Practice the three stages of learning in leadership

College and university police chiefs and directors share many common daily objectives. They include pursuing financial resources, seeking technologies that best suit and support their organizations, or facilitating the application of what seems like a never-ending array of new and more complex legislation on behalf of the institutions they serve and protect.

Yet the real common denominator in all department heads’ constant objectives isn’t so much what they can acquire, but rather, what they must create.

That elusive ingredient that none of us can ever have enough of is, of course, leadership.

What most existing leaders of organizations find is that the process of cultivating an organization that will develop successive leaders is in many cases — too many cases — determined long before they themselves ascend to the role of chief or director. This is because the most successful of these individuals evolve and grow through a process of leadership development that has three very clear and distinct stages in which the concepts of providing the skills, strategies and vision are interwoven with one another. These leaders constantly reach into new areas of learning, return to the foundational knowledge they already had, and combine their new and existing knowledge to reach for another opportunity.

The first stage of leadership, what I describe as the Confidence Stage, occurs ever so subtly at first. Often launched from a sense of shared admiration and respect, the newly identified leader often assumes a role that includes specifically directing others toward an objective. You may recognize the familiar models of these leaders: new sergeants or supervisors. Theirs is a new identity typically created by a promotional process that entails a largely undefined realm of authority to accompany a very clear line of responsibilities.

New supervisors venture into this role with caution, and with each successful act of direction and support of the people they lead, a new form of confidence in their skills evolves.

The second stage of leadership — the Learning Stage — understandably overlaps the first arena of leading because the supervisors have begun to consistently meet day-to-day challenges with accuracy in both their understanding of the issue(s) as well as their level and style of response to the scenario. Leaders in the Learning Stage are foundationally confident in their skills — but not arrogant — and now also begin to recognize and examine their understanding of the issues in more sophisticated, thorough and immediate contexts. Leaders in this stage also begin to apply methods that strategically call upon others to not only participate in the solution process so that they can develop advanced levels of their own evolving leadership skills, but also participate by employing their own suggestions and ideas in the solution cycle. This creates new levels of shared experience and, in turn, much deeper levels of trust between team members and the supervisor.

These first two stages of leadership intensify as the leader matures. In many cases, these leaders seek to be and successfully are promoted to new levels in the organization, often becoming lieutenants or captains. Along the way, the leaders continue to acquire the qualities of the Confidence and Learning stages of leadership, providing them with an incredibly rich library-like ensemble of experience, fluency, understanding and trust of self. Along the way, those whom leaders have developed have seen their own skill sets grow and become more versatile.

The third stage of leadership is interesting in that it does not need the distinction of a particular rank or assignment to provide any degree of additional authenticity. In fact, the Facilitation Stage is the most easily identifiable mindset to the rest of the organization solely because of the actions leaders in this stage take.

Where Confidence Stage leaders are almost exclusively and rightly focused upon those assigned to them, and Learning Stage leaders begin to explore opportunities and settings to directly invest their knowledge to their peers, the Facilitation Stage leader arrives at the unique place in which leading becomes an omni-directional paradigm of what and how this leader should contribute to the development of the organization’s individuals, groups and entirety.

Facilitation Stage leaders may very well be chiefs or directors, but this does not restrict them from finding and effectively using appropriate opportunities to widening the perspective of superiors, peers and subordinates alike. These leaders also incorporate a deliberate form of risk as a method of causing them to return to scenarios in which their own Confidence and Learning stages are genuinely exercised and challenged anew, providing new understanding of the power of leadership — and new ways to contribute to the growth of others.

The Three Stages of Leadership are indeed a perpetual motion–like process that constantly seeks to acquire and immediately share the dividends of the experience. And, in a world of colleges and universities, what a wonderful way to actively illustrate another definition to the meaning of higher education.

This article appears in the November 2015 edition of Campus Security Report.