3 Leadership Principles From a New Supervisor

Yup. I got promoted a few weeks ago. As a supervisor in a matrix organization, I’ve assumed responsibility for not only an operational team but also managing the agency’s training function.

In essence, I’m in the middle of two interwoven hierarchies, each running in different directions and environments, with different purposes, people, and systems. With one unit, I’ll be alongside the members most every day, in fast-paced conditions. With the other team, I may not see subordinates for weeks, but will be coordinating long-term goals and innovative projects.

It’d be easy for me to become overwhelmed and bogged down by the minutiae. Because of that, I’m embarking on this new journey with a set of three foundational principles – core leadership concepts that I believe will serve me well regardless of the role or organization.

Support our team in its work.

Instead of an authoritative top-down view of supervision, I believe in underlying unification and support.

I will see to it our team members have the equipment, time, systems, and manpower to successfully handle the problems and opportunities in front of us. This means asking them what they need, but also giving options, suggestions, and direction.

I will find that balance between delegating to specialized experts…and decentralizing responsibilities to avoid reliance upon lynchpins. 

Support also means to ensure the emotional wellbeing of our team members, as our unique functions tend to be stressful, wearisome, and often unappreciated.

Help our members grow.

As a longtime trainer, I’ve studied human performance, education, and growth. Constructive, emotional feedback is a vital component of resiliency. I expect that we learn from failures, mistakes, and bad outcomes…and share those lessons with each other.

I will nudge our members to extend themselves outside their comfort zones. Experiential learning, much like the “shapes box” with which toddlers play, allows them to test different alternatives, especially when the landscape is fresh.

Our teams will challenge themselves in the Why and How we operate. They will be permitted to tap into their creativity, to better navigate complexity and unpredictability. Technical proficiency, while critical to standardization, will take a backseat to social skills and adaptive problem-solving.

Be courageous in what is right.

Courage is different than bravery, in that courage is about being afraid and standing up when it’s unpopular.

My teams do not operate solely in objective Right versus Wrong environments. We function according to a mix of law, policy, ethics, science, research, interpretation, perspective, culture, tradition, and more. As such, discussions and debates will be intent on harmonizing those factors for optimal mindsets, decisions, behaviors, and outcomes.

The expectations and standards will be set high. I refuse to allow fear to keep me from having difficult conversations with my team members. My team members also have my permission to challenge my decisions, in the appropriate conditions and context. Discipline and reward will be based on shared organizational values, principles, and concepts.

These three principles have served me well in the past -- as a husband, father, trainer, project manager, athlete, coach, mentor, and supervisor.

Support our team in its work. 
Help our members grow. 
Be courageous in what is right.

I will continue to reflect on these leadership principles and turn to them as a guide in my new responsibilities…and those still on the horizon.


Lou Hayes, Jr. has been a police officer/detective in suburban Chicago since 1998, but he's a brand new sergeant. He's ready for the challenge! Follow him on Twitter at @LouHayesJr


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