The topic of leadership is one that has attracted a lot of interest from academicians as well as practitioners. A lot of research has been conducted on the topic with the aim of establishing what exactly leadership entails. There is in fact thousands of books, articles and other publications on this topic. Leadership has also been exposed to a variety of definitions with many scholars failing to come to a consensus in regard to the most accurate definition. Nevertheless, leadership is often seen by many as the organizational process through which an individual influences other people towards attaining or achieving common goals. Leadership is applicable to various fields of life. It is particularly prevalent in various sectors of governance with one of these sectors being the criminal justice field. Leaders in various sectors such as the criminal justice field usually have high expectations placed on them by the people who have put them in these positions and for them to meet these expectations, they must possess a particular set of skills and traits or characteristics. Much research has been conducted to establish the dominant characteristics of successful leaders in the criminal justice field as well as the leadership styles that they adopt. The research has yielded a lot of relevant findings. This paper aims to analyze some of the leadership styles and characteristics that have been identified by research as being contributive to the creation of successful criminal justice leaders.
As mentioned earlier, leaders who hope to be successful must possess a certain set of characteristics that enable them to conduct their jobs effectively. This point is reiterated by David McCullum, who states that there is a set of several attributes that every leader must develop as well as perfect in order to be effective in the leadership role. According to McCullum, these attributes improve an individual’s overall leadership style. To find out more on these attributes, McCullum conducted a study using leaders from a certain element of the criminal justice field; the Department of Corrections. The participants were derived from the Florida Department of Corrections, and each had an average leadership experience of 18 years. The participants were provided with a list containing ten leadership attributes and were asked to rank the attributes in the order of importance (McCullum, n.d). The ranking was then analyzed and the list of attributes arranged according to importance as suggested by the participants. The results showed that the main leadership attributes in their order of importance are; integrity, trustworthy, competence, decision-making, follower, courage, visionary, self-confidence, formal communication and grapevine communication (McCullum, n.d).
The results from this study by McCullum shows that when it comes to criminal justice leaders, the most powerful attribute or characteristic is integrity. Integrity defines one as a leader. People are judged by their action not only when they are on the job but also when they are off duty. Integrity is an important trait for any criminal justice leader because an individual who has integrity would also be characterized by other related traits including trustworthy, honesty, self-confidence, courage and initially competence to make adequate decisions. These are all very important skills for criminal justice leaders as the criminal justice field is very expansive and comprises a lot of stakeholders. For them to be led successfully and to be inspired to strive towards achieving common goals, the leader must be effective overall.
Another study conducted by Schafer (2010) revealed almost similar findings. The study by Schafer focuses on the policing section of the criminal justice field which he contends has been understudied. In this study, Schafer main purpose was to examine effective leadership and leaders. The study gave special consideration to the habits and traits of effective as well as ineffective leaders, leadership efficacy assessment, leadership development, and finally the barriers hindering the expansion or increase of more effective leaders in the criminal justice field (Schafer 2010). Surveys were conducted on over 1000 police leaders and superiors and the respondents were asked to rank the habits and traits of effective as well as ineffective leaders, the methods of evaluating leadership efficacy and the barriers hindering the expansion of more effective leadership and leaders (Schafer 2010).
The results of this study suggest that the respondents viewed effective and ineffective leaders as being on opposite sides of the traits and habits spectrum. Leadership efficacy was mainly associated with traits such as integrity, communication, work ethic and care for personnel (Schafer 2010). The respondents characterized ineffective leaders as not possessing any of these traits. Leadership development was identified as a process that was best achieved through a mixture of education, training, experience as well as feedback. Finally, the main barriers to effective leadership and leaders’ expansion were mainly structural, political and cultural in nature and not fiscal.
Several conclusions and implications can be identified from this study with the main on being that highly rated habits and traits of leadership are linked with personality traits. There is a need to develop effective skills in criminal justice leaders, and development efforts should not solely focus on exposing leaders to perspectives and theories of leadership. Rather, guided experience and mentoring should be a key part of this process.
Another study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Assistance also brings into light the traits of successful criminal justice leaders. This study sought to answer five primary questions all centering on innovation. The first question sought to find out the amount of innovation in criminal justice leaders. The second question sought to answer the role that data plays in informing the various decisions made by criminal justice leaders. Thirdly, the study sought to find out how leaders in criminal justice obtain information on new ideas. The fourth question sought to find out failure experiences among the leaders and their responses to such failures. Finally, the study sought to find out the main characteristics shared by innovative criminal justice leaders. Over 600 senior agency leaders from across the nation were surveyed. These included police chiefs, chief judges, heads of prosecuting agencies, state court administrators, and juvenile justice and community corrections officials (Labriola, Gold & Kahn, 2013).
In regard to the results, many participants expressed that many criminal justice leaders indeed take part in a wide range of innovative practices. When it came to the second question, about 89% of the respondents indicated they used data and research to guide their decisions. This can be attributed to the recent campaign by the Department of Justice encouraging its various stakeholders to adopt evidence-based practices. About 50% indicated that they use outside evaluators to assess their work (Labriola, Gold & Kahn, 2013). Many showed willingness to read various publications covering new criminal justice ideas if it assisted them to improve their leadership skills. In terms of failure, the results showed that many of the criminal justice leaders had in fact been involved in initiatives or programs that did not work due to a variety of reasons. The main response described by the criminal justice leaders to the failure was to make changes to the initiative and then continue with it (Labriola, Gold & Kahn, 2013). Finally, the respondents in the survey who rated themselves as innovative had a higher likelihood of reporting that they had at time or another operated or undertaken a failing initiative, had responded to the failure by making adequate changes and finally, most embraced research (Labriola, Gold & Kahn, 2013).
There are several things that can be drawn from this research with one of them being that successful criminal justice leaders must be innovative in nature. The criminal justice field has become very dynamic and in order to stay at par with the dynamics, leaders must derive new means and ways of carrying out their duties and driving forward various criminal justice processes (Cole et al., 2014). For example, increased rates of crimes means that prosecutors, judges, and other criminal court staff must come up with faster ways or processes of prosecuting cases so as to avoid case backlogs that are a serious impediment to the fast administration of justice. For new means and ways of prosecution to be established, innovative leaders must be present. Additionally successful criminal justice leaders are those who adopt evidence-based approaches in administering their duties (Heifitz & Linsky, 2002). These are approaches that have been proven to work or have been proven to be effective. Successful criminal justice leaders are those who enrich their personal knowledge and seek further ideas from criminal justice publications including journals that have crucial information that may assist in the development of new ideas related to criminal justice and that can improve it as a field (Cole et al., 2014).
Karimu (2012) has also studied leadership styles and traits of successful criminal leaders and found out several things. First of all, successful criminal justice leaders are dedicated and also show great commitment to the philosophies of the criminal justice organization. Such leaders operate within the established behavior codes and laws (Karimu (2012). This way, leaders work as role models. Another important trait associated with successful criminal justice leaders is dynamism (Karimu, 2012). Leadership positions essentially require a perfect balance of basic values in volatile and competitive environment (Karimu, 2012). Consequently, the ability of leaders to exhibit success in the performance of roles and functions needs the ability to adapt so as to cope with changing mandates, pressures, and focus. This attribute goes hand in hand with innovativeness.
Karimu (2012) goes forward to posit that successful criminal justice leaders are not only dynamic but are also skillful and knowledgeable about their job. This is perhaps shown best through the enthusiasm by many criminal justice leaders to read various criminal justice publications so as to keep abreast with new developments in the fields and also capture new ideas. Other related characteristics of criminal justice leaders include adaptability, versatility, and flexibility. In terms of versatility, successful criminal justice leaders are versatile across various facets including legal issues, strategic planning, gender issues, social issues, law enforcement matters and media relations. Criminal justice leaders with such qualities have little problems performing their leadership roles effectively, especially when giving guidance to subordinates, (Schafer, 2010).
Successful criminal leaders are also ethical in nature. Ethics enables leaders to distinguish between right and wrong and consequently make the right decision when faced with a variety of options. Ethics is an important component of the criminal justice field especially in regard to leadership given that many professionals and leaders working in this field are often faced with a variety of situations that require the making of choices that can either be wrong or right. As agents of the criminal justice field, the duties and role of these people are based on public trust, and they also have enormous power over others which must be used ethically.
Ethics apply to successful criminal justice leaders in that it enables them to realize the enormous power that has been placed on them and that they have to use appropriately not just to benefit themselves, their families and friends but the society as a whole (Pollock, 2010). In fact, ethical practice essentially teaches the criminal justice leaders to comprehend the division line between organizational integrity, friendship, the organization goals and efficiency, and the clients’ interests. In addition, ethical practice enables criminal justice leaders to find the line of demarcation between personal feelings, biases, interests and the professional job standards. (Pollock, 2010).
Ethics can, in fact, be the determinant of whether a criminal justice leader is successful or unsuccessful. Leadership based on ethics is likely to be successful as the leader will espouse qualities that will motivate and inspire others to follow suit and strive towards the achievement of common organizational goals and the improvement of the criminal justice field as a whole (Heifitz & Linsky, 2002).
Some of the successful leaders within the United States criminal justice system espouse some of the characteristics mentioned above. An example is Kamala Davis, who is the current attorney general for the state of California. Kamala is a strong woman who has been revolutionized the California justice department with her zeal. She exhibits attributes such as integrity, innovativeness, and versatility. Some of these attributes are observable in her intensive campaign to protect the natural resources in her state. Being a strong proponent of gun control, it is her flexibility that has enabled her to get along with those opposed to gun control in her state. The current United States Chief Justice, John Roberts is another leader whose superb leadership skills and traits are visible for everyone to see. He has managed to build a legacy for himself with his prudent decisions and handling of various federal issues. Recent examples include the landmark ruling on the Affordable Care Act.
The discussion above has shown that leadership is a relatively complex aspect. In the criminal justice field, leaders are endowed with a host of responsibilities and they can only be successful if they have a certain set of attributes that will assist them to lead others effectively. Much research has been conducted on this issue, and there are three primary conclusions that can be drawn from the findings of this research and that can benefit future criminal justice leaders.
The most powerful attribute or characteristic that any criminal justice leader should seek to gain is integrity. Integrity defines one as a leader and an individual who has integrity would also be characterized by other related traits including trustworthy, honesty, self-confidence, courage and initially competence to make adequate decisions.
Criminal justice leaders must possess innovation, adaptability, versatility, and flexibility so as to be able to deal with the different dynamics of the criminal justice field.
Criminal justice leaders must be ethical since enables them to find the line of demarcation between personal feelings, biases, interest and the professional job standards.
Cole, G., Smith, C., & DeJong, C. (2014). The American system of criminal justice. Cengage Learning.
Heifitz, R. A., & Linsky, M. (2002). Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Karimu, O. (2012). Understanding Leadership Standards and Ethical Practices in Criminal Justice. Asian journal of social sciences & humanities, 1(3), 23-31.
Labriola, M., Gold, E., & Kahn, J. (2013). Leadership and Innovation in Criminal Justice: A National Survey.
McCallum, David W. "Leadership within the Florida Department of Corrections."
Pollock, J. M. (2010). Ethical dilemmas and decisions making in criminal justice (6th ed.). Belmont, California: Wadsworth.
Schafer, J. (2008). Effective police leadership: Experiences and perspectives of law enforcementleaders. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 77(7), 13-19
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