The police service is resistant to change because of an “insular attitude” and chief constables who fail to listen to officers, the body responsible for training in England and Wales says.
A College of Policing review said the service needed to address issues of hierarchy, culture and consistency.
It identifies positive aspects of police culture, such as decisiveness, compassion and a “can do” attitude.
But it also suggests there may need to be a reduction in the number of ranks.
A “flatter system” could lead to significant improvements, it adds.
The leadership review concludes a major obstacle to reform is what it describes as the “heroic model” of leadership, in which officers are expected to carry out the will of the chief constable, who acts as a figurehead.
There should instead be more emphasis on teamwork, it says.
“The distance between the majority of the workforce and senior leaders created by the rank hierarchy can reduce the willingness of some to adhere to best practice or seek development opportunities,” it says.
The document calls for a new model of leadership and management training within the service.
It says all vacancies should be promoted nationally, there should be increased flexibility in assigning power to staff, and chief officers should be allowed to continue to develop.
The report also highlights the “huge” challenge the service faces to improve black, minority or ethnic representation.
Some 17,000 BME officers will have to be recruited over the next decade for the service to be “more representative”, it says.
The review was carried out after a request by Home Secretary Theresa May.
College of Policing CEO Chief Constable Alex Marshall said: “I do not underestimate the challenge of delivering these recommendations.
“While the college has a significant part to play, they require a much wider response from across the police service, police and crime commissioners and the Home Office.
“Implementing the recommendations inevitably comes with a cost, but we accept that investment is crucial if we are to improve the way that our leaders are developed.”