David Todd, Alumni Leading Our Community
Chief, Fargo Police Department
“Put things in front of you that make you ask yourself hard questions every day. Are you living up to this position? If not, what do you need to do to get back on track? Then, do it.”
What experience at MSUM had the greatest influence in transforming your life?
I was hired as a police officer during my senior year, which delayed my graduation. When I returned to MSUM after I was settled into my career, I looked at my classes and instruction a little differently. I had real-life experiences I could apply to what I was learning, which made it more interesting. I also knew if the professor was knowledgeable regarding the practical piece of the profession versus just an academic perspective.
What professional experience has had the greatest influence in shaping you as a leader?
As a young sergeant in my first supervisory role, I was not performing to expectations and was expecting my position to give me respect and credibility. Through feedback from the people I was leading, I learned I was not engaging them to the extent they needed. Nor was I providing a positive, living example of leadership.
Although the feedback was devastating at first, it caused me to do some real soul-searching. I began to change the way I did things and pursued more professional development in my leadership skills.
Sometimes the best lessons are the hardest lessons, if you can weather the storm, live through that experience, and humble yourself and apologize. People do not, for the most part, expect perfect leadership. They want to follow leadership that is real, that acknowledges mistakes in a humble way and then follows through in trying to do better.
Leaders must constantly evaluate and seek feedback in order to better serve those you are leading.
What is the greatest challenge of leadership in today’s work force?
I think one of the greatest challenges of leadership in today’s diverse work force is finding what attracts people to your workforce and what motivates them to stay.
We try to create an atmosphere that promotes something more than one person and that is a force for good in our community. We do that by engaging people in extra good deeds opportunities, such as the No-Shave Movember fundraiser to help a fellow police officer struggling with a health issue or a paid day to work as a team on a Habitat for Humanity project.
These engagements are infectious and encourage officers to band together on their own and spontaneously show up at a kid’s birthday party or a lemonade stand. They stop to play a little basketball with some teenagers, or throw a football with some kids, etc. (We put footballs and basketballs in our squad car trunks to encourage those opportunities). As a leader, you have to encourage that, celebrate that and lead by example in participating in those things.
Inclusive leadership is also extremely important to today’s workforce. We have a number of committees where officers provide input on policies, promotion processes, efficiencies, uniforms and equipment, leadership development, etc.
What do you enjoy most about being a leader?
I enjoy being able to make a difference for the people I lead. Believe me, every day is not a victory, and leadership can be a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. However, the good you can achieve if you work diligently at it makes it worthwhile.
As a leader, what is the most important thing you do every day?
Don’t forget where you came from. I got into this profession to be a police officer and work the streets. Now, I lead police officers. It would be easy to be consumed with administrative work and rarely leave my office leading a department of 200 people providing services to a population of 123,000.
I try to combat that by wearing my uniform every day, maintaining a locker in the locker room, going to patrol rollcall/briefings, jumping in a squad and showing up on some calls. I have some of my best conversations with officers when I’m standing in the locker room. I become a regular guy who engages them on their turf.
So, don’t forget where you came from and be real to people.
What advice would you give someone striving to improve their leadership skills?
Put things in front of you that make you ask yourself hard questions every day. Are you living up to this position? If not, what do you need to do to get back on track? Then, do it.
Here’s the list of questions Chief Todd has on his desk to look at and challenge himself with each day. It begins with the header: “Who Are You? Are You It? Are You Ready?” What follows is the 15 things Chief Todd examines about himself.
- Passionate about policing
- Love extreme challenges – internal/external
- Accept high risk in being chief
- Strong courage and high convictions
- Appetite to increase formal education
- Work tireless – first in/last out
- Sacrifice personal time for others
- Accepting of all diverse groups
- Avid reader on all worldly topics
- Chief “stands alone” “lonely at the top”
- Accepting of being disliked at times (internally and externally)
- High level of stamina and energy
- Desire to leave a legacy – distinction for improvement
- Ability to cope with extreme stressors on a personal level – media, political, community, staff, etc.
- Major leap from command staff to being “The Chief”