Leading by Example

Jonni Redick discusses the importance of humanizing mental health struggles as a leader in Law Enforcement.


When people are struggling, it’s hard to ask for help. As an officer or spouse in law enforcement, we often think we need to be strong, which makes asking for help even harder. As officers climb the ranks, asking for assistance can be almost nonexistent. There tends to be a focus on making sure that those you supervise, or support are okay and ultimately, you put your emotions and feelings aside.

As departments and the law enforcement community continue to admit that there are many struggles with mental health, there needs to be a shift in leadership to admit they are human and also struggle.

This doesn’t need to be an announcement of struggles, but rather a conversation with those that matter the most and can support you, including spouses. How do leaders and command staff allow themselves to become more human and retain authority and the confidence of their troops?

Jonni Redick went from a county clerical worker to breaking through the less than 1% ceiling to become an African American woman in executive leadership with California Highway Patrol as an assistant chief. She’s a 29-year veteran of California Highway Patrol, where she oversaw large-scale civil disturbance, natural disaster responses coordination and oversight, and managed hundreds of personnel within daily operations.  As a leader in law enforcement, Jonni never addressed her early struggles throughout her career. Line-of-duty deaths, fatal accidents, and shootings are not situations that are normal to see for most people. These types of incidents have an impact on our mental and emotional well-being. After years of exposure, a divorce, financial instability, being 60 pounds overweight, and extremely depressed, Jonni got help and went to therapy.

Why did it take so long? As a leader, how can you help others if you aren’t helping yourself?

“Suck it up buttercup” 

There is a common misconception that showing emotions makes you weak. Officers who are in current leadership roles are ones who came from a time when mental health, overall wellness, and peer support were not discussed. They were expected to suck it up. They have years of accumulated feelings and emotions that were never addressed. This can lead to discourse when trying to understand the need to make mental wellness a priority in officers’ lives.

As a woman in leadership, there are moments when you may not be taken seriously by your peers simply because of your gender. This creates an immense amount of pressure to prove yourself. You have to modify who you are every day, for years, to fit in and assimilate into a predominately male career.  If you are experiencing any type of emotions that go against the norm in law enforcement, you are most likely going to hide them in order to not contribute to the mindset that you do not belong. Feelings and emotions don’t equal competency and confidence. You, like the leaders before you, are expected to just suck it up.

The expectation to always “be on” for the job.  

Struggles aren’t shared while on shift because officers are focused on their job responsibilities and safety. There is no room for talking about how you are feeling about an incident or about struggles at home. There is an expectation to be on for the job 100% of the time and talking about feelings doesn’t fit the bill of being professional. This can create a slow slide of officers showing up for everyone but themselves.

In leadership, there is a constant need to be squared away to successfully guide and care for the officers underneath you. It can be difficult to address your own feelings and emotions when you are carrying other officers’ struggles with yours.


The incidents that first responders deal with on a daily basis are not experiences that our brain is created to cope with on a regular basis. Oftentimes, officers will find ways to hide or curb their emotions regarding situations in an attempt to get through them. The problem occurs when their feelings and emotions are never addressed. Every small critical incident comes with new feelings and those feelings are just packed on top of others from previous shifts.  This learned behavior of coping spills over into relationships resulting in either a shut down of feeling or emotions being released or directed at your spouse.

Fear and stigma 

Oftentimes, leaders fear normalizing their own mental health struggles. They want to have a reputation for being strong, confident, and respected among their peers. Opening up about their feelings and emotions can create fear of not being taken seriously or not being able to do the job properly. Smash the stigma and paradigm of doing things the “old way” and become more human.

Be more human 

(I have a great podcast with Scott Medlin on embracing Humanness as a cop. Check out Ep: 97)

Leaders need to be more human and the first step in doing so is to take off your armor and open up about your own struggles. In order to do this, the culture of law enforcement and leadership needs to accept and incorporate words like authenticity, vulnerability, and humanization. This opens up opportunities for other officers and leaders to use these words and know that sharing common struggles is accepted. Sharing humanizes leaders and connects them to their people. Champion yourself so you can champion others.

Be Vulnerable  

Being vulnerable doesn’t mean oversharing and throwing out your deepest darkest secrets. Being vulnerable is opening up to others about your experiences, feelings, and emotions. It may be uncomfortable at first but be comfortable with being uncomfortable. As a leader, if you are wanting officers to speak up about their struggles, you have to be willing to listen, willing to have those difficult conversations, and willing to share your own experiences as well. Be vulnerable and assess your leadership in order to have a department that is resilient, tactically, emotionally, and mentally strong. Strength comes from being human and being vulnerable.


Those in leadership roles need to give themselves the opportunity to decompress, in order to address how they feel. If you are advocating for others, you have to give yourself the space to advocate for yourself. Find the opportunity to restore yourself to a place of comfort and peace.


Many times, leadership has a mindset of mentoring the next leaders to be similar to them. That is not what is needed. They need the wisdom of “been there, done that” while also being able to be themselves and bring something new to the position. They need to learn from the mistakes that have been made by those above them to create change.

Ask for help! 

Don’t go through crisis moments alone! When you are dealing with in the line of duty deaths, critical incidents, and natural disasters, don’t feel like you have to go through it alone. Don’t be so prideful that you think you’ve got all the answers and you’re going to power through with just you and your team. Don’t forget to ask your emotional support team for help. Find support in other leaders and remember you are not alone!

Don’t forget that there are spouses involved.  

Many times, as our officers go up the chain of command, spouses can feel lonely, isolated, and feel like they need to have it all together. When giving guidance to officers surrounding personal issues, it is important to share your perspective and how they might want to consider doing things differently.

Encourage those who you supervise to communicate with their partners in a non-policing way. Guide them to be intentional about how they communicate, how often they communicate, and the tone and intensity of the communication in which they have with their spouse.

Guide them to have compassion for one another. It is common for officers to numb themselves when dealing with certain situations and clientele. It’s important to turn that off when going home and remember your family are not suspects! Be compassionate with your family and then try to be consistent. Be intentional with the communication and your compassion and it can be a game changer.

Those in leadership need to be more human! Change the language in your department and be vulnerable. Model behavior to your officers by opening up about your struggles and normalizing that feelings and emotions do exist. It’s okay to be broken and it’s okay to be scared. You aren’t alone. Work towards being more resilient, innovative, and creative to change the narrative for the people in your organization.

Jonni Redick, a former assistant chief with the California Highway Patrol, shares her story as a leader and an officer of 29 years and her call to action to current law enforcement leaders. Her progression from frontline police work to executive leadership generated her passion for cultivating trust and legitimacy in organizational cultures. She now builds 21st-century leaders as the founder and CEO of JLConsulting Solutions, where she works with police executives and law enforcement and public safety CEOs in corporate government and nonprofit businesses.

She is a thought leader in law enforcement and educates public safety and law enforcement leaders across the country through the University of San Diego. Jonni is also the author of Survival Guide to Law Enforcement Personnel Preparation and Black, White, and Blue, Surviving the Sifting.   

If you want to get in contact with Jonni, visit her website at jlconsultingsolutions.com 


Leading by Example

Jonni Redick discusses the importance of humanizing mental health struggles as a leader in Law Enforcement.