The Critical Role of leadership (in policing) – a #WeCops debate
With thanks to Dan Reynolds
(Our thanks to @TACCSteveGraham for hosting this chat)
This blog follows one of the most recent @WeCops chats with the Home Office on Police Leadership as part of the #Frontline Review. The aim of the discussion was to explore the role of leadership in modern policing. It is mainly based on contributions from the discussion on Twitter as well as some extra observations and content from the @WeCops team. As always, we want to reflect the debate in the right way.
Three questions were posed:
Q1. What does effective policing leadership look like to you?
Q2. How could line management in policing be made more effective?
Q3. What could be done to make policing leaders more effective?
Normally the WeCops team would simply blog about the discussion but in this instance that work will be pulled together by the Home Office team and feed into the much wider work of the front line review. So instead, this is a mix of review and musing on this topic by the WeCops blogging team as a bonus extra just because it is of such interest. We hope you agree…
Police Leadership. Let us set the scene… After all is said and done it seems that leadership (in policing) is a much talked about subject and frankly we seem to have reached the conclusion that police leadership is just leadership. It seems that it doesn’t matter what area you apply it to, we are all people and our general observation is that we all want the same things when we talk about leadership. When pushed to describe our ideal ‘leader’ this becomes slightly different as this means different things to different people and indeed changes depending on the situation. Similarly, ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ are two concepts used interchangeably but these words often describe two different concepts. Therefore, to be clear from the start, there is a fundamental difference between leadership and management. Management is a set of processes that keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. The most important aspects can include planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving. Leadership however is different. It is a set of processes that creates organisations in the first place, or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances. So while management has to do with providing order and consistency in organisations, leadership produces change. We in the WeCops team (and you from the tweets contributed) all agree that leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.
To keep things short, as this is just a blog the term ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ get used in the same context as those that tweeted. We will also choose to leave ‘management’ alone as this is a different subject again and yet you will see from the discussion that we all use these three terms interchangeably and they bleed together, so no wonder the topic is big and complex!
Question 1 posed the question of what does effective leadership look like? A broad question and generated lots of tweets so clearly something we are all quite passionate and have an opinion about.
“Effective leadership is stepping up when needed and stepping out of the way when it’s not. Supporting the team to deliver the very best that they can achieve.” @ACQ91
Lots of others supported this so there is something about what leadership is as a function – or in other words, what the leader does but only at certain times. It is fair to say that in policing we don’t want to be micro managed but we do want to be led (at times), so for the new leaders stepping up it can be a daunting and unfamiliar place of unknown expectations. Because lets be fair here – we are able to say what good leadership looks like but actually, delivering it (or indeed teaching and shaping it in others) is a much harder thing to do. The question was also asked whom we were talking about when it comes to leadership.
“When we are discussing police leadership – who are we thinking of? The Home Office? The command team? The Inspectors? The Sergeants? Or those leading without the authority of rank? Do we all have a part to play?” @DannoReynolds
The Police Leadership Review (2015) identified that in policing, leadership can be described in four dimensions: individual, operational, senior and organisational. At the individual level, everyone working in policing needs leadership attributes to be successful in his or her role. At the operational level, incident management and team effectiveness are critical. The task is different at a senior level, which is strategic yet still requires elements of command. Organisational leadership involves the governance, executive and direction of a service at a systemic level.
Taking a wider view, Simon Sinek who has studied leadership across a variety of organisations has summed up that leadership is “always a choice, and not a rank.” He suggests that there will always be people in positions of power and authority and we will do as they say as they have authority over us – but we would not follow them so therefore are not leaders. He then argues that we will all have known people who do not have authority or positional power and yet they are leaders in every sense and we would absolutely follow them. It makes sense then that leadership is founded on, and is a function of trust and cooperation. We consent and choose to follow a leader for our own mutual gain. So what is going on here? Can good leadership be measured in the creation of trust? It would seem that this is supported by the tweets on this chat. Here is a flavor of them: –
“Leadership is about caring and seeking to make a positive difference. It is about being genuine, sincere and authentic whilst really listening. It is about challenging, discussing and learning from others whilst encouraging and motivating others to achieve their potential.” @CambsChiefSupt
The general opinion was that good leaders are seen to operate with fairness, consistency, operational competence and most of all compassion. They are accessible, honest, open and approachable. They act with integrity, are firm but fair and support whilst leading by example. They motivate, inspire, and build trust whilst empowering people. They are able to make good decisions and recognise success in others. They also understand that if something goes wrong it is a chance to learn and change rather than punish and blame. They create a culture of trust.
It is worth noting that this has been a constant theme over 2 years of WeCops chats and is why you will often see the same tweet popping up repeatedly which we used to capture it. It is an old tweet now but a good one!
“Sometimes we need rank. Often we need organization. Frequently we need leadership, but always we need trust.” @DannoReynolds
It seems then that good leadership is not about inspiring fear in followers (if it ever was) but is actually about liberating them from fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of being wrong. Sir Ken Richardson (the famous educator) believes that being seen to be wrong in the workplace is what has removed our ability to be creative – to have new and innovative ideas. His position is that because being seen to be wrong (and therefore potentially punished) is endemically the worst thing to happen in our workplaces, we lose our confidence in ‘just having a go’ that seems to come so naturally to children. He believes that for us to truly liberate our workforce we need to give them the confidence to trust that being wrong or failing does not make you a failure. Moreover, this equally applies to our leaders. Our people need our leaders (at all levels) standing on their feet and leading the team through the uncertain future with the confidence to sometimes get it wrong, without fear of retribution. This is definitely something for the inspectorate, senior leadership and Home Office review to take note of.
The second question posed generated many more tweets in response when we asked how line management could be made more effective.
Many of the responses focused on how we develop our line management, and the promotion process. Again the need for just or learning culture vs a scapegoat culture was expressed with all able to feel safe to express themselves and be supported and developed. This was then contrasted by the feeling that the promotion systems encourage selfish behavior in individuals.
“Leadership is not about being the best. Leadership is about making everyone else better.” @AnyaHoHo1
Issues of lack of available and visible line management were expressed. A direct consequence of the current financial constraint resulting in the front line feeling the lack of visible leadership?
“At the moment actually having some [supervision] would be good. New neighbourhood policing model has left some like myself with no line management due to Sgt rank being stretched to breaking point. I have not met my line manager yet after five months in post.” @Zanwrites
In addition, others identified that we need to better define what line management is and what it is for. It was commented that we promote people but there is often no training prior to the promotion so do we set people up to fail or succeed? If leadership is described as the quality which connects an understanding of what must be done with the capability to achieve it, are we doing our own people a disservice by not supporting them prior to promotion. Do we succession plan enough? The picture seems to be a mixed one. Line management is not a process; it is an invaluable opportunity to define the future for others. So perhaps the answer to how we make line management more effective is to understand what we are trying to achieve and then set in place a strong framework to achieve it.
This is something that is brilliantly described by David Marquets talking about his experience of Leadership on US Navy subs here: (definitely worth a watch) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psAXMqxwol8&feature=youtu.be
A key function of leadership is about the willingness and tenacity to investigate the lessons that often exist when we fail, but which we rarely exploit, and is key to driving high performance. It is about creating systems and cultures that enable organisations to learn from errors, rather than being threatened by them. A key theme that emerged from question 2 is that we have a risk averse culture, with tick box processes, which has led to prescriptive thinking. This limits learning, reflection and real thought about what ticking these boxes actually achieves and why. There was a feeling that hiding behind policy, led to easier decision making but not necessarily the right one. Perhaps this again is the product of a lack of trust and confidence in the consequences of making the right call, but getting it wrong. These concepts run throughout all layers of leadership from the frontline right the way to the Home Office and every department in between.
The Police Leadership Review (2015) by the College of Policing included a recommendation that there was a need for a coherent model of leadership and management training as well as development opportunities within policing nationally. The National Police Promotion Framework (NPPF) set by the College of Policing in 2015 aims to develop the technical and managerial skills of officers and staff. Utilising processes such as 360 feedback, coaching, mentoring and the development of new leaders through work-based research assignments suggests it has a positive benefit in supporting people, nurturing talent, setting expectations and developing leadership. Yet the commentary during the chat would suggest that we are some way from this being the norm. It was also identified that there is great research being completed on leadership by the candidates in the NPPF but it is not being captured by the College of Policing, which does seem like a missed opportunity.
Question 3 took us further into what more could be done to make police leaders more effective. On reflection, this is a wide question and not clear who it means by ‘police leaders’ so in the widest sense it encompassed everyone in the service.
Again, the theme of trust was strong throughout. A key comment was that as a service we seem to lack a sense of vision to pull us all together in the service.
“I think part of the problem is we don’t have a vision at the moment. We have a siege mentality of just trying to keep it together. Perhaps part of the issue with poor leadership at the moment is a lack of encouragement for leaders to have their own vision.” @roz_w01
Each police force has its own unique identity, personality and vision. Nevertheless, this comment struck a deeper chord and spoke of the disconnect between the front line and the police service nationally and the sense of why we exist. What is our combined national vision? Most organisations know what they do; some know how they do it… But the really successful ones know why they exist – as in what their core vision and values are. This is and has always been a powerful unifying belief within policing and so tweets about disillusionment should be heeded. Perhaps this, more than anything else is the terrible consequence of austerity, financial constraint and cuts to the service… A slow demise of the service from a thousand cuts leading to a profound loss of trust and confidence within.
“Trust is vital. There are lots of factors that are trying to frustrate our lives, creating a sense of danger and anxiety. A key function of the leader is to make people feel safer at work so they put all their effort and focus into work, rather than self-preservation.” @DannoReynolds
The police service relies heavily on the ’emotional investment’ that officers and staff provide. It is the ‘discretionary effort’, which is applied because you want to apply it. It is the difference between a required service, and a caring one.
Research conducted by Hesketh and Jacques (2017) on the welfare of those in the emergency services showed that leadership has a huge impact on discretionary effort from staff and can be lost if the environment changes, and the leadership does not adapt to meet that change. It showed that when staff were asked what they found stressful in the workplace, the answers were often not framed around external phenomena, such as austerity, exposure to violence, or the demands from the public. They were mostly internal, and sometimes being the relationships with managers.
Leadership that supports our people therefore seems to be vital. When teams feel supported at work, are led by someone who knows what they are doing, who is fully committed to looking after them as well as the public, and who can deal with the challenges faced, they respond positively.
This @WeCops discussion supported that effective, progressive leadership is essential if the police service is to continue to modernise and provide improvement in our service to the public. The leadership qualities required in modern public services derive from transformational leadership theories and include the ability to motivate and influence others to produce change, to provide a high standard of service and create a harmonious working environment for all. Good leadership provides the vision and mobilisation to achieve this goal.
“Sometimes it’s not space. I’d be more specific and say it’s permission that’s needed. In a hierarchical organization such as the police, people think they need permission to do anything differently. They don’t! Leaders shouldn’t need to give permission!” @ktbg1
In summary, a good leader trusts and empowers their team to make decisions as though they were that leader themselves. When this is done and it is supported within a just culture the organisation becomes more efficient allowing leaders that moment to actually lead. This may come at a cost in the short term but a good leader would rather sacrifice the numbers than sacrifice their people. This however takes courage in the leader.
Good leadership may simply be summed up as; know yourself, know your stuff and know your staff.
Leadership also appears to be about capacity.
The capacity of leaders to listen and observe. The capacity to use their expertise as a starting point to encourage discussion between everyone, at all levels of decision-making. The capacity to establish processes and transparency in decision-making, and the capacity to articulate their own values and visions clearly, but not impose them.
People buy into what you as a leader believe in, and therefore the actions you take as a leader simply serve as proof of what you believe. In the police service, this requires a change in our understanding of this as we have a strong culture of deference to rank and authority, as was identified in the Police Leadership Review (2015). Our ability to flex and find a happy balance between both leadership and command depending on the circumstances we face is an important skill for all police leaders.
It is not an easy task to pin down exactly what good leadership is, because often it is felt as much as it is seen. It is our emotional response to the leader that often determines what we feel is good leadership. It is also how we remember and perceive leadership. It is common that we look to our leaders at times of crisis for strong and decisive leadership and therefore leadership can influence trust and confidence between people. Good leaders allow their people space to develop and grow, yet can step in when more direction or support is needed.
In a modern police service, it appears that the traditional transactional and autocratic style of leadership has begun to be replaced with a more progressive and modern transformational and democratic style. Management and leadership in the police service is now beginning to look more like that of a traditional company with the Chief Constable as the Chief Executive Officer. However, even this change in approach may not be enough to keep up with the pace of changing expectations in society.
Rank or authority of position is still important in policing to be able to take direct command in times of stress and crisis but police leaders now lead in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. New emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, the disruption to the traditional ways of working, and emerging threats are already here or just on the horizon. The sharing of data is making everything more personal and transparent; and public expectations are changing.
The critical themes of modern policing of innovation, technology, collaboration and community all appear to have the same enabler, effective leadership. The ability to articulate a personal, organisational and societal meaning of what these changes mean to policing is therefore critically important. Finding meaning in what is happening around us, allows for it to be explained and for people to embrace it with a common purpose. This then leads to effective innovation and change.
The ability to step into and out of different styles and to navigate societal changes will likely distinguish the successful police leaders in the 21st century.
In closing, it would appear that effective leaders:-
- See the bigger picture. Outstanding leaders recognise the interconnected nature of their organisations and act accordingly. They are a catalyst to drive innovation. “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
- Understanding that talk is work. Outstanding leaders talk to staff to find out what motivates them and how they can boost enthusiasm. When a leader expresses appreciation for the accomplishments of team members, they are in many ways providing that added incentive for future successes. “What gets recognised and rewarded gets repeated.”
- Give time and space to others. Outstanding leaders allow people more freedom and influence over the work they do. Leaders foster collaboration and build trust by supporting and encouraging their teams to do good work. “Freedom to succeed”.
- Grow through performance. Outstanding leaders invest in their workforce and use challenges presented to encourage growth, learning and engagement. Additionally, a leader must have significant self-confidence to give team members credit for accomplishments and not blame them when shortfalls occur. “The circle of safety.”
- Put ‘we’ before ‘me’. Outstanding leaders work hard on team spirit, shared decision-making, collaborative working and forming strong bonds between teams. Leaders identify their own values before clarifying team values. A significant level of trust is important for leading teams, and a leader must generate positive opportunities for meaningful team communication and interaction.
- Plan and decide effectively. Emotionally intelligent leaders consider how their team members may react to a decision, and then attempt to make decisions that will fit in with the shared values of the team. In the end, this type of flexible decision-making will contribute to the successful implementation of the decision.
- Communicate a vision. Communication is among the most difficult challenges to leadership. Emotionally intelligent leaders base their communication efforts “on delivering a message [they] want to deliver and delivering it in such a way that is heard and understood by others”. Challenge the status quo by asking “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
- Promote change. Leaders challenge the status quo through innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking but identify, empathize with, and acknowledge resistance and then communicate the need for change to lead to successful implementation. Change is unsettling but is the new constant and effective leaders recognise this and support staff through the change. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
- Create effective interpersonal relationships. Effective leaders generate relationships that are healthy and mature enough for members to express honest and tactful reactions with other members. Being accurately aware of emotions and their meaning provides the emotional intelligent leader with a solid base of understanding of themselves and of others. Along with understanding and interpreting emotions, it is equally important for leaders to understand the impact of emotions on individual and organisational performance.
- Finally, exemplary leaders “Encourage the Hearts” of their teams to help them carry on in the face of challenge, frustration, and discouragement. Leaders know that celebrations and rituals, when done with authenticity and from the heart, build a strong sense of collective identity and community spirit that can carry a group through extraordinarily tough times. “Be the best.”
As Dame Professor Shirley Pearce, Chair of the College of policing commented during the review of police leadership in 2015;
“Everyone working in policing deserves the very best leadership and management at all levels in order to deliver the highest levels of service to the public.”
It is what the Police Leadership Review 2015 articulates and that is what we should all aspire to achieve.