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5 quotes correctional leaders can use to increase officer safety and facility success

Follow the advice in these five quotes to enhance leadership of your troops and improve efficiency in your facility


General Colin Powell, seen in a 2011 photo outside the White House, once famously said, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”


Last year I wrote a column on historical quotes that can help police officers on patrol. I was recently inspired to apply that same concept to quotes that can help correctional leaders improve their facilities.

Consider how these quotes can guide leadership of your correctional officers, while executing your vision for running a safe and effective correctional facility.

Add your own quotes in the comments section below.

1. “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” — Jack Welch

One of the most important things a correctional leader can do is provide a rigorous and thorough in-service training program. Training should be continual, ongoing and exceed – by a wide margin – any statewide standards, which are the bare minimum.

Great correctional leaders find ways to ensure that no learning opportunity is missed, no matter how big or how small.

Finally, correctional leaders must insist that training budgets are the last thing on the chopping block, not the first.

2. “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” — General Colin Powell

Leading a correctional facility involves delivering multi-faceted solutions that address complex issues.

Protecting the physical safety of both correctional officers and inmates is a priority for all leaders. The provision of healthcare to an aging prison population requires inventive resource reallocation. Implementing effective rehabilitative education and vocational training programs needs buy-in from correctional staff and inmates. While managing deteriorating facility infrastructures in a time of budget cutbacks demands innovative, out-of-the box thinking.

Correctional leaders deal not only with these issues, but an array of problems that include dysfunctional community relations, an acrimonious political climate and understaffing.

A good leader takes each of these issues seriously, devotes adequate resources to achieve resolutions, follows up after actions have been taken to ensure that success is sustained, and then moves on to the next problem with the same level of energy and commitment.

3. “A ruler should be slow to punish and swift to reward.” — Ovid

All too often we hear stories of people in positions of leadership “throwing a correctional officer under the bus” when they’ve done something that brings criticism on the department. When this occurs, leaders do more to undermine their own authority with the troops than “fix” a problem officer.

Discipline is necessary, but it should not be overly punitive. This reminds me of the adage, “punish in private and praise in public.” When it is necessary to discipline an officer, it should be done in a way that does not belittle them, but offers achievable next steps to build them up. Embarrassing an officer in front of the troops makes you look bad.

4. “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” — General Dwight D. Eisenhower

This quote is about how to articulate your vision both internally and externally, so you can move toward the outcomes you wish to see occur, guiding all of the participants to want those outcomes as much as (if not more so) than you.

There is an element of natural charisma here. There is also the learned skill of communication.

Troops will follow the best leaders into hell with nothing more than a bucket of water and a good, solid plan.

5. “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” — Publilius Syrus

There is not a single correctional leader in America today who cannot in an instant be thrust into the national limelight by the surfacing of a video that is perceived by the press and the public to reveal improper use of force or some other “ugly-looking” incident. You can easily become the national narrative as people who were not present or know much about corrections take to social media to viciously deride your facility.

When such an event takes place, it is the job of the correctional leader to go before the cameras and address the critics head on. This will test you, but you can pass the test – success requires a level head and the ability to articulate complex concepts to people who may not necessarily want to understand them or your explanation does not fit their chosen narrative.

It is important in such times to also address the troops. Do this privately and directly in groups as small as is manageable given the size of your department. Don’t leave out the non-sworn support personnel. Include your call takers and dispatchers. You will get less sleep for a while, but the extra investment in time will pay dividends.


Managing a correctional facility is hard. Leading a correctional facility is also hard. Use these (and other) quotes to help you achieve the success you desire.

Doug Wyllie is a senior contributor for Corrections1, providing police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug hosts PoliceOne’s Policing Matters podcast.

Doug is the 2014 Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column, and has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie.