Brian C. Turner
Associate Deputy Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Atlanta, Georgia
March 8, 2024

Associate Deputy Director's Remarks at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives' Winter 2024 CEO Symposium

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Rodney. And thanks to all of you for being here this week. 

One of my favorite parts of this job is meeting with law enforcement partners. And I particularly appreciate this organization and the great work you are doing. I’m a huge believer in mentoring future leaders, and your CEO Mentoring program is terrific—as we see here this week. 

Add to that, your involvement in community programs is exemplary, whether that’s providing interactive training for teens, having conversations with classes through “The TALK” program, or providing scholarships to help future leaders grow. 

I also appreciate your SMART program: providing free gun locks to help keep kids and their families safe. And your involvement with CRI-TAC is helping law enforcement organizations across the nation. 

So thank you for all the work you’re doing for our local communities, our national law-enforcement community, and for our nation. 

I know there’s a lot of diversity in this room in terms of the kinds of communities we serve and the roles we serve in. But I also know that everyone here has two things in common. One, we’re all involved in law enforcement in some way. And two, we all serve as leaders in our organizations, regardless of our official positions. 

NOBLE Symposium - ADD Turner Keynote Address

FBI Associate Deputy Director Brian C. Turner delivers the keynote address at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) Winter 2024 CEO Symposium in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 8, 2024.

So, before we get to the discussion of leadership in difficult times, I want to talk about a few aspects of leadership—the first aspect is developing a growth mindset as a leader—and share some of my related experiences. Second, I want to tell you about my leadership philosophy. And the third aspect I want to discuss is putting those together to follow a pathway of an effective leader. 

Growth Mindset: Having a State of Self-Reflection on Your Respective Career 

I believe one of the most valuable resources a leader can have is a growth mindset. Because it doesn’t matter who you are or how long you’ve been doing this, you have things you can learn and ways you can grow. And you will make mistakes. 

My first experiences in leadership came when I was a cadet at West Point. But don’t go thinking I was some kind of general in the making. 
In fact, I had more failure than I could shake a stick at—so much that I like to say I was forged in failure. I failed a lot of tests at West Point.  
It’s not necessarily something I’m proud of, but it’s something I learned to deal with.  

That failure forced me to take a good look inward, and I think that’s an important part of developing as a leader. You’re not going to be a good leader if you aren’t brutally honest with yourself. It’s easy to say, “This happened to me because my supervisor doesn’t like me or because my boss is a jerk.” But what I’d invite you to do is something a lot harder.  

When something goes wrong—and it has and will—unpack it and sort out the things you can’t affect. Then drill down on what you as an individual did and what you can do differently when you’re presented with that kind of situation in the future. You don’t need to tear yourself down, but you do need to have a real conversation with yourself to figure out what you did or didn’t do to contribute to those outcomes, because on the other side of that lies growth. 

That’s been a thread throughout my life—from school, to the Army, to my time at the Bureau. I’ve been very conscious to be real with myself about how I’m doing as a leader. 

My Leadership Philosophy

One thing I learned pretty fast in leadership positions was that I needed a guide I could follow to help me become the best leader I could be.  
So through a lot of trial and error, watching good and bad leaders, I developed a leadership philosophy, which I have written and committed to memory. And I strongly believe that everyone—regardless of where you are in your career—should have one. Your personal philosophy is a commitment to your way of effectively leading others. Defining who you need to be. 

My personal leadership philosophy is threefold. One, you have to be a leader of character. Two, you have to be competent. Three, you have to have empathy.  

So, let me dig into each of those, and I’ll start with character. I believe leadership is earning your team’s trust and respect so that they will follow you. So when you tell your squad, “Hey, I’m all about teamwork,” or “I have an open-door policy,” you better be a team player, and your door better be open. Your actions must match your words. 

One of the most effective ways to motivate your team is for them to see you engaged and driven. People do as they see. Effective leadership is a gift of trust from your employees, and you have to earn it every day. 

Next, I believe leaders have to be competent. That does not mean knowing everything from the moment you show up to a new assignment or take a new role. You might not be well-versed in the program you’re in charge of. You might not know the people you’re managing. So you have to put in the work to understand what your people are doing well enough to lead them. 

And if you give it time, you’ll work through it. You’ll gain a vision for that organization, and you’ll improve things. Because when you own the program, it’s up to you to put together a strategy and lead it effectively. That can be and should be challenging—or else you wouldn’t be growing. 

Finally, and most important, is empathy. Now sure, I see a leader’s primary role as helping your people—from individual employees to small squads to large divisions—execute their mission priorities. But we cannot forget the human element in all of that. Leaders often fail when they lack compassion. Our priority should be to serve those who serve. 

Another way to say that is, "Mission first, people always."

And as a leader, you need to make sure your people know they’re more than just employees to you. They need to know you care about who they are. Not just when they’re in the office, but outside of work, too. The only way you can do that is by listening to what they share with you. 
Caring about people—understanding and having empathy for them, being able to see things from their point of view—that’s essential to being a good leader. 

But it’s important to care about every person in the room. To know where they’re coming from and why. 

Navigating Your Pathway of Growth as a Leader

So, let’s say you’re with me so far. You have a growth mindset and a leadership philosophy. It’s easy from there, right? 

No. Of course not. Being a leader comes with challenges. 

That includes the internal challenges I’ve talked about, like understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and not buying into your own hype. And it includes external challenges. 

Navigating a pathway of growth as a leader is highly unpredictable, mainly because people are unpredictable. We talk a lot about our subordinates being unpredictable. And we all dread getting that phone call from one of your people saying they’ve done something foolish.

In order to effectively lead and grow under conditions of uncertainty, you must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. No two paths are the same. And your path may not follow the plan you have in your head. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Keys to Effective Navigation

So, what do we do then? How can I put this all together? In the end, you have to navigate your path. 

So first off, it’s important to stay true to yourself. Know why you’re where you are and your story of how you got here. We need to remember why we do the job. 

Second, we need to build and sustain our network. Have a core group of three to five people you can count on to keep it real with you. Do three people come to mind? They can be friends, colleagues, mentors. Maybe they’re people in your office or others you’ve worked with in the past. A law-enforcement buddy or a friend from growing up. They just need to be people who can look you in the eye and tell you when you’re wrong or right. As long as you respect them—who they are in their professional and personal lives—you can come to them with anything and trust that they’ll be truthful and help you through. 

My network has been crucial to my development into a leader. They know when I need to be reeled in, but they also inspire me to think outside my typical safe box. 

And part of building that network has to be understanding the difference between mentorship and advocacy. Mentorship is a tool to assist you. Mentors give advice and reference points, and share stories to help you work through your situation. Those are not people you call for a hookup that’s just a transaction. Over time, a mentor will get to know you and may be comfortable advocating for you, but that’s not why you grow that relationship.

Third, know the big picture. Push yourself to think strategically.

NOBLE 2024 CEO Symposium - ADD Turner and AD Contee

FBI Office of Partner Engagement Assistant Director Robert J. Contee III (left) and Associate Deputy Director Brian C. Turner (right). AD Contee engaged in a panel discussion and ADD Turner gave the event's keynote speech, both underscoring the importance of strong leadership as key to redefining policing and public safety across America.

We tend to focus on our jobs and doing our jobs well. But don’t stop there. Think two levels up from yourself to understand the big picture for your organization. That means being well-read, which helps expand your perspective so you can see how the small piece you lead fits into a much larger puzzle. 

For instance, gone are the days when a police chief or sheriff didn’t need to monitor what’s going on in the Middle East with Hamas. Because you might have multiple communities in your jurisdiction for whom that conflict is not some far-away problem. For them, it’s an immediate concern that has very local consequences—which means it’ll have consequences for your department, too. 

Fourth, have the discipline to ensure your objective mind, not your emotional state of mind, drives your leadership actions. Last week, I came into the office and had an email that started, “My colleague saw you in the airport and was nice to you. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to be blunt.” Well, I read that email and typed out an equally blunt response. But I didn’t hit send. I asked my chief of staff what she thought, and she responded, “I wouldn’t send that if I were you.” 

So, two lessons there: Don’t act while hot. And if you have a network of people who will tell it to you like it is, listen to them. 

Fifth, learn the art of leading in all directions. We talk a lot about leading “down.” Those people who work for you. But it’s just as important to lead “laterally.” Be an example for your peers and a leader among leaders. And we have to lead “up.” Manage our bosses, or else we lose the ability to lead in the other directions because we’re constantly blown around by the whims of those above us. 

And that leads to my sixth and final point: Know that strong leaders juggle two glass balls on a daily basis. We have to manage work and lead people. So, we need to understand the difference between those two things and be able to balance the two. 

One of my favorite examples of someone who did this extremely well—and I’m going to show my age here—is Phil Jackson as coach of the Chicago Bulls from 1989 to 1998. On the “manage” side, he was the master of the Triangle Offense. This strategy puts the players in a formation that creates good spacing and allows each one to pass to any of their four teammates.  

That sounds simple, but when done right, it prevents the defense from isolating and double teaming an exceptional player. Mastering that strategy made Phil Jackson an exceptional manager. But executing it requires having exceptional players. And what made Phil Jackson an exceptional leader was his ability to handle the big personalities on that team: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bill Cartwright. And in the final three seasons, even Dennis Rodman. 

For the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson’s ability to both lead and manage led to six NBA titles in nine years. Juggling those two glass balls as successfully as he did is something we all should aspire to do as leaders. 


Okay, I covered a lot of ground in the past 15 minutes, but there are really just a few key points I want you to take away from this. 

First, have a growth mindset as a leader. Accept and embrace failures as opportunities to learn and grow. Second, have a leadership philosophy. Write it down and revisit and update it. And third, realize that we all have different pathways of growth as leaders. 

You can navigate any path in front of you if you can stay true to yourself; have a network of people who will keep it real for you; understand the big picture, two levels up and out into the larger world; act based on your objective mind, not emotions; lead in all directions; and balance managing the work and leading your people. 

Do all of that, and while you may not end up following the plan you have in your head right now, you will be successful as a leader.