at risk, Boomers retiring from law enforcement at the local, state and federal level have the capacity to create a unique chaos. The exodus of experienced workers will create a “leadership gap” unless law enforcement agencies have management-approved succession programs in place now or plans to implement one soon. Without succession planning, the retirement of Boomers could leave behind inexperienced commanders devoid of the necessary skills to lead officers and departments. Situations like this can create potentially dangerous situations, endangering the lives of the public and officers alike.
This is not an overstatement—think about the leadership in your organization today. How many executives, directors or high-level managers are eligible for retirement now, or in a few years? Think about how deep of a leadership gap would be created if every eligible employee retired within six months of each other. How will your organization continue to thrive without experienced leaders, or the next generation of leaders trained and ready to take the helm? Now, consider if this same gap occurred in your local police force.
A model to prepare for the inevitable
Agencies at the local, state and federal levels are as vulnerable to the leadership gap as businesses—but in my state the problem is compounded.
In California, police men and women are eligible to retire at 50—and many do, which has the potential to create an even larger gap. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies in California have state support to formally train future leaders. These programs identify the tenured officers who are likely to retire and which positions must be replaced.
In my opinion, our formal and informal programs help young officers gain the confidence needed to lead in law enforcement, while leaving foundational footprints that add a rich, historical perspective.
A legacy of consistent leadership
Leadership is emphasized at all levels of law enforcement. In my department in Newark, California, each officer receives incentive pay for education, regardless of their seniority or grade. Young officers are encouraged to learn and prepare to step into leadership roles.
One of the Newark Police Department’s formal programs involves placing officers in acting roles just above their grade. They’re assigned shifts working with acting supervisors. Trainees do all of the work required of the position, under close supervision, giving them the benefit of experience to fulfill the requirements of an advanced position.
Another program creates a mentorship program for rookies who have just graduated from the police academy. New graduates are paired with senior officers to create an immediate bridge between education and practice. The experienced officers help rookies understand department culture and procedures in an actual police department. This program establishes a connection with a mentor immediately, to help new officers break down barriers and serve the public interest.
There are also informal opportunities to share knowledge, such as brown-bag lunches for young officers who want to move up in rank. Senior officers conduct friendly talks with younger colleagues over a cup of coffee or lunch. This unites generations in a common purpose: to create strong, future leadership from a teamwork perspective.
Informal mentoring is important because there’s a special camaraderie formed by hallway conversations and lunchroom chats that doesn’t happen in classrooms. I’ve found that in these situations senior officers are more accessible to junior officers, which creates a comfortable give-and-take relationship.
Mentorship transforms lives
My life has been made better by the senior officers who’ve taken the time to help me become the best officer that I’m capable of being. In fact, I’m still in contact with several early mentors long after they’ve retired.
In 2002, a mentor I respected gave me an educational pamphlet for a Master of Arts (MA) in Public Leadership. Prior to that day, I’d believed that my bachelor’s degree was enough. But after I read about the Public Leadership degree program, I went back to school after 21 years and earned my master’s. This degree has had a tremendous benefit to my career and personal life. It may not have happened without a mentor who knew me and cared enough to help me reach my full potential. And, it wouldn’t have happened if my department didn’t have a plan to develop officers.
There’s no doubt that my being mentored brings great rewards. But, my joy is in teaching and mentoring, because I witness the transformation of my officers and students over time. They begin the journey one way and as they continue to work, they become stronger, more confident and become leaders who will guide our community and maintain public safety. And, knowing that California has succession development programs gives me the peace of mind, because I know public safety is being left in good hands.
To learn more about law enforcement succession planning, read about a study conducted by Hector Garcia.