Tuesday, 25 August 2009

More Leadership

General Patton

I am pleased to be able to post another contribution from a colleague on Leadership.

More 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’ĂȘtre. 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.


  1. "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"

    For me, the above two sentences hit the `gold` in this interesting post. In order to make quick tactical decisions you not only need the technical and legal knowledge, you also need experience to understand how the machinery of the organisation and the dynamics of the given situation can be correctly mixed and matched. No training course (outside of firearms) at any of the 4 ranks I held, ever gave me that, but I can remember all of the men and women who, at some time, led me badly or led me well and both examples taught me valuable lessons. As for the senior management stuff, anyone can be trained to churn out measurable `results` and muddle through, they just should't confuse this with leadership, thats all.

  2. 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’ĂȘtre. We must also educate the general public in all ‘isms.’

    So it's not just my imagination.

    Mind you, everyone else seems to have done the same, so I suppose the Police had to keep up with the Joneses.


  3. You are probably mostly right, but I think you are conflating several issues. Does being middle class and not having been in too many brawls before joining automatically mean that someone is unsuitable for a leadership role?

    You mention the armed services, but do they not have "graduate" entries straight into the senior ranks??

    I agree that there is no substitute for experience and I agree that people should not be fast tracked just so the organisation can *look* more representative, but isn't this a simple "political" reaction to the fact that for far too long the police service was pretty unwelcoming to many who would make great officers and leaders? Once the service is back on a more even keel there won't be a need for such positive action.

  4. "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"

    The impression I get from that sentence is one that I often see among colleagues. Namely that illegal violence can sometimes be justified, when it can't. Kids shouldn't fight in the playground and taking it to a more adult context, no person who has not offered violence first "deserved a smack" regardless of how many times they called someone's mother a whore (sticks and stones...).

    I am one such middle class recruit who has never been in a playground fight but often get stuck into Friday night brawls. But when I get stuck in, it's to separate the parties and try to restrain them. If that doesn’t work, or I fear someone is about to hit me then I’ve no qualms about giving a pre-emptive strike. But I see too many colleagues who see a fight and relish the chance to go flying in, boot first. This gives the police the bad image that we were all just bullied as child and taking indiscriminate revenge.

    Getting back to your point though, the "jobs for the boys" thing was a real problem and I also agree that we have now gone too far the other way. So I think rather than go back to the old ways, something in-between would be better.


  5. Couldn't agree more even felt the urge to comment upon it myself once. Sorry for selfless advertising.



  6. Also selfless advertising here but we all want the same thing.


  7. @Anon

    The point I got from the comments about middle class recruits was the fear that (due to lack of experience and sheer shock) they might not get stuck in - and would thus endanger themselves, colleagues and MoPs.

    In my brief period of service I have already seen several people matching the above description express shock and horror at having seen casual violence; one hopes that when the brown stuff actually hits the fan they'd be as quick to jump in as anyone else, but you can't help but wonder.

    I agree that illegal violence is....well, illegal - I just don't see where anyone else tried to justify it.

    I speak as a middle class graduate who intentionally put off joining the police (and gained 7 years experience in fighting evil doers and baddies in other areas of the CJ system) in order to avoid the above problem - only to finally join up and find that noone else had bothered!

  8. Yea, maybe I did read too much into it and end up offending myself. Sorry folks.

    - Altercation

  9. Thank you for your comments. I thought I would clarify a couple of points.

    I am certainly not saying that all middle class recruits are unsuitable as police officers or leaders. I am one too!

    I regularly see officers not taking charge of conflict situations and making poor excuses for not doing so. Every constable should be a leader and have the skills to be able to take control. That needs natural leadership skills or life experience. Our recruiting procedures need to be altered to ensure we get the recruits we need.

    I am certainly not advocating illegal violence, in fact just the opposite. For example, the handful of stupid incidents perpetrated by officers at the G20 would not have happened if there was proper and effective leadership within the teams and on the ground on the day.

    We have too many timid officers who are not taking charge and not dealing with offences because 'I didn't know where my backup was.' Etc. Etc. Every day offenders are out there being abusive and threatening violence and officer's are taking it and walking away. This makes it more difficult for the next officer that deals with them and is eroding our public reputation.

  10. one hopes that when the brown stuff actually hits the fan they'd be as quick to jump in as anyone else, but you can't help but wonder

    I'm still not sure what the correlation between class background and the likelihood of jumping in. I don't know what it's like to be from a "working class" background (whatever that is) but are kids really getting toughened up before they join so they make better officers from day one?

    Surely if this is an issue then the training isn't doing its job?

  11. I missed the `class` comment. Must have sub-consciously dismissed it.

  12. @ Lex - I agree, and interesting choice of nom de guerre!

    @SC - I can only speak for the Met training, but I'd say it certainly isn't 'doing it's job' in reference to the issues described above. For a start Hendon might as well be on a different planet to the BOCU I've been posted to, so different is the atmosphere, ethos and culture.

    I wouldn't be so crass as to suggest that all 'middle class' probationers are soppy and weak in certain situations - but on the other hand, all the people who I've seen looking a bit bit out of their depth and unsure in tense/hostile scenarios have fallen under the middle class graduate heading.

    You're probably right to suggest that this is a fault of the training; with a fair bit of experience with unpleasant people and dollops of violence in immigration circles myself, I was shocked to find how little warning was given people with milder backgrounds vis a vis the situations they were almost certain to find themselves in out in the real world. Most no-doubt cope admirably, but plenty don't and I expect that is who Lex refers to.

    We could also look to the selection process for enlightenment, as that seems almost designed to edge out any assessment of a person's 'staunchness' - instead choosing to make sure they sufficiently challenge shopping centre colleagues with un-PC views.

  13. MPS Probbie: Perhaps my compulsory boxing, wrestling and Judo (see my last post) wasn't a bad grounding after all lol. Do they still make you shout "Did anybody see what happened?" at the RTA practical?

  14. Spot on post. I however am very glad that they took away the height restriction otherwise i wouldn't have got in. Sometimes the ability to talk yourself out of a roll around is as beneficial as having the ability to win one - just a thought.
    I maintain the adage of never starting a fight but always winning one works best.

    As for newbies lacking moral fibre, absolutely agree. Due to the recent sea change that would like to see more foot patrol officers, i know of one person who was reduced to tears (literally) at the prospect of having to go out on foot and deal with things - on her own.

    Promoting people with little or no knowledge (i shan't use the accronym), has led to an officer with three years service and actively AVOIDS confontational situations being made up. What is the point of having that person as a leader? They can't lead. They can refer - to other people or reference books - but can't lead.

    The job doesn't want people who can think, it wants people who can follow. Followers don't fuck up. If you're following an SOP, you're bulletproof - and so is the organisation. You may well not be doing the right thing for the human being you're dealing with, but it doesn't matter, the SOP lays out what your actions should be so you can't be criticised.

    It would take too much effort from someone willing to break an SOP to reverse the trend. Won't happen, and mores the shame.

  15. The parachuting of inexperienced graduates into management positions isn't reserved for the Police. Its been a feature of almost all aspects of private and public sectors.

    I worked for ICL in the eighties and nineties for their manufacturing arm. The normal progression was through the various levels, the best candidates eventually reaching management.
    Then came "fast-tracking" where graduates were dropped into management positions, ostensibly to provide a team of yes-men to insecure senior managers. The result was the manufacturing arm was sold off within 5 years and ICL was taken over by Fujitsu not long after.

  16. I like that all police officers have to start as a PC, however, some do need to go on to be senior managers. So while it would be fantastic if everyone could get oodles of frontline experience, but careers are limited and some people have to shoot up the ranks.

    The alternative would be having an officer class, like in the military. Which i tihnk would be worse.

    - Altercation

  17. Now that the Mayor of London has announced he is in charge of the Met I think we'll see big changes. Like during Vietnam protesters put flowers in the rifle barrels of police and army, he'll take away your batons and replace them with Ken Dodd's tickle sticks for a kinder gentler force

  18. "Height, fitness levels for recruits, anything that might suggest we are discriminating against anyone were thrown out. "

    Which explains why it's possible for a short, female, police officer to claim they were "intimidated" when a tall man took her photograph - and led to a stop and search.

    Heaven help that short female officer if they're ever confronted by a tall, thuggish person who calls them nasty names or is up to mischief!