Blue Line

Bright lights – A new leadership model

April 8, 2013  By Robert Lunney

by Robert Lunney

The annual Blue Line Magazine Police Leader of the Year Award was created to recognize those who have demonstrated exemplary leadership and commitment to service through deeds resulting in a measurable benefit to their peers, police service and community. The distinguished panel of judges for 2012 has identified an exemplary candidate, just one among many worthy officers nominated for this honour.

The criterion for the leadership award is a harbinger of change yet to come. The model of leadership and its exercise is evolving as police organizations adapt to new conditions. The philosophy of community policing supplanted the professional model beginning with the late 1970’s, calling for greater delegation of authority to front line units. Team leaders and local officers were encouraged to use police discretion to solve problems and the concept of leadership at all levels came into vogue. This movement was soon reinforced by the power and influence of improved information services, the Internet and social media. These new capacities enhanced the role of team leaders and Individual officers, enabling them to be more than just receptors of information, functioning now as real-time analysts, decision makers and potent producers of information and knowledge.

Hierarchy is on the way out, although the transition will be gradual. Top leadership will remain responsible for strategy, goal setting, control over process and stewardship of the organizational culture. Organizations, however, will be designed as systems in the sense that work will be organized through a grouping of independent but interrelated activity centres comprising a unified whole. The traditional model of command and control will yield influence to this network of activity hubs with a capacity for distributed decision making and problem solving.


Currently we picture our organizations in the form of hierarchical line and box charts. In the new world of distributed information and authority, it makes more sense to think of the organization as a molecular structure, where each activity node is interconnected to many others and where short term circuits interact, energizing problem solvers and exploiting opportunities in real time fashion. The molecular image, visualized as a network of bright lights, is strikingly more dynamic than the restrictive boxes and vertical silos of traditional organizational charts.

In the information age, depending on the challenge of the moment, teams and individuals best capable of managing a problem or a threat to the community become energized and animated and other parts of the organization spontaneously combine to support them. The indispensable chain of command remains in place, but with more fluidity. Temporary structures will be activated as befits the operational challenge. One current example is the rapidity by which other units mobilize to support an investigation by a homicide unit or band together compulsively to solve a signal crime.

The temporary shortening of the chain of command in an emergency is another example in use today. In similar fashion, a project or problem undertaken by a single officer will seamlessly attract the support of others with talent or resources to contribute. This “bright light” metaphor recognizes new realities and illustrates the growing prominence of talented officers like those nominated for the Blue Line Leadership Award in 2012, bright lights all.

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