Introducing Servant Leadership Into Police Organization

Servant Leadership in Police Organization

Servant leadership is one of the styles that differ significantly from others. In particular, a servant leader is guided by moral values ​​to support and contribute to the development of the followers. This style is associated with humility and a focus on providing guidance and mentoring. Within the police, this management style can be extremely effective since it involves working to achieve social good and not certain bureaucratic indicators. At the same time, within the existing police structure, this approach can cause difficulties due to the existing system of ranks and input variables. Thus, introducing servant leadership into policing requires a series of cultural changes that will enable officers and supervisors to create an environment for the achievement of shared moral values.

Servant Leadership

The concept of servant leadership is most relevant to a public sector organization as it involves caring for others. According to the definition, “the servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first” (as cited in Chikeleze et al., 2021, p. 5). Servant leaders recognize the importance of serving their followers to ensure their individual and professional growth (Russell et al., 2018). The main feature of this leadership style is a sincere desire to help, which appears before the desire for leadership itself. A servant leader is concerned about the well-being of followers and the whole community, which makes the development of the personalities of those around him or her the focus of his or her activities.

Servant leadership as a research and administrative notion has been gaining popularity relatively recently. It originally emerged as moral and ethical teaching based on Christian readings (Slack et al., 2020). This view of leadership aligns with the biblical assumption that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Holy Bible, 2001, Mark 10:45). Thus, servant leadership implies not only responsible for the organization’s success and performance but also the moral responsibility of the leader to the followers. Sun and Shang (2019) note that the desire of such leaders to serve derives from moral self-identity. A servant leader combines the moral values ​​of others and, on their basis, creates his own moral compass, which determines his identity.

The servant leadership concept can describe how successful organizations function in a modern environment. In comparison to the major traits of a leader, this leadership style has all the necessary qualities to operate effectively. Collins (2001) identifies in the research the traits that are characteristic of Level 5 leaders who successfully manage the world’s largest companies. The main aspect for such people is the ambition that is “directed first and foremost toward the company and its success, not to personal renown” (Wexler et al., 2007, p. 5). It is also important that in case of success, such leaders are grateful to their subordinates and perceive failures as a personal underperformance.

Sun and Shang (2019) underline that such behavior is the highest stage of personal adult development at which individuals are able to “transcend their selves in order to incorporate others” (p. 179). Thus, servant leaders possess an attitude of mature Level 5 leaders who sacrifice personal interests for the good of the company and the followers. Such leaders focus primarily on followers, their well-being and development, and only then on the mission of the organization.

The key leadership characteristics of the heads of the largest companies also include their personal traits. In particular, Collins (2001) notes that a servant “blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will” (p. 21). Gandolfi and Stone (2018) emphasize that servant leaders are characterized by a dichotomy between leadership ability and a sincere misunderstanding of what the concept implies. Thus, leadership is a tool of service for such people.

Within the framework of leadership, the servant can build interpersonal relationships and influence the development of his subordinates, directing their activities since “where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Holy Bible, 2001, Proverbs 11:14). Servant leaders focus on mentoring, skill-building, and self-identification of followers, which is a manifestation of their dedication and dedication to the common cause.

The main activities of servant leadership are also related to the concept of discipline that exists in successful companies. In particular, followers do not need external motivators to be involved in the work process, as they fulfill the unique purpose of the company, which is their personal value (Collins, 2001). Russell et al. (2018) note that the main focus of servant leaders is on community building and contributing to the personal growth of followers. These aspects, in turn, form internal discipline, which is a common value for each member of the organization. Thus, this leadership style provides discipline through the intrinsic moral motivation of followers to achieve a common goal for the good of society.

Based on the described features of servant leadership in comparison with major traits of leaders in general, we can conclude that this type of leadership is the most effective for building a successful organization. It is especially important that this concept also functions in the context of non-profit and public organizations since it involves a focus on achieving a common goal and building a community. Servant leadership is thus particularly applicable to the activities of police organizations.

Servant Leadership in Police Organizations

Servant leadership in the context of the police plays a key role, as it ensures not only the achievement of social good but also the well-being of followers. Russell et al. (2018) note that this leadership style has a direct correlation with the officers’ physical and emotional health and a sense of community belonging. Chikeleze et al. (2021) identify that officers who perceive their supervisor as a servant leader are more satisfied with their job overall. Thus, there are many benefits to using servant leadership in a police organization. The police are not a private enterprise, so their success is measured not by income but by social impact (Wexler et al., 2007). However, the modern police structure relies heavily on input variables such as reports, arrests, closed cases, and costs.

This model often prevents officers from focusing on direct work with the population and solving public problems contributing to output in the form of crime rate reduction. Collins (2001) notes that the discipline inherent in servant leadership is the opposite of bureaucracy. Martin et al. (2017) underline that “historically, police officers were trained for a substantially non-changing bureaucratic structural organisation” (p. 213). Thus, officers view the police as a military order that controls civil society. In this case, management is carried out through a system of ranks and is subject to authority.

This model leads to restricting the decision-making freedom of followers, which, as a result, leads to restricting their potential professional and personal growth. Baker (2017) illustrates with the research that the manifestation of servant leadership on the part of supervisors leads to greater satisfaction and empowerment of officers. This leadership style can influence the identity of officers through the formation of their moral values.

Thus, in policing, servant leadership is associated with a certain amount of cultural change. In particular, servant leadership allows the overall social goal to be placed above the bureaucratic tasks that currently dominate the police force.

Due to the fact that such leaders contribute to the expansion of the decision-making credibility of the followers, as well as expand their opportunities for development, in the long term, they are much more likely to increase the output variables. Moreover, under the leadership of a servant leader, officers will be able to rely less directly on bureaucratic tools, finding new ways for community building and contributing to social goals. This type of leadership will allow them to focus on interpersonal communication and building relationships with citizens, which will have a positive impact on overall performance.

The main cultural change in this regard is also the need to create a learning culture among officers and supervisors. Ortmeier and Meese (2010) note that college programs often do not focus on developing decision-making critical and communication skills. Officers need to perceive leadership as continuous training in new skills and capacity building. At the same time, the servant leader must become a coach and mentor who uses every opportunity to develop followers and their empowerment. It is also important to educate police officers in the field of servant leadership; otherwise, they may misunderstand their responsibilities and functions within the framework of this style. Modern police culture also presupposes authority and power, which limits the scope for the initiative among followers. This aspect must also be part of the cultural change for the utilization of servant leadership.

The main benefit of servant leadership in the police organization is the creation of common morality and discipline. A servant supervisor can greatly positively influence officers’ enthusiasm for community missions. Humility, in this case, can help in avoiding conflicts and building interpersonal relationships that can create a strong team. Baker (2017) also notes that servant leaders are more inclined to admit their mistakes and accept criticism, which creates opportunities for development and overcoming emerging issues. Servant leadership can help build trust between officers and a supervisor who can provide support and advice.

As with any model, servant leadership, along with its advantages, also has a number of disadvantages, which are especially applicable to policing. In particular, servant leadership is associated with the desire of a leader to create an organization that would work to achieve a common goal and generates good for society. However, in this case, humble servant leaders, while not devoid of personal egos, do not work diligently to create their own names (Wexler et al., 2007).

The police bureaucracy and ranking system are related to appointments that can only be made if there is universal acceptance for a particular candidate. In the case of servant leaders, their merits are often nationally invisible, making it difficult to recognize true servant leaders. Additionally, this management style can cause distrust on the part of the command, as it is not sufficiently autocratic and strong. This factor may also be the result of the city government’s desire to see immediate results rather than long-term development. It is also important that some officers may perceive the servant leader as being overly soft, which will undermine discipline and motivation.

Brief Plan of Implementation

First of all, for the implementation of servant leadership, it is necessary to create a people-centered police culture aimed at developing the skills and empowerment of officers. An effective plan should focus on two key aspects, including quality management practices and the creation of a learning culture. These factors are fundamental to meeting the basic principles of servant leadership in policing and require the involvement of senior management.

  1. Creation of a performance assessment system that would reflect not only output and input indicators but also the personal successes of officers. This aspect is important not only for the satisfaction of followers and tracking their results but also for adequate adjustment of the supervisor’s actions. With the help of the system, the leader will be able to determine what qualities of this or that officer need development and what prospects for growth exist.
  2. It is also important to present to officers the principles of quality management, which will allow them to focus not on certain indicators but on achieving a common goal and social values. Under this system, rules and regulations can fade into the background, allowing followers to focus on performance and creativity. In particular, this tool will also help develop motivation and create a community united by a common goal.
  3. The creation of a learning culture presupposes the constant involvement of leaders as a coach and mentors. This process is also linked to a scoring system that helps the supervisor determine which aspects need improvement. It is also important in this aspect to include constant feedback from officers in order to respond to their needs. Additionally, the servant leader needs to structure the assignment in such a way that they contribute to the development of initiative, critical, and decision-making skills of the followers. It is crucial at this stage to work on team building through improved communication and community building.


Servant leadership is a relatively new concept in the management literature. This aspect is explained by the fact that this leadership style focuses on the followers and the common goal that stands in front of them and not on the achievement of certain indicators. Within the framework of private business, this approach can be associated with a number of risks and requires a significant overhaul of the company’s management system.

However, in relation to structures such as the police, whose main goal is to ensure public order and improve the quality of life of citizens, servant leadership is the most valuable model. This style is based on the moral responsibility of the leader to society and followers, as well as the creation of a close-knit team to work on a common goal. Moreover, a focus on the empowerment of followers is the key to the long-term positive change that the police need now. While the implementation of this approach involves a number of cultural and structural changes, the use of servant leadership in the police can lead to significant efficiency gains.


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