Leadership for mini-teams — and beyond

Mini-team strategies for the corrections warrior
The myth of the perfect leader
Ask the experts: Surviving changes in leadership

When it comes to defining “leadership,” there’s no one-size-fits-all. It varies depending on life experience, the mission at hand and specifics of the leadership position held. I believe that leaders are made, not born — nor do they become a leader due to the rank they wear, position they hold or tenure. True leadership requires a constant growth and evolution. Only through openness and adaptability can person motivate and influence others in a way that makes the team cohesive.

This happens when leaders apply leadership attributes like beliefs, values, ethics, character, knowledge, and skills. Although your position as a mini-team leader, sergeant, supervisor, captain, etc. gives you the authority to accomplish certain tasks and objectives in the team, this power alone does not make you a leader; it simply makes you the boss.

Leadership differs in that it makes the followers want to achieve high goals, rather than simply bossing people around. Anyone can give orders. There is an old saying in the Marine Corps that, matter who you are, if you breathe long enough and stay clean, you will be in charge someday, too!

Rank vs. leader
In many large organizations, there is a big difference between the rank someone holds and the leadership position they are assigned. This can be confusing and misleading to many.
Take rank. Rank has always been associated as the pay grade of an individual. This rank will happen over a period of time, awarded based on years in service, longevity or the successful completion of a promotional board and passing a series of test.

On the other hand, being a leader is referred to as a learned trait. People gain their leadership traits from personal experience both good and bad. Being a leader usually means an individual who has stood out from the rest of the pack through self initiative, accomplishments, and their performance.

Many times a person with rank is placed into a position of leadership and has not received the necessary training to perform in their new position effectively. When this happens, it creates frustration, confusion and hostility between team members. We cannot assume that because one is now the rank of a sergeant they will be able to lead.

Real-world example
In 1990, while stationed at MCRD in San Diego, I was meritoriously promoted to the rank of corporal (non-commissioned officer), and placed on a team of marines to patrol a certain area. The staff sergeant in charge was not only six years younger than I was, but also had very little life experience to draw from. The only knowledge he could pull from was from a text book.

The officer in charge of our detachment was a captain. He was only two years older than the sergeant and with even less life experience to draw from. But this was my first experience with truly quality leadership. When we encountered our first problem, the captain called to his staff sergeant in to give his commands. The staff sergeant listened to the orders issued by the captain, but before the captain dismissed the staff sergeant to the field to follow through on his orders, he asked the sergeant if there were any questions or concerns.

The sergeant replied, "No questions, but I know that my NCOs might have a few concerns we should address prior to moving forward on this situation."

The captain had the staff sergeant call the other NCOs — a sergeant and me – to address our concerns. The initial orders were changed slightly and we continued moving forward.

The main reason for the success of the any mission was not necessarily the skill level of one team member, but the ability to work through situations with your team, as a team. When training Marines as commissioned officers, they're taught that the backbone of the Marines Corps is the strength of their Non-Commissioned and Staff Non-Commissioned Officers.

Leadership traits and ABCs
Humans throughout the ages have experienced good and bad examples of leadership. Through these years we have come to define 14 separate leadership traits a person who is a position of authority should possess.

14 Leadership Traits1

  1. Confidence
  2. Courage
  3. Compassion 
  4. Communication
  5. Intergity
  6. Honesty
  7. Mentor
  8. Loyalty
  9. Educator
  10. Firm but fair
  11. Professional Appearance
  12. Physical Endurance
  13. Mental Endurance
  14. Analyst

Below are what I call the ABCs of leadership which incorporates the 14 leadership traits a leader should have in their tool box.

ABCs of leadership

Ability to display compassion 
Bravery in the eyes of their troops and Danger
Confidence in troops and self
Dedication to their troops and cause
Effective communicator
Firm and fair
Gratitude for support and effort of their troops
Honesty to be straight forward and direct
Individual people individual problems
Joyful and upbeat
Kind and humane
Leaves NO ONE behind or lost
Motivate and mentor
Never quits or gives up
Opportunist seeks best opportunity
Prepares and plans
Questions and provide solutions
Respects others and leads by example
Sets goals and stays focused
Uniformity of troops
Winning mind set 
Yielding only to the truth 

As leaders being in charge takes a lot out of you both physically and mentally. The use of acronyms helps with the memory recall to organize thoughts and issue commands.
Once you are called into an alert status. As a squad or mini-team leader, there are some facts you need to know BEFORE you start putting a plan together, issuing command and giving orders. These questions are called a pre-warning order. The military acronym is SMEAC.

Situation Mission Execution Administration Command & Logistics


  • What is the situation we are responding to?
  • What weapons are present?
  • Where in the facility are we going too?
  • What are the escape routes?
  • How many subjects are involved?
  • What is the behavior and motivation of the inmates?
  • What has been tried before that did or did not work? 
  •  Why are they rebelling?
  • How long have they been doing this?
  • Any hostages or injuries?


What is the primary objective?

  • What is the secondary objective?
  • What is the use of force options?
  • What are the laws we are enforcing for this situation?
  • How does my use of force policies support this?


What is our primary plan of action?

  • What will we do if plan A does not work!
  • If using chemical how are we decontaminating these inmates and equipment?
  • Who is in charge of the evidence processing?
  • Who is transporting in and out of the facility if needed?
  • Who is providing medical treatment for subjects detained and officers responding?

Administration & logistics

  • What is my immediate chain of command?
  • What are the primary, secondary and alternative radio channels?
  • What are the procedures for getting additional personnel for support?
  • Where are the primary and secondary escape routes?
  • Where are the watering points and procedures for my personnel?
  • How do I get relief for tired, injured and/or non-effective personnel?
  • What are the procedures for receiving additional ammo, munitions, weapons, and needed equipment?
  • Who are my assistant squad and mini-teams leaders?
  • What are the immediate emergency respond for my squad for deadly force?


  • What are our primary lines of communications?
  • What are our secondary lines of communications?
  • What are our alternative lines of communications?
  • What are the signals we are using?
  • How are we documenting this situation?

Who is responsible for taking pictures and using the recording devices?

There are many places your officers can go for this type of training. Correctional facilities need to invest in their supervisors. Corrections1 and PoliceOne have an assortment of training services in this area. You can also go to www.redmantraining.net for more.


1 Leadership Traits and ABCs : When I was promoted to NCO I was given a book titled "Handbook for Marine NCO's" written in 1988 by Colonel Robert Debs Heinl Jr., Retired USMC, and the United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD. The leadership traits mentioned below is a list I have compiled from reading this book, and from existing educations I have from my Marine Corps training Long with training from other organizations I have been associated with. The ABCs of Leadership is my own.



About the author
Dave Young is the Director of Specialized Programs for Northcentral Technical College and the Director of Training for Redman Training Gear, now part of the PoliceOne Training Network. He is also a training advisor for PoliceOne.com. Dave graduated from his first law enforcement academy in 1985, and now has over 20 years of combined civilian and military law enforcement and training experience. He was a sworn corrections and law enforcement officer in the state of Florida and has served as a gate sentry, patrol officer, watch commander, investigator, Special Reaction Team (SRT) member, leader and commander in the United States Marine Corps.

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