Transformational Leadership and the NYPD Re-Engineering of 2014

The theory of Transformational Leadership is crucial to raising morale in a failing or stagnating organization, whether public or private, by instilling hope in employees. When applied properly and by a leader with altruistic intent, Transformational Leadership can heighten productivity and even save an organization. This paper will examine the strengths and weaknesses of Transformational Leadership as a concept and the potential for a transformational leader with malicious intent to exploit followers to benefit himself. In this paper, I will also discuss an example of Transformational Leadership, Bill Bratton’s New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) Re-Engineering of 2014, and how it was ultimately a failure since the program was rushed and not followed through to completion.

In the spring of 2014, I was offered and accepted the opportunity to serve as part of Bratton’s NYPD Re-Engineering 2014. I was assigned to the Forms, Reports and Logs module. Our purpose was to analyze the voluminous and often duplicative amount of forms and book bound logs which were used in the NYPD. This module was ultimately overseen by a deputy chief who explained Commissioner Bratton’s desire to eliminate the “siloed” style of information exchange in the NYPD, which had been part of its business model since its inception. Over the course of the re-engineering, several ideas were submitted by our panel, but only a few were accepted. Most of the obstacles we faced were resistance from civilian unions and other uniformed members of the service in a position of power who were resistant to change based upon a “business as usual” philosophy of the NYPD.

At the time when Re-Engineering 2014 was presented to the organization and implemented, morale was at an all-time low. As an organization, we were transitioning from Commissioner Ray Kelly’s 13-year regime which was very nepotistic, transactional and non-innovational. The NYPD had practically no presence on social media and was not receptive to new ideas outside of the executive levels. Every personnel decision was centralized and funneled to Commissioner Kelly for approval and signature, which often took several months. When Bratton was re-appointed NYPD Commissioner, he had a vision for staff that was largely reminiscent of his first term as police commissioner in 1994 and his term as Chief of the New York City Transit Police in 1990. When Bratton took the helm at the NYC Transit Police, morale was non-existent. The NYC Transit Police were beleaguered for a variety of reasons — out of touch supervision/management, dilapidated police facilities, and subpar or obsolete equipment including cars, radios, body armor, and firearms (City Journal: Victory in the Subways, 1992). Not only did Bratton procure new equipment for his subordinates, he also visited them in the field on several occasions making himself more visible and accessible. This gave patrol officers a voice about the department and their working conditions. Bratton demonstrated the behaviors associated with transformational leadership such as idealized influence, individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, and inspirational leadership by his ability to “define goals, to state how they could be accomplished, to set standards and to exhibit confidence and determination” (Haberfeld, 2013a, pg. 51). Officers out in the field felt that Bratton was not only a chief but a leader because he visited officers out in the field, demonstrated concern for them, led by example, and used his power to institute changes. Bratton further inspired the Transit Police force by cutting back on mundane and mindless tasks routinely assigned to patrol officers and instead allowed his officers to conduct specialized enforcement activity by means not previously used in the department. Such innovation allowed them to feel as if they were fighting crime with better equipment and as a result, a sense of pride developed amongst officers (City Journal: Victory in the Subways, 1992). He also compelled his managerial staff to leave the comfort of their offices and ride the subway to witness what a transit patrol officer was experiencing on a daily basis (City Journal: Victory in the Subways, 1992).

Having charisma is a prerequisite for a Transformational Leader. To be an effective transformational leader, one must have a following. In order to attract followers, the leader must be able to inspire others. According to Max Weber (1947) “charisma is based on the follower’s belief that their leader possesses extraordinary qualities” (Weber, in Haberfeld, 2013, pg. 51). As a result, a charismatic leader can “manage their image, articulate visions, communicate high expectations and instill confidence in followers” (De Vries, et al., in Haberfeld, 2013, pg. 51). Problems can arise, however, when following a charismatic leader who relies solely on their personality. Devotion to a leader who garners power through fraudulent or purely self-serving means ultimately causes harm to the follower and the organization. A transformational leader such as this would not be able to practically accomplish what they claim to be able to do, whether from a known lack of power, lack of resources, or other deception. One example of this type of leader is the televangelist or religiously based motivational speakers. The televangelist’s followers are often manipulated based on the charisma of the leader and a faith-based worldview. Many televangelists tell their followers God associates blessings with money and “earthly possessions” and also extols his followers to send money to ensure the future success of the speaker and continuation of God’s work. The leader is enriched to the disadvantage of the follower. Problems also arise when the charismatic leader perhaps suffers from mental illness or is a predator. Sometimes these leaders manipulate followers whom themselves may suffer from mental illness or who were being previously victimized and, as a result, are looking for other outlets, disenchanted with their previous lives. One example of this type of leader is David Koresh who led the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas.

A genuine transformational leader can create a vision for followers by unveiling a plan for the organization that projects his values and beliefs of what is right through frequent articulation of these ideas to followers (Haberfeld, 2013, pg.55). The basis for these ideas can often be derived through “intellectual stimulation.” This can be accomplished by use of the ideas to form an “intuitive and appealing picture of what the organization in the future” (Fraher, 2020). Leaders will often get ideas by surveying followers or by other methods which allow followers to anonymously or openly submit ideas. During the NYPD Re-Engineering of 2014, members of the NYPD received emails with links to surveys and were encouraged to submit ideas. Often the chairpersons from a specific focus group would make follow up phone calls to obtain further input, discuss whether the idea was feasible, or whether the idea would be submitted to the Police Commissioner. The NYPD also disseminated videos throughout the department via the NYPD intranet. Commissioner Bratton would often formally address the rank and file at official Re-Engineering auditorium meetings where he would apprise the membership of his vision and the progress being made. Besides speeches, a leader’s vision can be also be conveyed through behaviors, symbols and policies (Fraher, 2020). Seeing changes in policies is the most crucial way to convey a leader’s vision because followers in an organization that is suffering from malaise, especially when a challenge to the old order and a break with continuity is warranted, are the most optimistic when they see procedural change (Fraher, 2020). Bratton also effectively used symbols during the Re-Engineering process. Workgroup members received a specialized challenge coin reflective of the efforts made in the group.

The use of Transformational Leadership is most appropriate when an organization is going through a period of crisis, change, instability, or when followers are justifiably disillusioned with policies or a general disenchantment with current conditions exist (Fraher, 2020). Essentially, the theory is best used to reinvigorate a stagnant or failing organization or when executive level management is completely detached from followers, and the disparity is evident. An example of this is when the ritualistic way of doing business is no longer feasible and has festered to the point of becoming malignant, thereby greatly impacting morale and productivity. For example, in a nepotistic organization, a large talent pool could go unnoticed because they are part of the “outgroup.” Therefore, diverse wisdom is not harnessed and ultimately detrimental to the organization.

Appropriate leader behaviors when utilizing Transformational Leadership theory are often founded on moral altruism. According to Kanungo (2001), “transformational leaders possess an organic worldview characteristic of a deontological perspective” which “asserts that a leader’s actions have a morally intrinsic value” (Kanungo, in Haberfeld, 2013, pg. 55). Specifically, the appropriate behaviors are to “develop and communicate a vision,” “use of unconventional strategies to achieve performance,” “communicate high expectations and confidence (integrity, ethics and performance),” “show concern for followers,” and “demonstrate self-sacrifice” (Fraher, 2020). A leader’s development and communication of a vision “serves as a source of self-esteem and common purpose for every member of the organization” (Fraher, 2020). This culminates in identifying, clarifying, and ultimately achieving key changes or reaffirming, re-energizing, or refocusing existing workgroups or organizational direction (Fraher, 2020). This was particularly prominent during the NYPD Re-Engineering of 2014 when, at its inception, Commissioner Bratton encouraged every member, in his communicated vision, to be a part of the input process. The “use of unconventional strategies to achieve performance” can inspire followers through innovation by instilling the “belief that the leader, the organization and the vision are extraordinary and unique” (Fraher, 2020). Furthermore, conveying a vision is insufficient without the communication of high expectations and confidence. “A leader’s policies and behaviors must reflect a trust and faith in the competence of their followers” (Fraher, 2020). When it is apparent to followers that their leader has confidence in both them and their abilities, the vision of a transformational leader is enhanced through the leader’s display of unwavering devotion (Fraher, 2020). This would have a dual effect on followers as it would also show a genuine concern in fulfillment of the third component of transformational leadership, intellectual stimulation, through leader valuation of subordinate ideas. Additionally, a transformational leader shows concern for his followers which can “take the form of effective delegation, mentoring, counseling and “management by walking around” (Fraher, 2020). By taking time to put a name to a face, a leader can add the second ingredient of transformational leadership, “individualized consideration,” by showing a follower their value by treating them as an esteemed follower rather than a number. In essence, getting to know your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, along with their personal needs, shows the followers that a leader’s sole concern is not for the organization but also has vested interest in the development of the follower. “Leaders evaluate the talents and needs of subordinates and then expose the weaknesses of the status quo within the organization, followed by the formulation of new goals” (Haberfeld, 2013, pg. 52). Lastly, a leader who demonstrates self-sacrifice during the transformation of an organization would likely be effective. For instance, a leader who is asking their followers to do more with less in troubling times but, in turn, is asking for more than they are willing to give would be viewed as a hypocrite and have a negative effect on morale (Fraher, 2020). “A leader’s self-sacrifice may take many forms, including personal risk taking and personal effort to attain the vision they espouse” (Fraher, 2020).

Throughout my career with the NYPD, leaders who led by example commanded respect and were the most effective with the rank and file officers. While I was on patrol and an investigator in the NYPD, I found that the knowledgeable and selfless leader who did not demand followers perform unreasonable and potentially unethical tasks were the most effective. As a workgroup member and as a follower in the re-engineering of the NYPD, I found it to be an overall failed initiative due to the early and possibly planned departure of Commissioner Bratton and the implementation of fostered ideas in a hastened manner with the inability to study the long term effects of the promulgated changes. Most importantly, the self-serving culture of the NYPD remains largely intact which was why a re-engineering was necessary in the first place. The NYC Transit Police was a much smaller agency with less internal bureaucracy and labor union issues which made it conducive for a transformational leader to implement drastically needed changes, especially on a short-term basis.


City Journal. (1992). City Journal Interview: Victory In The Subways. 1–16. Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from

Fraher, W. G. (2020). Transformational Leadership [Document]. Retrieved on May 5, 2020 from

Haberfeld, M.R. (2013a). Police Leadership: Organizational and Managerial Decision-Making Process (2nd edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

Brian Erbis is a retiring NYPD detective based in New York City. Financial crimes consultant and owner of Brian Erbis Consulting LLC. Freelance blogger.