Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Leader

When I went to see the Utopian Analyst for his findings on my last post, he said to me, "Mr Hobbes, your posting raised more questions than it answered, not least for me. What I would like to know is what qualities a handsome, hunky and wind-swept officer such as you needs to possess in order to bring the best out of his officers?" After politely refusing his offer of a romantic meal together, I actually spent some time considering what qualities a good leader should have. Whilst I could not disagree with his observations that I am an extremely attractive man, I've never sat down and actually thought, "Am I a good leader? What do I need to do to inspire my officers to go that extra mile?" I've come to a conclusion of sorts below, but I'm not saying that I either personally possess or display these qualities. Maybe I should, maybe there are learning points within this post that I can take and apply to my team. Maybe the serving officers, retirees and public who commented on the last post can add more?

I did actually begin thinking about this last week, when I read of the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thornloe in Afghanistan. What struck me about this was not that questions were asked why a commanding officer should have been at the front-line in the first place, but that he was commended by all for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his men, experiencing what they experience. Defence analysts said it was vital for such a high ranking officer to be with his troops taking the same risks. Chris Keeble, an officer during The Falklands Conflict, further said, "We lead from the front. The death of a commanding officer is no less or more of a tragedy than the death of a private soldier." Are you already thinking that these are the kind of men that you would follow? I am.

Already, it is apparent that a good leader should - at times - be visible when routine is the norm, but be a constant presence when an incident is critical. I literally like to take a back seat for most of the tour rather than patrol alone. I'll sit in one of the vehicles with the PC's when nothing much is happening. It's not so I can keep an eye on them, but rather to see what they have to deal with and to get to know them a bit better. If a Critical Incident does come up, that's when I take control. I'll make the decisions and explain later, there's not always time when responding to an urgent development. If the need arises and I'm present when the danger is increased, then I'll be the first to deal with it ahead of my PC's. It's not that I doubt their ability, but if my decision to react increases the danger, then I'll be the one to take the brunt of it.

I initially caused a bit of a stir with the Sergeants when I joined my response team. I told them that on the occasions when there are two of them available to patrol, that I don't want to see them patrolling together. I want to see them either in separate vehicles or patrolling with PC's. I would also wander through the custody suite at two in the morning, and if there were no prisoners, I'd get one of the Sergeants out to patrol and supervise. The PC's don't have the luxury of taking it easy when nothing much is going on. They still have to patrol, be proactive, and show a visible presence. Why shouldn't a Sergeant do the same? "Lead by example" are the words of advice I always give and live by.

So, I'll be the first through the door at the beginning of the tour to prepare my team, and I'll be the last to leave at its conclusion. If my officers are unable to take refreshment breaks due to the volume of calls we receive, then I won't have a break either and will go and answer calls also. I know some of my peers say I shouldn't do this. They say I should be there to maintain an overview. I disagree. Hog Day Afternoon, one of the most enjoyable blogs I read, provided me with an example that highlights my own personal view.

General Bill Slim, when leading a retreat through Burma during the war, came across his men lying in a jungle clearing. They were in a bad way, clearly demoralised. Then he saw why. He saw his officers making themselves a bivouac. They got this aspect of leadership wrong, in my view at least. They may have thought they were setting an example to the men that, even though they were equally exhausted, they were demonstrating that extra fortitude to build proper protection for themselves from the elements. What they should have done, I would argue, was to go amongst the men and to assist them in building their bivouacs, leaving their own until last.

As General Slim commented, "Officers are there to lead. I tell you therefore, as officers, you will neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor smoke, nor even sit down until you have personally seen that your men have done those things. If you do this for them, they will follow you until the end of the world". For General Slim, discipline begins with the leader and spreads downwards. Genuine teamwork begins when everyone does more than is required of them. He quotes Napoleon Bonaparte, who said, "There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers".

Okay, so I'm not a soldier or a general. However, if you look at your own bosses in any sphere of work you've undertaken, you should be able to see which qualities from the above that they possessed. They either inspired you to work harder, or you determined to do as little as possible to help them achieve their goals. I've worked for both types. I think I've learned from it.
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  1. Sir,

    Let me stand up on my little soap box and applaud you as loudly and proudly as I can..
    Can I transfer to your shift?

    Let me think of the last time I saw my Inspector out of the station........................................................................

    OH YEAH.. NEVER!!!

    My Inspector has NEVER turned up at a job, never been seen out on patrol, never responded to anything, and just sits in the Inspectors office and grumbles at you when you've not got something right with your uniform (because I'm in the station and I'm trying to relax for 5 minutes!)

    I agree 100% with Gen. Slim. Now if only we can get anything of this in the Police we'll be a lot better off. I have no interest in working for an Inspector who doesn't give a toss about the troops, and who never leaves the office for any reason other than to go home early (Yes, I saw that too!)

  2. Mr Hobbes I think you have understood and explained beautifully the fine balancing act that a manager/leader has to play. If you get too "matey" with your team then they aren't going to respect you when you have a tough decision to make that they don't like. Play it too "distant" and they will just think you are lazy and uninterested.

    This isn't just disciplined services, any organisation larger than two people will have this problem. Here in my office motivation is rock bottom because people just are not interested in going that extra mile when the bosses seem to be coasting along. Why bother with time-keeping if the head honcho slopes in late and leaves early?

    The boss should be the first to arrive and the last to leave. He/she should be on top of the situation and able to take a view from one step back but also willing and able to get involved when able to support the team with his bare hands.

    I think you are probably an excellent person to work with!

  3. Sounds like I'm lucky to have the boss that I do. He's usually out in a marked car with a PC for most of the shift - especially on those busy weekend Night shifts.
    He's apparently popular with SNT because he works us hard; but he's popular with us because he backs us up when we need it, and is out there catching scumbags and attending weary jobs too.

    Much to my shame, I think he has more bodies than I do this month too!

  4. I agree with Blue Eyes, no matter what you do to make your daily bread, if it involves more than 2 people there is leading to be done.
    I worked with a guy for years who, like your self, sir was also of hansom and wind swept visage, had a keen wit and was occasionaly propositioned with romantic meals(LMAO), he however was entirely bereft of leadership skills.
    He led from the heated or air-conditioned cab of the truck while his men labored on slippery, steep and sometimes treacherous slopes and cliffs.
    He refused to advise and he refused to pull his weight.
    He was also lightening quick to hang his men out to dry with management whenever his appalling lack of leadership resulted in piss poor production, or worse, incidents of injury to persons or property damage.
    When his crew members were shifted to me, I heard a veritable litany of complaints and grievances, none of which I could address to any degree as said loser was the closest freind and companion of the company owner.

    I hear him spoken of with nothing but contempt.
    And he is deserving of all of it.

  5. "No bad soldiers...." should be the motto of every manager. The motto dinned into British army oficers, since time immemorial, was what Slim's officers forgot: "First, look after the horses. Then, look after the men. Then, look after yourselves."

  6. The top drawer standard of posting continues!

    Clearly an excellent leader as well as an excellent writer Insp. Hobbes!

  7. Guv'nor, if i may bastardise your previous comment to me..... I would like to join your team, i like the cut of your jib.
    Not speaking as one of your flock, i don't know what the view from within is like, but, i respect and follow any leader WHO ACTUALLY LEADS. One willing to crack on and deal with stuff instead of sitting behind a desk and leading via the radio gets my vote.

  8. Thank you for the honourable mention LTH. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere but the final confirmation of my suspicions about the interpretation of `leadership` from the upper echelons of the police in the 90’s came when I was at Bramshill on a command course. No mention of `leadership` anywhere (and believe me I searched for it) until I raised the subject, almost in exasperation, only to be made to feel like I’d uttered a word that had been banished to another world, without me being told about it. I was told, in answer to my question, that good leadership would emerge through the correct application of strategic management. This statement came midway through a very tedious 7 weeks and it was something of a `Road to Damascus` moment for me, as I then realised I was at the source of all the anecdotal evidence that I had accrued over the previous 15 or so years; that being the steady disappearance of `walk-about managers` and those who could lead from the front when needed. The final nail was when my supt gave me a bollocking for driving a much-needed van to an urgent assistance call.

    I’d made it my business to strive to do all of the things you quoted, because it seemed so obvious that all the things that inspired you and me as a Pc or Sgt came back to that simple doctrine so clearly stated by `Uncle` Bill Slim. Once promoted, I took the view that it was I who worked for the people I supervised, not them working for me. I had to help them become as good as they could be and be ready to lead by example when necessary – too little and you are a waste of space, too much and you can be a pain in the arse, or worse, a liability. The higher in rank then the more people I had to work for and my job became one of clearing obstructions from the path of those who were at the sharp end so they could do their job more easily and, in so doing, make us all look good. I realised, eventually, that above me there was no one clearing my bloody obstructions and they were actually just piling more of them onto the growing heap that now blights the path of the 21st Century police officer.

  9. Bertie, thank you for your generous words of praise. I will personally sign the copy of my blogs that I have published (hand-written with a crayon) on a piece of brightly coloured paper I stole from my daughter. It currently retails at £49.99. Orders via PayPal are acceptable.