What Law Enforcement Officials Can Learn From “Halsey’s Typhoon”


“Halsey’s Typhoon” is a remarkable study in leadership.

By Matt Hein

Leadership, at the best of times, is a challenge. Engaged leaders constantly seek the perfect balance between achieving the organization’s goals and ensuring that they care about the well-being of employees. In a highly functional organization, these two forces are aligned. When they oppose it, it becomes blatant for employees and external stakeholders, exhibited by a dysfunctional organization.

“Halsey’s Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, is a gripping story of Admiral William Halsey and his Third Fleet who have been tasked to help the triumphant return of General Douglas MacArthur. in the Philippines in December 1944 at the Pacific Theatre. As the story unfolds, operational plans are quickly impacted when the Third Fleet unknowingly sails into Typhoon Cobra, forcing Admiral Halsey to make harrowing decisions about mission priority or direction. safety of his men. As conditions deteriorate, vital communications break down, new obstacles arise, and indecision takes over. The challenges and burdens of leadership are at the center of this unique story about the human spirit and resilience.

The Dangers of Decision Making

Complacency and assumptions are often seen as the main ingredients of leadership failures. In today’s law enforcement, demands are plentiful and come at lightning speed, requiring leaders to process vast amounts of information to make quick decisions. To manage the workload, human nature conditions us to make the same or similar decisions when faced with circumstances presenting a somewhat similar set of facts. This is where the dangers of decision making can arise for leaders.

When the weather began to deteriorate, Admiral Halsey assumed from experience that he was dealing with a tropical storm. With very little thought, he determined, based on his knowledge of dealing with previous storms, that he could weather the threat, and it would have little impact on the invasion plans, which were moving full steam ahead. . These assumptions put the Third Fleet in a deadly struggle with Mother Nature that resulted in the deaths of nearly 800 men.

Leaders should take the time to analyze the facts for each issue presented. Care must be taken not to assume that one problem is like all the others, resulting in impulsive decisions based on the belief that they worked before and therefore should work again. If time allows – which it does a high percentage of the time – research dissenting opinions, study material, ask “why” five times, or wait a period after a decision is made to reevaluate and confirm that it is the right one, are simple yet effective methods to guard against wrong choices.

Leadership Styles

Leadership style varies from person to person. Developing leaders need to be knowledgeable and diverse in their experiences so they can observe and emulate leadership styles that are effective and relevant to them. The responsibility of an entire organization rests on the shoulder of a leader. While this can lead to tremendous pressure, leaders often forget that if they develop the right style, an extensive support system can be in place to relieve stress.

Admiral Halsey has earned a reputation as a demanding and determined leader. An excerpt from the book gives a clear picture of his style: “No sailor in the Pacific dared to question Halsey’s insight, intuition or seamanship.” At one point, commanders were unwilling to dump ballast and refuel, which could have taken up to 10 hours, for fear of keeping an anxious Halsey waiting, even if it meant putting their ships in danger of capsizing .

Leaders must create an atmosphere that welcomes feedback and varied perspectives. Those on the front lines often have the most insightful feedback on operational issues. Systems, if not built correctly for entry, can cause a decision to go awry from the starting point, at the top, to its implementation on the street. Leaders must cultivate open and honest feedback to make the best decisions possible. You must be ready to hear the bad news and not “shoot the messenger” if you hope to make sound decisions based on factual and accurate information. The Entry Seeker reputation will open the floodgates of information.


A leader’s willingness to adapt, change, or alter a decision is essential to achieving strategic goals. I firmly believe that no decision is final and that there is always time or possibility to stop, re-evaluate and change course if the facts prove necessary. Being able to admit that a decision was wrong or that there was a better way will show employees that you are willing to listen and change your mind.

In the fall of 1944, plans were moving forward with the invasion of the Philippines. Countless man-hours, resources and materials have been expended and committed to the plan. Admiral Halsey commented before the Court of Inquiry: “The idea of ​​hitting Luzon was high in our heads until the last minute.” There was enormous pressure to keep moving, regardless of the growing number of facts that indicated a typhoon was developing, to complete the operation. The focus on results, regardless of the information that continued to pour in indicating a growing threat to the Third Fleet and its men, resulted in a catastrophe of monumental proportions.

find the balance

“Halsey’s Typhoon” is a remarkable study in leadership. The challenges faced by leaders during a major World War II offensive are applicable today in the ever-changing environment of law enforcement. This fast-paced, compelling, and heartbreaking story of missed opportunities, communication breakdowns, and tunnel vision overlooking vital clues is must-read for development leaders or those with a continuous improvement mindset.

To find the balance between strategic success and employee well-being, leaders must constantly assess the environment, identify threats and opportunities, and be prepared to change course, stop, or retreat. to fight another day. A willingness to admit you made a bad decision, to seek advice from others, to pay attention to the big picture, and to avoid becoming complacent are all characteristics of a great leader. Leadership is teamwork. Your employees will either ensure your success or your failure. As the leader, you decide which one it will be. Be careful!

About the Author

Matt Heins, ARM, AINS, ASP, worked for the Jackson Police Department from 1989 until his retirement in December 2017. He served in a variety of assignments beginning with patrol and through the ranks until his appointment to the position Chief of Police in December 2007. In 2011, he was given additional responsibilities as Fire Chief under the title of Director of Police and Fire Services. In January 2017, he was hired as a security manager for Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson, Michigan. In March 2018, he was hired as a Loss Control Specialist at Meadowbrook Insurance for the Michigan Municipal League.

He received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in public administration from Western Michigan University. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Academy, the Northwestern School of Police Staff and Command, and the FBI National Academy. He was an adjunct professor at Jackson College as well as Siena Heights University. He is currently a member of the Jackson College Board of Trustees.


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