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The value of a ‘leader as coach’ program for law enforcement

Coaches can assist in developing employees, enhance morale and drive cultural change


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Leadership development is essential to the success of most organizations. Professional coaches can be deployed from within the organization or attained from outside of the organization to assist in developing employees and managing problem solving, goal setting and transformation processing that aligns with the organization’s values, culture, ethics, goals and mission. [1]

Coaching can enhance morale and drive cultural change. Thus, it behooves organizations to consider adopting programs that develop leaders as coaches from within organizations. A leader as coach program should focus on an organization’s goals, vision and mission with the coaching approach aligning with organizational objectives. [2]

Practical application in law enforcement

In a real-world application, at my sheriff’s academy, both internal and external coaches are used to train and mentor recruits and staff.

Different police agencies are used not only to represent diversity in experience and training but also to expand on knowledge from external experts in the field. For example, in physical training, a private exercise physiologist is used as the facilitator and coach of exercise, dieting and behavioral modification. The physiologist from an external firm is employed as a coach to assist recruits and staff members in achieving physical goals.

Another example of external coaches within the sheriff’s department is the use of a peer support specialist whose primary responsibility is to counsel staff members subsequent to a traumatic event such as an officer-involved shooting.

As a sergeant in a sheriff’s department, I have applied coaching tips from coaching consultants Dr. Anthony Grant and Margie Hartley: [2]

  1. An effective leader is one who leads by example by being a role model for positivity. Even though the environment inside the jail is toxic, violent and hazardous, projecting humor (when appropriate) and positive comments provides a manageable environment for staff members.
  2. Reframing, paraphrasing and asking clarifying questions enhances active listening skills. On a daily basis, conflict arises among inmates or with staff members. By listening to all sides and investigating the situation, conflicts are usually mitigated and resolved.
  3. Recognizing and acknowledging each deputies’ strengths and conveying those observations to them on a perpetual basis helps motivate them to perform better and be more vigilant. Taking the time to write a commendation for a staff member when he or she performs well is rewarding not only for the staff member but also for myself as a coach, mentor and supervisor.
  4. Direct and honest communication coupled with the assurance that their decisions are supported creates an environment of trust, which is crucial for a working relationship. A trusted leader or coach has more credibility than one who is not trusted.
  5. Taking breaks is essential to recharge, particularly in the stressful environment of a maximum security jail. The stress that the staff members and I experience is often minimized by taking breaks throughout the day to rejuvenate.
  6. Staff members are encouraged to set goals and milestones for their career development. One of the common career goals for deputies is transitioning from jail operations to patrol operations. The deputies who are preparing to transition to field operations from the custody division are usually assigned a coach to assist them in the preparation process. Coaching them means listening to their concerns, fears and anxieties about the transition. It means providing them with examples of ways to manage stress and situations as they embark from a controlled environment to a dynamic environment requiring multi-tasking and divergent thinking to sustain daily operations.

As Grant & Hartley write, “to coach others we need to be good at coaching ourselves.” [2] The introspection or reflection of who I am as a coach or supervisor to my staff members is critical. How can I improve as a supervisor or coach? What goals should I set for myself to improve my supervisory skills? These questions are indicative of the self-awareness of a competent coach.


In any industry, either professional coaches from coaching and consulting firms or experienced coaches from within an organization are used to develop and enhance employees’ and leaders’ work performance and career progression. [1,3] There are various research-based coaching models such as the leader as coach development programs, pluralistic coaching, clinical coaching, behavioral coaching, systems coaching, social constructionist coaching, knowledge coaching, skills coaching, personal coaching, results coaching, development coaching and evaluation coaching that are used by coaches to facilitate, effectuate and empower employees and leaders within organizations. [2-6]

Competent coaches exhibit credibility not only based on their skills, training and experience, but also through established trust, empathy and sincerity in terms of interpersonal relationships with their clients. [1,6] Competent coaches also understand the theoretical foundation of disciplines of sociology and psychology within coaching models that focused on the interpersonal and environmental significance of the employees and the organization. [1,6]

As research has found, the best practice of coaching relies upon the needs of the organizations to facilitate employees’ and leaders’ career and performance development through the guidance of coaching. [1,6]

NEXT: Why increasing officer morale should be a priority for every leader


1. Carey W, Philippon DJ, Cummings GG. Coaching models for leadership development: An integrative review. Journal of Leadership Studies, 2011, 5(1), 51–69.

2. Grant AM, Hartley M. Developing the leader as coach: Insights, strategies and tips for embedding coaching skills in the workplace. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 2013, 6(2), 102–115.

3. Ensminger DC, Kallemeyn LM, Rempert T, Wade J, Polanin M. Case study of an evaluation coaching model: Exploring the role of the evaluator. Evaluation and Program Planning, 2015, 49, 124-136.

4. Barner R, Higgins J. Understanding implicit models that guide the coaching process. The Journal of Management Development, 2007, 26(2), 148-158.

5. Utry ZA, Palmer S, McLeod J, Cooper M. A pluralistic approach to coaching. Coaching Psychologist, 2015, 11(1), 46–52.

6. Wise D, Hammack M. Leadership Coaching: Coaching competencies and best practices. Journal of School Leadership, 2011, 21(3), 449–477.

Lloyd Nguyen, DBA, is a former Marine and Air Force veteran who has 25 plus years of law enforcement experience with the Orange County (California) Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). As a sergeant for the OCSD, his duty assignments include custody, OCDA’s regional gang task force, patrol, statewide transportation, John Wayne Airport Police Services, and currently, Laguna Niguel Police Services.

Sergeant Nguyen served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps with a combat deployment in the Persian