One of my favorite definitions of leadership casts it as an act of persuading others to think or to do things they would’t normally do on their own. I carried this notion of leadership with me last week when I delivered a workshop at the Annual Retreat of the Maryland Correctional Administrators Association (MCAA).

MCAA is a forum for key correctional administrators and wardens from Baltimore City and all 23 Counties in the state of Maryland. I was invited to present a workshop on leadership that I provocatively titled “Leadership Beyond the Bars.” I’d like to share some of the highlights of my message, along with some observations about how it was received.

Leadership Beyond the Bars (LBB) is a learning and development program we’ve designed at Symphonic Strategies for those who work in the fields of law enforcement and corrections. The program blends offline and online experiences with non-traditional material to challenge old mindsets and conservative definitions of leadership. It specifically recasts leadership in the context of a rapidly changing world, where forces like the expanding expressions of gender identity and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) influence behavior for the incarcerated, as well as for those who incarcerate them.

The world for law enforcement and correctional professionals is rapidly shifting. But they really didn’t need me to tell them this. My message was really about leadership in the midst of a rapidly shifting environment–inside and outside of the buildings that so few of us ever enter.

My message to those at MCAA challenged them to expand their notion of leadership. I pushed them to envision their role as leaders of the men and women incarcerated under their supervision and care. In a subtle way, I emphasized the word “care.”

I argued that professionals in the field of corrections must balance supervision with rehabilitation. The conditions they set, and enforce, fundamentally shape the lives of individuals who may very well eventually be released to return back to our neighborhoods and communities. Indirectly, they affect my future and yours.

“What you do and how you do it,” I said,  “affect the lives of people beyond those incarcerated.” I asked them to embrace a changing world with a new mindset–one that sees opportunities to lead not just behind the bars, but beyond the bars.

“What you’re calling for is going to require a paradigm shift,” one participant told me.

Indeed, it will.

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