First to serve and protect, then to lead: Exploring servant leadership as a foundation for Canadian policing

Les Sylven, Carolyn Crippen


Canadian police leadership is in the spotlight. In May 2017, three Canadian government studies concluded that the organizational culture inside Canada’s national police force was dysfunctional and appeared to lack a culture of leader­ship. Similar criticisms were levelled against other Canadian police agencies, and the new Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was specifically mandated to address workplace bullying, harassment, and abuse of authority. In August 2018, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police 2018 Executive Global Studies program called on police leaders to demonstrate “courageous leadership’” to address the predatory and exclusionary behaviours found inside their agencies. In this concept paper, an alternative view of leadership is put forward as a framework to address these chal­lenges. Servant leadership is a moral/ethical perspective that should intuitively resonate with police officers, particularly the next generation of police leaders. To explore the case for adopting this leadership approach in Canadian policing, its foundational concepts are presented. A description of the limited academic research on servant leadership in policing is described, and the article concludes with recommendations and questions to direct future research on exploring servant leadership in the context of Canadian policing.


Canadian police culture; workplace harassment; police leadership; servant leadership; millennials; inclusion.

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ISSN: 2371-4298 (Online)