Leadership is a strange thing…

Leadership is a strange thing.

When I first joined twitter, I got caught up in the endless stream of quotes that are shared liberally by leadership gurus and coaches on there. It’s populated by short collections of sentences that are meant to make leadership easier to understand, but are often contradictory. A great example of this is the current debate (often unseen) between followership and empowerment. On one side, leaders are people that inspire people to follow them where they are going, provide a vision, inspiration and support, and on another, leaders don’t set the way at all, they support others to find it. This clash is often not even discussed, but there are a hundred quotes on either side that do the rounds every day, with people taking inspiration from them constantly.



The truth of course, is that leadership is a lot more complicated than ‘showing the way,’ or becoming a ‘lion’ to lead the ‘sheep’ :-/ It’s what is often called ‘negotiated.’ What does this mean? Good question.

When a leader tells someone to do something, there is a process that then takes place in that person’s head. It’s usually unconscious, but contains things like:

• Do I want to do that thing?

• Am I supposed to do that thing?

• Is it legal to do that thing?

• Have I got what I need to do that thing?

• Do I feel capable of doing that thing?

• Do I want to do that thing for them?

• What are the consequences of me not doing it?

In some cases, there’s very little negotiation because the relationship with the leader is just too poor, and some of these questions take precedence over others. For instance, ‘What are the consequences of me not doing it?’ will often override, ‘Do I want to do it?

In the Police context there’s a lot of this going on under the *corporate jargon alert* banner of ‘discretionary effort.’ Discretionary effort (for me) is all about changing the dynamic of this conversation going on in people’s heads.

Researchers will discuss the amount of discretion afforded to police prior to them making decisions in work based situations. The position of Constable is a unique one, because they often hold the power to choose whether they enact particular disposals eg. give a ticket to someone speeding. This isn’t the same as in other jobs, where refusing to provide something is technically a disciplinary offence automatically. Officers can – and do – refuse to make arrests where they believe it is inappropriate, thus complicating the notion of leadership within the police context even further.

On a personal note, the switch from ‘What are the consequences of me not doing it?’ as the main driver of activity, to, ‘I want to do it,’ is one of the key functions of leadership, and it can come about over any number of scenarios.

The important take home about thinking about leadership in this way, is that the person being ‘led’ has as much (if not more) control over any action’s success, than the leader. Leadership is as much about the people being led, as it is about those doing the leading. Making that responsibility conscious is really important, because good leaders can be ruined by dysfunctional teams, and great teams can be ruined by dysfunctional leaders.

Leadership is a relationship, it’s not a list of behaviours.

External context also has a huge part to play in policing. There are numerous people that the police actually serve. Layering in the Code of Ethics, and understanding that we are there ultimately for the public, whilst delivering for the Home Office as a function of democracy, whilst staying accountable to local communities and being pro-active in safeguarding the vulnerable, is no small ask. It may be the case that delivering a function requested by the people due to issues with the system elsewhere (mental health) may be vastly unpalatable to the workforce. This clash is also where leadership lies, and it can again exist on a spectrum of respecting the workforce’s wishes and pushing back against the requests for demand, right through to listening to the calls and delivering what the public is asking of us.

This is part of a much wider ‘negotiation’ between the public and the police, and it is never as simple as listening to one stakeholder (such as your workforce in isolation) and doing what they request. The future of this ‘negotiation’ is likely to be messy, partisan and full of politics – whether we as officers like it to be, or not.

So, this blog was about starting to layer in some of the complications that affect police leadership at the moment, yet there are changes that are tabled that are to land shortly. This blog has hopefully set the scene for a conversation on @WeCops that sits within the context of the relationships described above…

1) Will the reduction in ranks in policing be positive or negative? Why?

2) How can the voices of officers be heard better by leaders in the police service?

3) There are competing demands for police attendance at present, what role does leadership have in resolving these issues?

Question one is about affecting the physical distance between the top and the bottom of the organisation. Will this help or hinder the relationships that leaders and those being led must navigate?

Question two is about leaders entering into a conversation with those being led. What could help to improve the current situation? This is about developing the ‘negotiation’.

Question three is about what happens when multiple stakeholders in the leadership relationship clash. Who takes precedence and how do we navigate the issues that may arise?

Wednesday the 9th at 21.00. See you there @WeCops


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