Three Star Leadership

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The Story of Three Star Leadership

In the late 1980s I got a call from the Oakland, California Police Department. They were looking for someone to do supervisory training for newly promoted Sergeants. I did a needs assessment, determined that I could do some things that would be helpful, and wound up getting the contract. I assumed that there would be plenty of good written material on what makes a good Police supervisor. That was just one more time that I was wrong.

There was next to nothing. The books, at the time, were either weighty academic tomes, filled with theory and little else, or “This is how I did it” stories of experienced supervisors. If I was going to do good training, I couldn’t use those and I’d have to come up with something different.

That turned out to be a good thing. As I developed the training, I also embarked on a multi-year research project to define what great supervisors do that sets them apart from their peers. In the training world, that’s called “Competency-based Training.”

The principle is pretty simple. You find out what top performers do. You train others to do what they do, and they become top performers, as well.

Why it’s called “Three Star”

To find top supervisors to study I did what I thought was logical. I contacted organizations and asked to spend time with their best supervisors. But some of them turned out to be not very good at all.

I found that there are three groups with a distinct view of a supervisor and how he or she performs. Obviously, their boss and the power structure made up one group. But a supervisor’s peers had a different view and the members of the supervisor’s team had one, too.

The supervisors’ bosses tended to give top ratings to supervisors who accomplished the mission, made the numbers, and kept things on track. The supervisors’ peers had a clear-eyed view of how the supervisor worked every day and whether he or she was a good team player. And the other members of the supervisor’s team cared most about whether he or she supported them and helped them grow, develop, and thrive.

The people I studied in depth were the supervisors who got star ratings from all three groups, not just one or two. That’s why I called it “Three Star Leadership.”

Check out the Three Star Leadership Definitions and Principles.