I am pleased to be able to post another contribution from a colleague on Leadership.
I read with interest Inspector Hobbes article on Leadership. This is an area that has concerned me for some time. We regularly castigate politicians for the apparent lack of support we get, quite rightly. Leadership is something that we can address ourselves and we are not doing it.
I joined the police twenty something years ago and I still vividly remember some of the leaders around then. There were a lot of strong characters. They were in charge. There was no doubt of that. They understood policing and had the respect of their teams. There was a lot of shouting and barking but the really good ones maintained that equilibrium between compassion and direction. The important thing was, when the wheel came off the sergeants and inspectors knew what they were doing, took control and no one questioned their directions.
Now, some of you will be thinking that the old twit has got his rose tinted glasses on and we all like to believe that things have gone downhill since our day. Hear me out and let’s have a look at how things have changed.
Once you had passed the law exam, promotion used to be by recommendation from line managers. Experience in the field counted for everything and you had to show that you had the skills and experience to do the job before you got recommended for promotion. The system was open to abuse and allegations of ‘jobs for the boys.’ Largely though, it worked pretty well.
Over the last 15 years the Police Service has taken up the cudgel of political correctness and decided that law and order is not our only raison d’être. We must also educate the general public in all ‘isms.’ Height, fitness levels for recruits, anything that might suggest we are discriminating against anyone were thrown out. I’m not suggesting that we should reverse this but somewhere the baby went out with the bath water.
Senior Police Officers were tasked and built careers on the race to increase representation from minority groups at all levels. We needed to recruit women and other under-represented groups fast and push them up the ranks as quickly as possible. The unwritten rule that only a few exceptional people were promoted or went to CID before five years experience and service was torn up. We started promoting officers barely out of their probation period. Many of them had not learnt the massive role of policing and had few leadership skills. I am not suggesting for a minute that it is the minority groups within the police that are ineffective. This was part of the cause, the effect of which led to a significant number of ineffective leaders across the whole spectrum.
Around the same time the service also decided that it needed a more academic recruit to cope with the plethora of legislation and accountability being foisted upon us. More recruits came to us from the middle classes, some of whom had never so much been in a playground fight, never mind got stuck into a Friday night brawl. Some of these recruits want to progress quickly through the ranks, but lack leadership skills: Supervisors plotting target results on a spreadsheet, is for many, their idea of leadership, rather than leading from the front. Fortunately, there are still many good leaders within the service but too many are a manifestation of the blind leading the blind and a self perpetuating cycle of poor leadership. We have ineffective leaders recommending too many applicants for promotion when they are totally unsuitable. The promotion system of a paper application and interview is not weeding out sufficient of those applicants. We need to break out of this cycle.
We need leaders like Inspector Hobbes who go the extra mile to ensure that their staff are delivering the service and not falling into bad habits. Leaders need to have the knowledge and experience to command respect, manage staff and control critical incidents. Just as importantly, we need leaders who can identify and develop new talent and manage the expectations of those who are not ready to do so and who may never be.
The answer to any problem is never very far away. In the services potential NCO’s are identified and put forward for promotion. Once recommended, they attend a selection course that is pass or fail. If they fail badly, the officer’s that recommended them are held to account.
Taking the police promotion exam should trigger a meeting with a line manager where an honest discussion should take place regarding the candidates suitability for promotion. A clear plan should be put in place so the candidate understands when, and under what circumstances, they may be recommended for promotion.
No one should be recommended for promotion unless there is a consensus from the applicant’s first and second line managers that the candidate would be a welcome addition to the recommending officer’s team, capable of leading that team and gaining the respect of all they work with. The candidate should then attend a pass or fail course based on practical assessment.
It should always be born in mind that not everyone will be suitable for promotion and everyone has a ceiling. Being honest and managing expectations are also qualities of a good leader and need to be practised more often.
The opinions and views expressed here are mine, and mine alone. They do not necessarily reflect the policies and views of the Utopian Police Force nor the City of Utopia.
The stories I tell here are all true but my purpose is not technical accuracy. My purpose is to illustrate the nature of policing in an educational and entertaining way.
I have tried to respect the privacy of the citizens of the city and to relate specific facts without identifying individuals. I believe I succeed in this but if you do recognize yourself and believe others will too, please contact me and I shall rectify it.