who’s side are you on anyway?

I’ve been doing this “leadership” think for a while now. I’ve done the NCO thing in the military, I’ve moved up the supervision chain in LE, etc.

While I hesitate to speak from a position of “expertise” on leadership ( I always feel like I’m still learning), there is an aspect of it I seem to see time and again that I would like to discuss and that is  the confusion over “where your loyalty lies”.

In a nutshell the question is this. Are you a representative of management there to “keep an eye on things”, implementing your superiors policies and looking for “violators”? Or are you a “representative of your men” who looks out for their welfare and protects them from the wrath of your bosses? This issue is sharpest for that mid level leader like a Sergeant or Lieutenant who has direct contact with “the grunts”.

In my opinion this is the first hurdle every new leader seems to face. If not understood it can become an entrenched mindset throughout their career, and only becomes magnified the higher up the leadership ladder they climb.

Of course…as with any complex issue, the reality is never as black and white as I paraphrased above. A good leader has to realize that he has a foot in two worlds. It’s your job to make the ship go in the direction your superiors want it to go…you are not “one of the guys” anymore. However, you are never going to be the “leader of men” I would hope you want to be if you look at the people actually doing the work as drones vs “your people”.

I look at it like this:


With superiors above you and subordinates below you you can look at yourself as an “advocate” for either side. Ideally you want to span a place somewhere in the middle. It’s your job to implement the decisions of your superiors AND it’s also your job to look out for the welfare of your subordinates (both personal and professional welfare) and to be a representative for them when dealing with your superiors.


If you tend to be a leader who “sides” with your superiors in all situations, with no interest in standing up for your subordinates when you believe that a new policy is wrong, or that punishment being levied is unfair or excessive you will be seen as a suck up at best or a tyrant at worst.

If your boss tells you to “write someone up” for something you don’t believe they did wrong, do you just do it? Are you always afraid that if you argue or disagree with your boss that you may harm your chances for a promotion? Are you “scared” of your boss so you just do what your are told with no regard to your personal opinions of right or wrong? You are placing yourself and your concerns over those of the people you are responsible for.

Of course there is the flip side:


Are you afraid of being disliked? Do you avoid difficult discussions or dread delivering orders that you know are necessary but are going to be disliked? Do you overlook things because it’s easier than dealing with them?

You can’t be “one of the boys” either. Part of your job is being the person who has to do the tough thing when it comes down to it. If you don’t act like a leader your career as one will either be short lived or come to a dead end.

My suggestions? You have to look at yourself and make an honest appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses. A person who, in their heart of hearts, knows that they tend to be “one of the boys” has some hope. He/She knows that they have a weakness and that’s the first step to correcting it. Small changes over time is usually the best remedy vs trying to become a “hard ass” overnight. It’s the people who sincerely believe that their subordinates are simply people to step on in the climb for advancement that are the real problem.

And in conclusion:

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4 thoughts on “who’s side are you on anyway?”

  1. Eight years as a sergeant and 12 years as a lieutenant. They always knew where I was at. if they were right they were right and if they were wrong they knew what to expect. My last 8 years was in Internal affairs.
    They knew I would give them a fair shake. My first “big one” involved a deputy that I had worked with and then he worked for me almost 20 years. He had pulled a gun on his father-in-law and threatened to kill him. I did the internal and found him responsible. He was terminated. The city pd did the criminal and there was no issue from the prosecutor. They used my investigation and charged him. It didn’t go through the full trial as the father and mother-in-laws refused to testify. One of my hardest cases. Two years later we got our pension. That was almost 20 years ago. I’m retired on that pension, he’s still working. last I heard as a security guard. I later had a conversation with my Dad, he said if he had it to do over, he would have never gotten involved in supervision…I have often wondered what I would do….

  2. Hello Tom,

    You’ve got it just about right. Some subtle differences of opinion here and there but in the main I agree with what you wrote. Please repost you comments to the Southeastern Martial Arts Blog; I’d love to have all of my members there read your post. It goes so nicely with my past comments about leadership and teaching.

  3. Hey Starrman…yeah..it’s a tough row to hoe. What makes it even more difficult in LE (vs MIL in most situations) is the fact that you “come up” through the same ranks you are then expected to lead. It’s tougher commanding a bunch of people who have seen all of your dirty laundry than it is being the “new Lt” who nobody knows (or can remember all of his #$%^ up’s).

  4. tgace, Got to E-2 @ Ft Polk before they gave me a medical, VN winding down and they didn’t need the excess baggage. I had quite a few bring up the “Days of Future Past”…Not that I was the best, at my department it came down to the lesser of the two evils…and my worst was a career total of 15 car-deer crashes…still a record! Comes with working the midnight shift with Wed-thu pass days…**sigh**

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