The 1992 Los Angeles riots led law enforcement executives to the department of behavioral sciences at West Point. Its curriculum would evolve and prove effective in enhancing leadership. One test came September 11.

There is nothing magical about leadership, and there is nothing magical about teaching it or learning it. Leadership is the synthesis of cognitive, emotional, and social intelligence, acting upon and within the situational dynamics shared with followers.

Leadership by definition is the ability to influence others to pursue and accomplish organizational goals and objectives. Influence implies the ability to motivate followers to want to accomplish those goals. Influence is not coercive but rather the igniting of an internalized passion to meet organizational goals. Understanding motivational theories—rationally communicated and applied to any leadership challenge—will likely motivate followers.

These theories and their application can be effectively taught in a manner that provides new and future leaders with a toolbox of leadership skills, knowledge, and abilities. One such method has proven effective at the United States Military Academy at West Point and to law enforcement executives: the case study method.

Leadership Training Prioritized

The 1991 arrest of Rodney King and the Los Angeles riots of 1992 served as catalysts for the development of training programs for law enforcement leadership. The 1991 Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), also known as the Christopher Commission, investigated the Rodney King incident and ultimately called for formal leadership training of police supervisors and commanders. Within The City in Crisis: A Report by the Special Advisor to the Board of Police Commissioners on Civil Disorders in Los Angeles, William H. Webster and Hubert Williams concluded that "the chief of police should make it a high priority to improve training, experience, and leadership of the command staff of the department."

Historically, the FBI National Academy and similar programs provided police management training programs. The curriculum traditionally focused on management skills rather than leadership skills. The demand for leadership training led officials of the LAPD to seek assistance from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Concomitantly, a group from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police approached West Point for the same reason. This unplanned confluence of law enforcement executives at West Point led to the development of a dynamic leadership training program.

West Point had been training military leaders since 1802, and its faculty had a proven and adaptable organizational leadership curriculum. With a respected tradition of academic and professional excellence, West Point provided a unique solution to the challenges of leadership development within law enforcement.

Partnership with the Military Academy

In June 1993, 10 command-level law enforcement officers attended a faculty development workshop at the department of behavioral sciences and leadership at West Point. Five of these officers were from New Jersey and five were from the LAPD. For four weeks, these officers studied organizational leadership and learned how to teach it to West Point standards. The following summer, five additional officers from New Jersey and five from LAPD received this training at West Point. Each of these sessions placed law enforcement officers with new and returning West Point faculty members. This combination of experienced military officers holding doctorates in organizational behavior and related disciplines with well-educated law enforcement officers provided the foundation for leadership development within law enforcement. The challenge for these law enforcement officers was not only to learn the course content within four weeks but also to learn the teaching methods used at West Point.

Leadership, as taught at West Point, is not the autocratic, top-down, military style of leadership that one may surmise. Organizational leadership, as taught by the department of behavioral sciences and leadership at West Point, is designed to develop, "smart, thoughtful, and reflective leaders, according to the curriculum." The course, Military Leadership (PL300), is designed to provide leaders with an understanding of contemporary and traditional motivational theories. The course pedagogy is prefaced upon case studies designed to develop the student's ability to apply relevant theories to a practical leadership challenge, to diagnose the root cause of the challenge and to develop a leader action plan that will remediate the underlying cause. The curriculum is designed to provide students with an understanding of individual, group, and systems dynamics. The complexity of variables and interaction of theories increases as the course progresses. Lecture is minimized and facilitation is favored as students discuss theories and apply them to theory-specific case studies. These case studies integrate theories within an environment that relates to the students' current and future areas of responsibility, organizational culture, task environment, and situations that students are likely to encounter.

This case-study curriculum was first introduced to the initial group of law enforcement officers. Case studies are written so that they directly relate to a leadership theory covered in the assigned readings. West Point case studies are based on military situations where enlisted personnel interact with non-commissioned officers. The plot of these case studies illustrates a motivational challenge clearly evidenced by performance or communication with the subordinate. They are clearly and simply written with sufficient indicators to enable the student to identify the logical root cause of the challenge.

"Painting Them Blue"

These case studies are written much like a short story, with the plot designed around a behavioral science theory. Characters interact as they would within a related work environment. The characters are the stakeholders affected by the situation depicted and subsequent leader actions. The written dialogue is limited to establishing the nature of any leadership or motivational challenge. Sufficient information is conveyed to enable students to identify the problem. The stage upon which this played out is consistent with the organizational culture and environment of the given organization.

Well-founded case studies are adaptable to the dynamics of virtually any organization. The characters, the problems, and the organizational cultures are readily changeable. It is critical for students to relate easily to the characters, challenges, and environment presented within each case study. Each case study must be written so that the vocabulary and syntax are appropriate for the intended students. Likewise, the organizational dynamics presented must be familiar to students.

Training program designers accomplished this by painting the "green" West Point case studies "blue," that is, modifying them to reflect the characteristics of law enforcement organizations. This process is easily applicable to public health, education, social services, or any other organization or profession. As the principles of organizational behavior are constant across organizational and professional boundaries, case studies may be easily developed for any organization. They are a cost-effective means of providing leadership students with relevant theories and the opportunity to apply them through logical schemata.

The Intellectual Procedure

The intellectual procedure serves as a model for processing the case study in a rational manner (see figure). It is an adaptation of the scientific method, designed to ensure a standardized means of processing a case study. This procedure consists of a series of steps, which provide a logical process for the analysis of what is happening within the case study as well as the application of the appropriate behavioral science theory.

The initial steps are diagnostic as they evaluate symptoms, referred to as areas of interest (AOIs). An AOI is something that requires a leader to act. An AOI can be related to a current challenge or proactively to a future challenge. The next step is the understanding and articulation of a "logical chain of events." The logical chain of events is useful in understanding cause and effect relationships. Once the areas of interest and the logical chain of events are established, students begin to apply relevant behavioral science theories.


This phase involves two steps: first, "analysis" to determine if the areas of interest and logical chain of events point toward the applicability of a given theory. Second, the "explain" step requires students to use a given theory to explain the AOIs. In other words, the analysis serves as a hypothesis and the explain step tests the hypothesis to determine if it would in fact remediate the areas of interest.

Once students are confident that they have a theory applicable to the areas of interest they move to "synthesis." During synthesis, students seek to understand the totality of all that is happening within the case study. This systems focus fosters a holistic understanding of root causes. Therefore, it ensures that challenges will not be treated in isolation and that their complexity is fully understood. Synthesis facilitates an understanding of the root cause of the AOIs and their effect of individuals, groups, and systems. This phase also serves to project the likely future consequences of leader inaction.

The subsequent phases are prescriptive and action based. After accounting for what is happening, students are called upon to select an appropriate leader action, which is directly related to the relevant behavioral science theory. At this point students are required to develop a leader action plan designed to resolve all areas of interest through the application of relevant theories, and they must do so without creating new challenges. The leader action plan must be holistic and proactively support organizational goals and objectives. Last, students are required to articulate a mechanism of evaluation designed to monitor the effectiveness of the leader action plan. Continuous evaluation and a feedback loop are implicit.

Curriculum Adaptation and Execution

In 1994, the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police initiated its leadership training program. The curriculum was identical to that at West Point, but with newly "painted" case studies. Attendance was limited to 15 command-level officers. These officers were placed in three groups of five so that each group could collaboratively process case studies. Classes met one day a week for 14 weeks.

The course sequence presented the following systems in increasing complexity: the individual system, the group system, the leadership system and the organizational system. Facilitation, designed to stimulate group discussion, was the preferred style of instruction. Class would begin with a discussion of the assigned readings and theories. The class would then go to the boards and begin working through the intellectual procedure as applied to the provided case study.

Beginning with a list of areas of interest, students would discuss and debate their way through analysis, synthesis, and leader action plans. This process created an energized and positive learning environment where the students ultimately learned from each other. A case-study-driven examination was presented after each of these areas. A comprehensive final examination was presented subsequent to completion of the organizational system. The complexity of the examinations increased with each area as theories relevant to each preceding area were applicable.

Real-World Program Application and Evaluation

Since 1994, more than 1,000 officers from New Jersey, four other states, and six countries have completed the course. The program has developed a reputation for rigor that is unprecedented within law enforcement training and education. The program's overall effectiveness as well as the effectiveness of the case-study-driven curriculum and the intellectual procedure was established through quantitative and qualitative surveys.

The surveys found that 91 percent of surveyed graduates believed that the case studies enhanced their ability to learn leadership; 86 percent perceived that the application of the intellectual procedure to the case studies facilitated learning; 77 percent responded that their leadership abilities had significantly improved as a direct result of exposure to the program.

The program's value to law enforcement was tested by the attacks of September 11, 2001—the greatest challenge to law enforcement in American history. The attacks upon the World Trade Center immediately involved New Jersey law enforcement organizations, who provided response and consequence management. The organizational challenges were unprecedented and the tragedy of this day provided priceless lessons in leadership and the opportunity to statistically evaluate the effectiveness the West Point command and leadership program.

Within the quantitative survey, 73 percent of graduates involved in response or consequence management reported that the program enabled them to better meet the leadership challenges of September 11. Subsequent qualitative interviews found that 80 percent of graduates involved reported direct and positive correlation between the curriculum and their ability to lead through these challenges.

A police executive who graduated from the program was asked if the curriculum had any positive benefit on his ability to lead through the challenges of September 11. He responded, "Absolutely, in more ways than one. I knew, as did every other administrator at that time knew at that point, that our life as law enforcement officials changed."

Going Forward

The partnership between West Point and law enforcement resulted in a sustainable leadership training program. This case-study-driven program remains well anchored in the behavioral sciences and organizational behavior. The West Point command and leadership program enhanced leadership within law enforcement organizations throughout the United States and Europe.

The program's curriculum and pedagogy remain readily adaptable to the unique environments and needs of any organization. Combined with appropriate textbook, instructor, or consultant, the case studies can be rewritten to reflect the inherent leadership challenges of any organizational environment.

The resultant "smart, thoughtful, and reflective leaders" can influence followers to perform ethically at improved and sustainable levels of efficiency and effectiveness.