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Emphasizing the servant in public service: the opinions of police managers

Gennaro F. Vito (Department of Justice Administration, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)
Geetha Suresh (Department of Justice Administration, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)
George E. Richards (Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, Pennsylvania, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 8 November 2011

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to determine the opinion of 126 police managers from 23 US states regarding their ideal leadership style as expressed under the items of the leader behavior description questionnaire (LBDQ).

Design/methodology/approach

Police managers attending a management course – the Administrative Officer's Course at the Southern Police Institute during the academic year 2007‐2008 – were surveyed regarding their opinions of ideal leadership styles. They responded to items on the leadership behavior questionnaire. The analysis is based on this survey.

Findings

Item analysis of their responses revealed the existence of three subscales (servant, autocratic, and laissez‐faire leadership), ANOVA revealed a strong preference for the style of servant leadership. These results indicate that these police managers believe that leaders should follow the tenets of servant leadership. They rejected the creeds of both the autocratic, command and control method and the hands‐off, detached style of laissez‐faire leadership. Policing has been long considered an autocratic, quasi‐military organization, yet these police managers expressed a decided preference for servant leadership.

Research limitations/implications

Taking into account the limitations of the data set used in current analyses, the sample characteristics and the sample size, results should be interpreted cautiously. The sample used in this analysis is not a probability sample and cannot be considered representative for the entire population of American police officers. Because this is only an exploratory analysis, the sample used was relatively small. In addition, the LBDQ may not be the most appropriate scale to assess levels of servant leadership. Future studies on this subject and population should take heed of these limitations. However, due to the positive responses received from this sample concerning the applicability of servant leadership in police organizations, justification for further research on this subject is warranted.

Originality/value

The results indicate this sample of police managers believe that leaders should follow the tenets of servant leadership as expressed under the items of the leader behavior description questionnaire. Compared to these values, they rejected the creeds of both the autocratic, command and control method and the hands‐off, detached style of laissez‐faire leadership. Policing has been long considered an autocratic, quasi‐military organization, yet these police managers expressed a decided preference for the style of servant leadership. Perhaps a new wave of leaders is coming to policing with different ways of thinking about how the organization should operate.

Keywords

Citation

Vito, G.F., Suresh, G. and Richards, G.E. (2011), "Emphasizing the servant in public service: the opinions of police managers", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 674-686. https://doi.org/10.1108/13639511111180270

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited