Direct Entry

This is difficult for me to write. I know that many officers will read this and feel angry. If you mention direct entry (DE from here on in), there is an automatic and visceral dislike that shows itself, even when some try to conceal it. Not everyone feels like this, but I would say that this is a majority opinion – and one that I held myself several years ago.

There are some great people in the police service, and I think they show a great deal of integrity when they say to direct entrants, ‘I don’t believe in the scheme, but I will support you wherever I can, because I would do that for everyone else.’ It’s difficult to intensely dislike a particular initiative, but then actively support the recruits that become the result of it. It takes courage, resilience, and an ounce of critical thinking that allows judgement to be suspended whilst a level of support is provided.

This aside, I’ve also heard stories of a physical lack of support for these recruits, and this includes those that enter the service under Police Now. This sets up the schemes to fail, as very tight cultures (and the police has a tight culture) can reject quite violently those that don’t ‘belong.’

Why is this ‘belonging’ so strong? There are many different reasons, but several really strong ones, and before I start to talk about them, let’s just go over the ‘evidence base’ conversation.

This is actually happening:

We don’t believe in this fad that is evidence based policing and to be honest we can function without it. We don’t need academics telling us how to do our job. It will pass.

*DE introduced*

Where’s the evidence base for this?”

And this is also bolstered by:

Direct Entry is progressive, and we can bring in new ideas and approaches using this new approach to recruitment.” With regards to Inspectors and Superintendents.

*DE introduced at chief constable level*

Where’s the evidence base for this?

I don’t want to cast judgement on this. What I can see though, is a desire for the rationale behind the changes that are happening, and I think that desire is justified, rational and deserved. Procedural Justice Theory tells us that the outcome of a decision is often not as important as the understanding behind the process of coming to it, and the sharing of the rationale and the ‘evidence’ behind it. Maybe officers and staff would be more accepting of these changes, if the rationale for them was shared and discussed in an open way?

So, why do we have Direct Entry? I can’t tell you what was in the minds of the people making the decisions, but I can possibly discuss some of the structural issues behind its introduction. Maybe this will help with the rationale part.

Police Employment

The police have a very strange employment arrangement. You can’t make a police officer redundant. When I speak to people outside the police, this is the strangest thing to them. Short of gross misconduct, illness or injury, or committing crime, police officers are set for their career, which is now up to and over 38 years long. If you are a cop and this is your normal, realise that this is anything but normal for everyone who isn’t a police officer.

This employment arrangement makes for organisations that have very static work forces (backed up by official turnover rates). When austerity hit, forces up and down the country had to cut higher percentages of police staff, because they couldn’t lose officers. Officers in turn often filled staff positions, as the function that was performed by those staff members was still essential. Officers are often a lot more expensive than staff, so this made for quite nasty efficiency figures in some positions.

Now, movement between forces is also quite rare. Transferee programs are often in short supply and carry low numbers. Freeze recruitment through austerity and this means even less movement. You are left with relatively large organisations that carry the same staff, for many, many years, up the same linear rank progression, who rarely leave their constabularies, and rarely receive perspective from other forces. To compound this, outsiders who transfer in are often returned to uniform constable and their prior experience disregarded – ultimately having to start again. Relationships are very, very important in this environment, you are working with the same people in the same surroundings for decades.


What does the above tell us about the physical structure of police forces? It tells us that they are insular. And when you look at how officers learn to lead within these structures, this insularity is further reinforced.

Within the UK policing landscape, there is an under-developed leadership infrastructure. The MOD, the NHS, and Education all have leadership programs that are decades old, with bespoke academies, programs and career pathways. Despite the odd course, and a singular fast track, or high potential track that used to carry around 50 officers nationally per year, police leaders (by and large) learn to be leaders from current police leaders. And until you hit senior level (NPCC), the leaders you learn from are usually within your own constabulary.

If you also look at the custom and practice around police promotion, you will see that current leaders always hold the keys to the promotion of future leaders. This even includes ‘allowing’ officers to apply for promotion, and when you look into the training required for this responsibility, in most forces there isn’t any – at all. This is reversed at PNAC (Police National Assessment Center), when often for the first time candidates are externally evaluated – anyone looking at this structure from the outside could understand why PNAC was such a big deal, it’s often the first time that police leaders step outside their local leadership support systems. You need personal backing to apply for this too.

Now, if you couple the above paragraphs with the research around unconscious bias, which illustrates that we show preference for those that share the same values, opinions and behaviors as us, it creates a system for the propagation of leadership that looks like the current leadership… Without external influence, professionalisation in selection, or checks and balances, people will naturally gravitate towards supporting those that behave as they do, it’s what our brains do, it makes us comfortable.

In private industry, tight groupthink leads to organisational failure. Competition keeps organisations innovating and changing, or they are quickly left behind and become forgotten. There is a constant pressure to learn. In public service the operating model is very different, but the pressure to push to change is absent, there are no boards of shareholders eager for profit. There is a complex accountability system, and it does have the power to drive reform, but events that are playing out now show how difficult this system is to navigate.


My research (blog here) illustrates that there is a lot more chance of success in the police recruitment system, if you already have police connections. I am currently studying social isolation in policing for my PhD, looking specifically at the range and number of external connections that officers keep following joining the police. I can’t presume the findings of my research, but I can discuss my own experience.

I lost many of my external friends when I joined the police. A small number happened quickly, but the majority were lost over time to the shifts, and the cancelled rest days, and the tiredness, and ultimately the values that I had to uphold. Anecdotally, this is normal for many officers, and the job itself often becomes a ‘family business.’ I have worked with many officers who have had parents, siblings, or extended family in the job. The camaraderie, the support networks and the friendships made because of this are – I would think – unique, and very, very strong.

If you put the above two paragraphs together, the end conclusion is that recruits often know police officers, and police officers often have quite tight social circles. This can lead to a tight recruitment pool, that we may struggle to break due to the passing of information between tight social circles that sustain themselves passed the point of police recruitment.


Putting it together

When people ask for an evidence base for direct entry, one only has to look at the systems that maintain the profession. We have special employment conditions that ensure the longevity and stability of our workforce. Leadership within the workforce is developed through contact and development with the current leadership, rather than any external exposure or formalised career pathways/structure. And our recruitment is sustained by the tight social circles that we maintain through the nature of the work that we do.

It’s a potent combination of factors that create a unique brand of insularity.

Direct Entry directly challenges the above structure, ultimately breaking the insularity by injecting new experience into the leadership structure. All of the ‘learned’ leadership is challenged by an approach that is distinctly un-police – the intended result being forces that approach policing in a different way. This ‘different way’ may be down to behaviours, for instance the hiring of leaders who were not developed and created through a strict command and control based hierarchy, different world views, or it may be down to bringing in new skills and capabilities. The aim is to ‘add to’ the current police leadership offering, not ‘subtract from.’

Aside from all of the above discussion, it is very, very important for serving officers and staff to realise that their ‘normal’ is far from normal. Direct Entry isn’t direct entry in other organisations, it’s just normal. People can re-train and apply for any job they want, at any level of experience that they want. It doesn’t mean that they will be successful, but it does mean that the opportunities for change and external challenge are open. Continuing professional development allows access to progression externally, and this weakens the strength of existing social ties and the gathering of ‘backers’ to traverse gateways that just aren’t there (or are considerably weaker) outside the police.

Police rank is a structure peculiar to the police, and the way that we see the world is filtered through the epaulettes that people wear. Direct Entry challenges this construct, and linear progression, and time served, and those are 3 incredibly established pillars of our culture. The challenge to these structures challenges the way we see the world, and that results in that pit of the stomach unease when schemes like these are discussed.



There are some fundamental philosophies behind direct entry that bother me. I’m passed the concerns of safety or risk, I just can’t see any officer accepting an order that they think is unsafe without challenge. Direct entrants don’t exist in a vacuum, and there is a large system around them that they will learn from quickly, and also receive feedback from. I also understand that bringing in new experience, world views and skills can benefit policing. There is a fundamental assumption however, that the employment market is one of the silver bullets for culture change – and I think this under-estimates the efforts needed to bring about impactful reform.

I think Direct Entry challenges the police world view, I think it exposes the police to elements of competition and challenge that have been present in almost every other labour market for decades. But, I don’t think that the small numbers on the scheme can overcome the leviathan of stability that represents police culture. This puts the entrants at risk, but it doesn’t presume failure. With significant resilience and internal support, candidates can do great things, and I personally hope that they do.

There is something distinctly neoliberal about direct entry: Expose the police forces to the labour market, and the market will provide the reform through increased competition…’ There’s a big assumption there, a BIG one. It presumes that external candidates will have the influence to really break that insularity. It is possible, that the tight insularity – which let’s face it, may actually be necessary for mutual support and wellbeing – will simply absorb Direct Entrants into the functioning system, with all those external skills and capabilities rendered powerless by social structures that are hugely entrenched.


The Future

I would point out at this point, that insularity does not equal poor performance. But, there are some ideological discussions to have here. ‘The Police are the Public, Public are the Police’ perspective would state that in the case of employment – the police are very much the police. Again, this doesn’t presume that we do a better or worse job, but in terms of some of the fundamental bed rocks of UK policing, we are out of kilter with the public’s employment model. Who’s to say this isn’t necessary? Not I, but I would open my mind to having it tested – which is essentially what DE is.

I wrote this blog because I understand that people will want simple answers to why direct entry is here. There isn’t a simple answer. There are reports into senior officer misconduct, several notable policing scandals, poor diversity, and an employment and leadership system that develops very tight views of the world. All of these contribute  to the environment that has led to changing the structure of police employment.

Can we prove it ‘works’ before doing it? Well, this is a good question, but the answer is a resounding no. You can’t prove anything like this works without doing it. There is no test constabulary, where we can drop external candidates in and see how they perform in comparison to control groups. There is also an abundance of evidence that it works elsewhere, with forces across Europe and the world using their version of direct entry over many years. Let’s face it, it is the employment model used by almost every other occupation, so it is highly likely that it will ‘work’ to some degree. However, the evidence for this change doesn’t lie in whether they work, but why it was considered that this change was necessary.

The question should not be, where is the evidence that this will work, it should be what was the evidence that led to this becoming an option. This in turn leads to questions about whether DE will go some way to solving, or contributing to wider solutions that work towards mitigating them. Will it work? Only time will tell, but I do know that the louder the service protests the changes, the more it evidences the insularity. There’s a fine line between appearing defensive and insular, and raising worthy concerns whilst keeping an open mind.

I for one don’t think this protest will stop, slow or even affect the instigation of further reforms in this area – only very different approaches to the way we police, and a concerted effort to reform ourselves may do that…

Braveheart Leadership: “Freedom” or shackle?

I’ve been working in the police leadership arena for several years now. It’s been an interesting time, and mixed in with several jobs at the College of Policing and now HMIC. I’ve had the privilege to look at what the future of leadership for the police may look like, and that’s from a structural, developmental and behavioural point of view. I must have had hundreds of conversations with frontline officers, academics, and senior leaders about what leadership means to them, and there’s a common theme: Leadership in the police conjures up a very specific image in people’s heads, and this image presents both challenges and opportunities.

I have had the chance to take several training sessions over the previous weeks, and I asked the attendees:

“When I say ‘Police Leadership’ to you, what image does it create?”

The answers were as follows:

  • Male
  • Late 40’s, early 50’s
  • White
  • Has ‘presence’
  • Authoritative
  • Imposing
  • Commanding
  • Confident
  • Makes decisions quickly
  • Tall
  • Athletic build

There were some more, but these formed the general themes across most of the sessions. Now, the interesting thing to me, was the level of consistency that these answers seemed to generate. It suggests that we all may have a very strong image of what a police leader is in our heads.

A good friend who also works as an Insp in a county force discusses this as ‘Braveheart Leadership,’ and he allies it with strong command, charisma, and courage. He also talks about going, ‘over the top,’ showing some dash and some daring. He’s an introvert, and often points out the war stories that people tell, pointing out that it is often those with loud, authoritative voices and quick decision making that seem to find favour, whilst those more thoughtful and quiet seem to be given the back seat repeatedly. You could say that the media has a pretty strong hand in developing this idea too, and if you look at the content of most ‘fly on the wall’ police documentaries, there’s a type of work that seems to grab the headlines and the camera – and it’s not being sat with a vulnerable 15 year old in hospital awaiting a mental health assessment.

As an officer who has sat through many ‘refs’ (that’s a meal break for those not in the police) breaks with my team, the amount of ‘war stories’ that officers tell increase over level of service. Discussions of big public order incidents, or frightening confrontation and fighting feature regularly, as do discussions of how particular incidents containing conflict shape the way that we view the world. ‘Us vs. Them,’ ‘Holding the Line,’ and being ‘up for it‘ or ‘handy’ in terms of handling conflict are common references/ideas, drawing influence from the military and times of war.

I don’t think this is too much of a suprise though, it’s very emotional when you’re in a physical fight. It’s scary, it can obviously affect your ability to work, and the thought of how close your back up is, is always at the forefront of your mind. If I could guess (and I worked Blackpool Central on Response for many years and have seen my own fair share of conflict), I’d say that these incidents build up a fairly solid veneer of trauma in most officers, so it doesn’t surprise me that this veneer shapes the way that we view and see the world – and leadership in particular.

It is also worth thinking about how the work that officers do has shaped their idea of leadership over the last few decades. We have had a mixture of New Public Management Leaders who discuss ‘the business,’ our ‘resources,’ and lots of things to do with ‘demand management.’ These terms have been reinforced by ‘war cabinet’ meetings that are sometimes still ongoing daily in some forces, where how many burglaries we had the night before need an immediate ‘action plan‘ and ‘diversion of resources‘ to ‘maximise potential detection probability…

This type of work lends itself to command based leadership. Operational decisions are made in the short term, to short term spikes in crime. Long term decision making takes a back burner, as do strategic infrastructure things like IT and our estates. The end result is an environment where a particular ‘kind’ of leader can thrive. It’s group think at its best:



So, as we speculate on what may ’cause’ our idea of leadership to emerge, it’s time to put that idea into the current context of what’s going on around us.

The Police are seeing huge changes in demand, facilitated by an external environment that is changing so rapidly that even experts in technology can’t keep up. The internet is changing the way that we investigate even the most basic of crimes, not because it is an ‘essential part of any investigation,’ but simply because it is now an essential part of life. Across the Western world, crime types are changing. Traditional property based crime is falling, and we are seeing the way we view and deal with vulnerability revolutionised. These changes are causing huge pressure on the frontline, and in the context of austerity, they are compounded to the point of making officers feel almost left behind.

If I were to point towards where the police need significant development, I wouldn’t be pointing towards places that other people can’t see or feel when they are involved in police work. We will still face public disorder, burglary and assaults as a matter of course, but these will be inter-mixed with child protection, mental health and social deprivation. No matter how much these areas of work present as alien to officers long in the tooth or favouring traditional types of police work, they are here, and we must adapt – because the police do not dictate the requests that the public/society make of them.

Now I’m not saying that drawing a defining line defining what we do isn’t useful, I’m just saying that that line will not be where we may prefer it to be. The problems facing police are complicated, and they require fundamental changes in infrastructure of forces and re-investment in areas previously left untouched. I remember being sat around a table at a conference with a chief officer, who stated, ‘We don’t have the resources, I’m not even turning that stone over…‘ Now whilst this may be admirable in terms of protecting current levels of service, it presents an awful strategic approach, mired in the short term. Basically, ignoring hidden demand will only bite you in places like officer wellbeing and the ability to respond to 999 calls within a few years – ignore it and the short term benefit will be greatly outweighed by the long term cost – especially in terms of looking after our officers.

So what does all this mean for police leadership?

Whilst we may still need our police leaders to protect the ability to respond to public disorder and traditional crime, we also need leaders who will look to the future and make difficult decisions about what a force actually looks like and how it responds to varying calls demanding lots of differing levels of service. Demanding omni-competence of our officers may mean that we create a perfect storm of pressure, where every officer has to be everything, to everyone. This is not sustainable, and we have to recognise that our people have strengths in particular areas, where they may serve the public at their best. Not everyone on a team can be a digital investigation whizz or a vulnerability expert, just as not everyone can be public order die hard or a ‘handy‘ thief catcher. This is the start of acknowledging that we need to be more sophisticated in the way that we send our officers to jobs, and ensure that we have high levels of skill in particular people, rather than average levels of skill across the board.

We need a selection of leaders with different strengths, some of whom can manage difficult partnerships with IT companies over time, developing tools that mix operational need with managing public value. We need leaders who can work in long term collaborations, developing approaches to vulnerability that concentrate on prevention and protection, not just catch and convict. We need leaders who can spot the changes on the horizon and put in places long term plans to transform police organisations into something that roll with the times, rather than respond in atrophy to demand that we saw coming a long time ago. And, we need leaders who can confidently lead large incidents of public disorder, and command critical incidents with skill and care.

If you can find me a leader that can do all that with equal skill and ability, I shall eat my hat at 2am refs… So if we bear the difference that we need in mind, it makes sense that we consider how we select and develop our leaders now?

We still need command based leadership. We still need levels of process and management. We still need leaders who can work with others and plan for the long term, chipping away at entrenched societal problems. The trick – and not just for constabularies – is to recognise that the stories that we tell, and the stories that we hear, may not be the stories that we need. The romantic idea of the police leader, isn’t in kilter with the forces that we now need, and at its basest level this is abundantly clear just from a diversity point of view. Taking it past protected characteristics though, and into diversity of thought, what we really need is an acknowledgement that the ‘stories’ that create our idea of what a leader is may actually be creating issues for our organisations long term.

I spoke with an officer during a lecture several weeks ago, and the discussion captured some of the risks around the impact of our ‘idea’ of leadership:

I met one of those Direct Entry Supers the other day. They just… didn’t come across as a leader. She was small, not imposing, there was no… gravitas...” (paraphrased)

We spoke about this comment in the lecture, and as we delve under the surface of ‘gravitas’, we arrived at the current ‘idea’ of policing leadership. That idea had caused a judgement to be made in a moment of interaction – something that we cops are very good at. It illustrates how our ‘idea’ of leadership informs our judgements about what we are looking for – whether the organisation physically needs it or not.

Each constabulary will have its own idea of what a leader is. This is fine, as long as that idea is sufficiently wide enough to meet the service that we propose to provide. It’s no longer good enough to rely on a ‘type’ or an ‘idea’ of leadership that only fits times of crisis – mainly because over 95% of what we do doesn’t function in crisis. We have moved on from that, and the service we offer is wider and more complicated than ever envisioned even a decade ago.

It’s time to develop what we think of as leadership within our constabularies. Allowing leadership to become a particular ‘thing,’ or come from a ‘particular pathway’ can cause problems for the way that we approach even the most seemingly insignificant call. In fact, as we delve into many incidents that we haven’t previously considered to be ‘police work,’ we see shoots of warning that indicate on repeat offending – sometimes of the most serious kind. If we really want to get serious about developing our understanding, we need to change the idea of what constitues a police leader, and if you were going to ask me my advice on how to start to ‘open’ the idea up, the first thing I would say, is:

Change the stories. They are more powerful than you think.

@WeCops on Leadership – a summary

This Wednesday we held a discussion on leadership in policing. The questions that were posed were as follows:

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?

The debate was well attended and we had 59 people tweet using the hashtag and several more who participated without. It was a busy chat, with 435 tweets and a reach of almost 800,000. These numbers are all well and good, but what do they mean? What does this chat ‘do’? Where is the learning?

@WeCops chats are an opportunity for people to talk, share and comment about a subject proposed by the person leading the chat. There has been debate about what the ‘end product’ may be, yet this may frustrate the purpose of @WeCops altogether. Before there was a @WeCops, discussing police leadership on Twitter was impossible without vitriol and negativity that persisted despite the best of intentions. It wasn’t possible for people to discuss some issues without constant references to ‘shiny-arses’ or ‘desk dwellers.’ Twitter was pretty much bereft of police professional development discussions, and there was only a very small community of practice.

@WeCops is changing this, and for the first time in my memory, there is a relatively ‘safe’ space to discuss issues that are sometimes contentious and (we hope) always interesting.

There are however dangers in the development of this space. If the pendulum swings too far, @WeCops becomes exclusive and seen as a niche group of people who run within a bubble. This criticism has already been levelled, and we as a team are working on bringing different hosts and subjects to the forum as often as we can. This is especially true of participants and lurkers: if you are participating in the chats, or just watching, please drop us a line, we want the chats to be run by those who use/see them, and you don’t have to be a cop or even work in the cops. If it’s interesting and police related, let’s run a chat on it 🙂

Sometimes, the product is the chat, and the DM’s we don’t see, and the connections between practitioners that happen as a result of it. This stuff is important, and it’s happening as a result of these debates.


So, leadership.

Q1 was an interesting mix of those people who were either for or against rank removal. It ran the full spectrum from, ‘There are too many leaders, they need to be thinned with the cash spent on the frontline,‘ through to, ‘There is too much work now, how can we get rid of people who are running to the wire with workload?’ There were however two themes that merit some more discussion…

The first largely fell as a set of questions, largely asking why we were removing ranks at all? This is a strong indicator that the conversation just hasn’t been had with police officers and staff, and if people don’t understand the reasons why something is happening, it violates some pretty well researched organisational justice principles. Leave people in the dark, and the space around this change will be filled with the culture, and the cop culture can be cynical and unforgiving.

If ranks are going, what happens to the work we have currently? Is there a distribution upwards or downwards, or is it going altogether in some cases?

The long and the short of this is that officers and staff want to know why the rank removal is happening, and the answers aren’t there.

The second relevant part of this discussion centers around whether rank should be the ‘real’ question at all? Tweets discussing whether the removal of ranks would change behaviour were repeated, and this is a very good point. Removing a silver pip from a shoulder may not change behaviour for the better, so what is the reason for the change? Some participants suggested it was about saving money, from what I know, it’s actually about the levels of work in the organisation and how they correspond with levels of leadership. But again, this conversation is absent and this space needs filling with the right information.

Q2 was a healthy mix of practical tips through to the very salient, ‘We can talk but will they listen?‘ This may be a display of cynicism, but it was a strong one and repeated throughout the debate. There were some good contributions from leaders about how they speak with staff currently, and also about some examples where they have listened and acted on feedback. There was little discussion of true innovation in this area though; very few discussed using new technology, or involving the frontline in making the decisions that affect them (it was mentioned, but not by many). This is an important shift, and I think the question invited some challenge. It may be less about listening/speaking with, and more about just stepping backwards and allowing the frontline to do it themselves with the right support.

Modes of communication are great, but without trust, and actual involvement in the decision making, will the frontline ever feel truly ‘involved?’

Q3 was topical, with many officers calling for senior officer intervention in mental health on Twitter regularly. The main theme was a strong ask for leaders to really work with partners to reduce demands on them. This makes for an interesting question, as the skills for cross agency working and negotiation may not be the same skills for operational command and control. The lower ranks create an operational skills filter, and then they are asked to do a full 180° turn and operate in a totally different manner once they reach higher levels in the organisation. This is a risk for the future, and it’s also why selecting people for role and not rank is so important.

The skills that leadership now need, may not be the skills that they cut their teeth with. How do we navigate this as a service? How do we plan and select people well enough to fill this gap?

This blog will be shared with people in the College of Policing and in HMIC who are currently working in exactly this area. We hope that @WeCops offers a way to collect the voices of those involved in the chats, and then collate that feedback and pass it to those working on change in policing right now.

The choice to get involved is yours, so please feel free to either take part in the chats, propose one, or simply watch and hopefully take some learning from it. Thanks for taking part!

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

Measuring Leadership: the Holy Grail?

There’s quite a bit of research in this blog, but it’s not cited. If you want references or want to search for the sources of the data, drop me a line and I will do my best to find them for you. As usual, there’s quite a bit of culture stuff in here, but it wouldn’t be one of my blogs without that 🙂


I started working on Leadership specifically on the College of Police Leadership Review. Prior to that I studied it at Warwick for two years, and I’m back into studying it now. It’s a complex subject, and usually unfairly reduced to soundbites and catchphrases that people throw around with abandon. Classics like:

“Many hands make light work.”

Go hand in hand with:

“Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

It doesn’t take rocket science to realise that these clash quite significantly. This is true of much of the leadership literature. You can find books about keeping ‘grip and control,’ and place them directly across from books by leadership consultants/gurus like Simon Sinek. Sinek will talk about empowerment, and finding meaning, whereas the grip and control gurus will talk about managing process and keeping tight audit.

This clash makes the whole area of study contradictory, and there are few studies that actually begin to discuss how complicated the area of leadership actually is. When you dig underneath the myriad of discussions about leadership ‘styles,’ you realise that they are collections of lists of behaviours. These behaviours have been found to hold value when researched in particular contexts, but we don’t actually know if it was the context that made them successful, or the behaviours themselves…

Let me give you an example.

An organisation calls the researchers in because the staff survey says that working in that company at that time is pretty awful. They may like the work, but they don’t like the leaders, and they certainly don’t like the environment and culture. Unsurprisingly, a particular set of behaviours is absent, and the workplace needs them to begin to function in a balanced way. So… a really heavy command and control culture, is likely to need empowerment and far more communication up and down. The company needs them, because there has been a culture in place for some time, and that culture has self propagated behaviours in order to function in a particular way.

This happened with policing during the performance era. Performance became the by-word for success, and if you delivered performance you were held to be a ‘good’ leader. Those leaders then entered into positions where they got to select other future leaders, and as performance had always been important to them, it became important to other aspiring leaders too. When this begins to happen, you see a distillation of behaviour. It becomes palpably strong, almost themic.

The trouble is, the police is a pretty diverse organisation in terms of function. You really shouldn’t have command and control permeating through every department in the police, it’s damaging. You need different leadership styles in neighbourhood policing, CID, community cohesion etc.. As Command and Control remained the dominant leadership style, so it did grow into an unstoppable force, and it still remains immensely important in policing to this day.

Command and Control is a controversial subject. Some leaders will swear by it. They call it by all sorts of names and usually attach ‘Operationally Credible’ to its use. The demand stats show that the kind of work that needs it is actually really, really rare, yet it’s sticking around with a vengeance up and down the country. There are good reasons for this, as if the Command had been better at high profile incidents where there has been loss of life, the outcome may have been very different. If you screw up when you need it, the outcomes can be pretty atrocious.

So, what have we got so far? We have the need for Command and Control in fairly rare incidents, but it is of very high importance. Do we need it everywhere? Clearly not. Yet, as with many things in policing, the broad brush is applied, and usually all candidates will have to prove their ability in Command and Control during promotion processes etc.. This results in a very specific set of behaviours being applied as a filter through to areas of leadership.

And, I need to add some comment in here about measuring Command and Control (or investigation, or road traffic incidents etc. – whatever you choose to measure as a filter). If you are being measured on whether you reach the same decisions, as those that designed the exercises, then you are only being measured for whether you think like them. This is designed in group-think. Decisions have to be able to be made that are different to the ‘accepted solutions,’ whilst you measure how candidates got there, instead of where they ended up (this is a whole other blog!). This is Diversity of Thought, and you can allow for it in measuring candidates.

Want to be a leader in the police? Best be able to use Command and Control – and that’s OK, because we need it (in places).

Now, some people are not good at Command and Control. They have a different skill set, and may instead prefer leadership styles such as Collective Leadership.

What happens if someone who prefers Collective Leadership gets put through the Command and Control Assessment? Well, they won’t perform nearly as well as those who are naturally really good at Command and Control. In fact, they may be filtered out here, and all because their strengths in leadership lie elsewhere. It’s kind of like a control mechanism for a particular kind of leadership. It also significantly disadvantages leaders from departments who need a different leadership style – such as people with skills in forming partnerships and collaborations.

It establishes a behavioural hierarchy, and it attaches status to particular behaviours. If you don’t see assessments during promotion that look at problem solving, you won’t attach value to the behaviours that go along with good problem solving. It’s strange that you will see lots and lots of examples on application forms that detail dealing with public disorder or match command, but you rarely see them discussing forming strong links with local charities…

Back to measurement.

Hopefully the example discussed above sets a scene. If you have a strong kind of leadership in place, that leadership will often set the bar for selecting other leadership, and unless they are enlightened enough to look for challenge in their future leaders, they will select people that they are comfortable with. There’s loads of research on this, but here is a very quick run down on how good unstructured interviews in isolation are for selecting future leaders (varies depending on the study, but by and large, they are rubbish). Add to this the other Police favourite of the application form, and you have a combination that looks like this:

  1. Exercises that create behavioural bias in selection (such as command and control scenarios as a filtering method).
  2. Use of application forms (pretty awful in terms of reliability and validity).
  3. Unstructured interviews (again, fairly awful in terms of reliability and validity due to the fact that they are so subject to bias).

The resulting picture basically shows (and if you want a run down on how good particular exercises are for selecting good leaders, have a look here) that the traditional methods for leadership selection within constabularies up and down the country, are riven with bias, unreliable, and often invalid. These are technical assessment/selection terms for being poor quality.

A quick example of the hierarchy of exercises:


So, I hear you asking, if the current methods are pretty awful, what can you replace them with? Well, actually there’s all sorts of things that we could do better, but as an ex senior officer pointed out on Twitter last week, Assessment Centres were stopped in many constabularies because the senior leaders didn’t like the outcome of them. This stands to reason, because assessment centers often look at the whole of the candidate, and single exercise filters are forgone for several exercises that measure the a much wider picture. This means that some Command and Control heavy senior leaders, will be presented with successful candidates that do not have anywhere near as much of a Command and Control outlook as they do – thus putting them out of favour, or making it very difficult for them to succeed.

In short, solid assessment centers with a wide array of exercises, are more likely (certainly not certain) to measure wider communication skills, the ability to process information, and the ability to display empathy/values. They are more likely to select good leaders.

We can go even further into the building blocks of leadership, and look instead at things such as intelligence, emotional intelligence (how we interact with other’s and our own emotions) and cognitive load (how much info you can take in and process). This is relatively simple stuff, but it removes the behavioural bias that is built into many of our internal selection processes now. Serving cops often don’t like discussing measuring intelligence, they also dislike written tests, and they hate psychometric tests (I have direct experience of the use of all of these methods). All of these are far more valid and reliable than current methods though. How do we know? Huge amounts of research tells us, and it tells us convincingly too.

So what gets in the way of better selection and measurement? Well, the truth lies in something that is called ‘face validity.’ This is fancy wordage for how the culture sees the exercises. If the candidates do not feel that the test measures ‘being a good cop,’ then the outcome of the results will often not be trusted or given any value. This makes improving selection fraught with leadership challenges. If you introduce psychometrics as a leg of your assessment center, there will likely be a backlash by candidates who will tell you that they mean nothing and are a total waste of time. The research tells us different, but the people’s perceptions of doing the tests are clearly immensely important.

So, how do we navigate such a complicated landscape? The answer? With great difficulty and lots of iterative work – this means that things will fail, you learn from them, try it again with tweaks, and then learn from the second application, and so on. Eventually you end up with a product that the culture has begun to accept, that does a far more improved job of unbiased selection.


If you made it through to here, then you are doing well, because that was quite dry. What are the take-homes from the above?

  • The current way we select people internally is hugely prone to bias and unreliability.
  • There are many better ways to select out there that have been researched and tested repeatedly.
  • These methods may be really counter-culture, so implementing them may be very difficult.

So, finally, what about the ‘Holy Grail?’ Well, nothing is perfect, you could search for the ‘right’ kind of selection exercises for a millennia. Will we ever find them? I don’t think so. I don’t think that searching for the perfect set of selection exercises is actually a worthwhile exercise. Why? Because it is all contextual. It depends on your environment, on your people, and on your culture. What is true however, is that better selection is not only important in order to find future leaders, it’s also immensely important to find different leaders. We will never find the hallowed ‘diversity of thought’ without doing a full reset of how we select our future leaders. Behavioural filters are used almost everywhere, and quite simply, they institutionalise behavioural bias. They’ve got to go, or become part of a suite of exercises that sees far more of the candidate. This means going from a past-the-post system (where each exercise is an opportunity to filter candidates) to a holistic system where a selection of exercises are used to see a wider picture of the candidate as a whole.

Dilbert (as usual) captures the bias that needs to disappear very nicely:


Nothing like a good challenge 🙂

Above all, there’s a duty to the people that work in the police, and to the public, to use the best methods that we can with the resources we have. That way, the likelihood of selecting the best leaders for the future will improve, despite the heavy cultural challenges that we may face. And just to finish… the above methods that have been discussed, don’t bring in the Values that put those candidates in the chairs in the first place, and if you don’t measure for that, it just may be possible that you don’t get the leaders that you would like holding the leadership positions… there’s work to do here, let’s get on with it 🙂


The changing of the guard

This is a controversial blog. It may cause current leaders to feel uncomfortable, and I’m sorry for that as many are fantastic. Believe it or not, this is not about the quality of any leader, it is instead about the environment in which they function. I’m going to try and stay light on the theory, and instead paint a readable picture that may illustrate some of the problems I have seen and experienced. I’m hoping that sharing them shines a light on some of the issues with change in policing. 


There are a couple of things we need to understand about the particular structural make-up of the cops before we go any further. To all intents and purposes, the police is still a job for life. Once you are in, the regulations that govern us as servants of the crown are robust. It isn’t rare to see people begin talking about how much service they have left within their probation (the first two years) – it’s a discussion that runs through the fabric of the job. Many discuss their plans for retirement and plan their mortgages and debt around the commutation. There are many cops that discuss, ‘seeing their time out,’ and ‘making the finishing line,’ and these time based conversations happen everyday around you. Of course, they don’t by proxy mean that people’s enthusiasm begins to wane in their twilight years in the job, and there some fantastic cops in their final years of service. But, make no mistake, the length of service is a BIG thing. People will introduce themselves, and in the same breath tell you how long they have in the job. Experience over time isn’t just important, it is the way that people judge your level of knowledge. If you have many years in, the assumption is that you are ‘good’ cop, able to operate within the system and navigate from A to B competently.

A simple model of this would look like:

Screenshot (9)

This connection of ‘time served’ to competence isn’t just a cop thing, but the 30-39 year tenure frames a particular discussion within the police that simply doesn’t take place elsewhere. On twitter and in service, I’ve been asked, ‘Oh yeah, and how long have you got in?” Let’s translate this: “If you have not X years of service, I’m afraid I won’t even listen to you.” How does this manifest itself physically?

  • Probationers have to make the brews.
  • Probationers get the worst jobs, repeatedly.
  • Probationers are often asked to stay quiet or ignored by some until they become regulars.
  • Probationers often are last in the leave rota.
  • Probationers get the worst vehicles.
  • Probationers are last out of the carrier.
  • Probationers are called ‘probey,’ or something similar, until they have the service in to be called by their first name.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but I’ve seen this still happening within the last few years. If you were coming into the profession, and this was ‘the way we do things around here,’ what would you think? You would immediately have to accept the fact that ‘time-served’ was really important, and you would also have to accept that your opportunity to learn would be really limited by the work you were ‘allowed’ to do. A quick example – if as the shift probationer you get every bed-watch, or every constant supervision, the chances are you will learn at a VERY slow rate. Most of your time will be spent on your own, watching people sleep, or talking with prisoners. Some hate this with a passion, but no one will challenge it, and it still remains the norm in many places now.

Taken to its extreme, this can be seen as individual bullying, but I don’t subscribe to that, it’s just culture doing culture’s thing. It’s not a productive thing – it can feel deeply hostile – and in fact it actively works against probationers taking any responsibility, or doing any deep learning at difficult jobs. Of course, inevitably as probationers pass their probation, some haven’t actually dealt with anything ‘hooky’, so we actually can’t judge how they will survive as a regular officer.

Let’s look at the fallacy of time-served = competence

Probationers can just be bloody amazing. As a supervisor I’ve worked with a few that put those with far longer service to shame. In fact, there’s one probationer I can remember, who was one of the best cops I’ve ever worked with within 18 months of joining. To put him on a bed watch was a total waste of talent – for both the service and the public. At the same time, on the same shift, there was a cop with over 15 years’ service who really struggled dealing with anything much more complicated than a shoplifter and was persistently lazy. Funnily enough, he talked about length of service a lot. Time-served just didn’t equal competence then, and it doesn’t now. As a supervisor, I looked after that probationer, and although he took his fair share of bed-watches, I would have much rather have had him out and dealing with the public.

This primacy of experience manifests itself in other ways too. Those older in service won’t listen to the ‘whipper-snappers’, and ‘experience teaches best’ is mantra for the collection of work-based knowledge. We even discuss ‘time-served’ in promotion, so you may have been given the advice:

  • I’m sorry, don’t go for your next promotion, you haven’t got enough time in rank yet.
  • Don’t even apply, you need to have worked in neighbourhood policing.
  • I’m sorry, you haven’t worked in a strategic/operations position yet.
  • Come back next time, it’s not your turn.
  • There are others ahead of you (this isn’t a competence thing, it’s a ‘They were here before you,’ thing).

All of the above comments are pretty much about length of service. You can colour them up, but they essentially mean, ‘Go and collect a few more years.’ Importantly, they don’t ask valid questions like:

  1. Is this the best person to go into neighbourhood policing?
  2. Is this person with less service of a higher competence than the person with longer service?
  3. Should this be about whose turn it is, or who would provide the best service for the public?
  4. Would putting this person into an Ops based role displace someone of greater skill in that role already?
  5. Is this person’s talents aligned with their position in the job – because that is where they will give the best service and enjoy the job most.

To give you an idea of how the above examples can be totally dysfunctional:

Person A is great at their job and a natural leader whose staff show them a lot of respect. They ask their line supervisor for a shot at promotion, and they are promptly told that they need some neighbourhood experience before they apply. They don’t really like neighbourhood policing, and prefer the fast paced action of response policing and crisis management. The management want them as a supervisor though, so a move is engineered and Person A does a job-swap with Person B. Person B has been a Neighbourhood supervisor for many years, prefers long term problem solving and has firm established partnerships with many people in the community who feel that they are indispensable. They don’t get time for a job handover.

Person A is well out of their comfort zone. Over time they manage a few community relationships, and find remote supervision of the team difficult. They dislike the community meetings and want to solve problems quickly and decisively. This doesn’t fit with the ward area and they are soon receiving complaints from residents. Their wellbeing suffers, but they soldier on, knowing they have been asked to do at least 18 months.

Person B is also well out of their comfort zone. They need re-skilling and disappear to do several courses, whilst resourcing organises cover – leaving another team short. Fast paced decision making isn’t their thing and the team find them frustrating as they second guess themselves. A few practical mistakes and they are under investigation for their competence and on an action plan. This results in time off sick and a need for cover for them. This means a once stable team with a well liked supervisor receives inconsistent supervision and persistent staff shortages. Their wellbeing begins to suffer too.

All of the above happens, because the force wants their supervision to have spent time in neighbourhood policing… They want ‘time-served’ in a particular role, despite the fact that the candidate – in both cases – is unsuitable. And the really sticky bit, is that neighbourhood policing isn’t – in any way – a pre-requisite for good leadership. Good leadership is just good leadership, and it matters not how much service you have or where you have served it.

And the weird thing is, that the level of competence isn’t discussed either? At promo time: “I see you’ve done your time on Neighbourhoods. You’re eligible now.” – No mention of the fact that they really struggled there, or that the move cause organisational problems across two departments… Box ticked, applicant clearly a far better leader now… :-/

This kind of example becomes even more problematic when you look at other industry. You would never hear of an accountant who couldn’t get promoted because they haven’t done a stint in HR, and if there ever were any swaps between those two functions, the staff member would have to fully re-train. Can you imagine someone working in construction being told that they can’t go into management until they’ve spent time as an electrician? What would they say? ‘I don’t need to be an electrician, there’s plenty of electricians who do that.’ It’s just weird that the cops do it, and the main argument that is used doesn’t ring true either:

You need omni-competence to be a good leader.

What is omni-competence? It’s competence around a wide group of specialisms, so as a leader, you need operational, strategic, and investigative experience, because experiencing all these things makes you a better leader.

Does it?? Says who? I know great investigative leaders who’ve been in investigation all their career. I know great operational leaders who have spent all their career in ops. Moving either of those people out of those spheres would be a travesty, because they are truly awesome in their respective fields, yet it happened. It stands to reason that the service levels would then drop, as others with far less experience take over, so that they can move into an area where their knowledge is of little use? I bet using the ‘5 whys’ (when you ask ‘why’ 5 times to see if you get a meaningful answer) this would falter at stage 2 or 3. There’s no evidence behind it.

Why does this happen? I guess there’s a presumption that we get good leaders if we bounce them around the organisation? It’s like an organisational habit. We’re addicted to it. The result is an inconsistency of leadership, many, many courses (and therefore expense) as people constantly collect competencies (that they use for a very short amount of time), and a discernible lack of strategy across the organisation. How do you execute a five year or ten year strategy when you change leaders every 12-18 months? It would be incredibly difficult. The end result is  plethora of short term changes, and a lack of any long term vision. This is why cops on the deck feel the brunt of initiative after initiative from new leaders trying to make their mark, before their stint ends or they get switched elsewhere.

If you have spent 20+ years doing this, it’s the path that you have taken, and you place value in it. At the bottom of the organisation you accept that this is the way it works, and you play the game and do the time. In turn, you value the time spent on other things, because there is no way that people don’t learn when they change departments. The learning curve is steep, and you have to learn fast to fit in and keep the wheels turning. This personal learning is great for that individual, but for the service, and for the public, I’m not sure it’s great at all. In fact, one could even say that people are paddling so fast under the surface as the run the ‘job-switch’ gauntlet, that changing the way things are done – and I mean properly changing them, not tinkering and doing little initiatives – becomes an impossibility.

At the level of middle managers, when you have the greatest opportunity to make a tangible difference, you are on the ‘job-switch’ gauntlet. You navigate hoop after hoop, because those ahead of you choose if you progress, and those under you don’t seem to factor in whether you get promoted or not. You need to fit in and deliver for the gatekeepers, not those that sit outside the keep. Ambition keeps you on the ‘job-switch’ gauntlet, and the culture becomes self-sustaining. At the promotion boards, there are lots of discussions of what you have done, where you have done it, and what ‘competencies you have fulfilled’ (think experience as knowledge as I discussed above). This is embedded in the National Police Promotion Framework, which measures your answers on the ability to relay previous experiences. Prospective leaders must be collectors of experience and tellers of stories.

They often don’t have to prove any external learning, they often don’t discuss how they would change the future, they often don’t discuss their knowledge of culture, they often don’t discuss their self-awareness or self-reflection, there is little exploration of emotional intelligence or resilience, and they rarely – if ever – evidence their personal knowledge of how others view them. God forbid them discussing mistakes… (the greatest source of learning).

A changing of the guard?

The name of this blog was chosen not because the guard is changing, but to discuss how a ‘change’ is incredibly difficult. Whilst experience and time-served is valued over the things in the above paragraph, how can we ever do a meaningful job of developing them? If, for your next promotion you have to do Neighbourhood Policing, because that’s what the boss said, or that’s what the boss did, why would you invest in Continuing Professional Development? If you are asked to hoop jump and run initiatives, why would you delve into self-awareness and self-reflection? If it’s ‘your turn next,’ why would you look to changing the future landscape?

And herein lies the major problem. Whilst the gatekeepers hold the keys to the gate, why would they change the gate?

If our current leaders had to do ABC, they will place value in ABC. Why would a current leader suddenly start asking for DEF? It would be like them admitting that their leadership development had been poor and that experience in department X was only a small part of being a leader – when that experience had gotten them to where they are today. And if ABC got them up there, the surely it will be OK in the future? Let’s throw some hypotheticals up around this:

“Don’t believe all this guff about self-awareness and emotional intelligence, it’s this year’s garlic bread. Just go onto department X and deliver for me.”

“Don’t worry about all this academic learning. I didn’t do it. It’s experience that matters and years on the streets.”

“There’s nothing wrong with our culture. Don’t listen to all the naysayers, the service is in fine shape. It’s your turn in the next board, just keep your head down.”

I’ve heard/seen some of these things first hand. It’s the gatekeepers putting trust in their gate. They guard the paths to progress in the job, and in doing so they hold the key to real culture change. Where does it begin? When the Sgt signs off a PC’s performance development review with ‘suitable for promotion,’ all the way up to NPCC. When the gathering of ‘experience’ is the ‘way things get done round here,’ it will continue to be closely guarded by the key holders, who saw success off the gathering of experience.

So, if you want change in a culture like this, how do you go about it?

You have to have a serious think about the structure of that gate, and who holds the responsibility of looking after the keys. In a job where there is a long tenure by default, those keys are closely guarded and surrounded by a network of gossip and discussion that resolutely protects them. Challenging this isn’t easy, and changing it is even more difficult. Prospective leaders can’t challenge it, because the key holders decided on whether they get promoted or not. Those brave enough to challenge it are often committing career suicide…

It’s a pretty good, self sustaining eco-system, and changing it is like screwing with the organisation’s system of natural selection. If you want to lead, dabble at your peril…


The key thing for existing leaders to realise is that change is necessary, and this is not always an easy realisation. It is the job of strategic leaders within the organisation to orchestrate this realisation and there are a myriad of ways to make it happen. Once this is reached, the hard work begins. Many across the country have tried for many years to get real change in culture, especially around wellbeing and emotional intelligence, but it hasn’t stuck or sufficiently shifted yet – the guard has not changed. The self-sustaining eco-system has prevailed.

If you are reading this as a leader, recognising the facets of promotion (purely experience based) above are less than adequate for selecting potential leaders is a step in the right direction. If you are an aspiring leader, influencing how they are organised and run is a priority. If you are a serving cop, acknowledging that experience isn’t everything yourself is a big start, and even having open discussions about it all helps.

Re-wiring how we see leadership isn’t just something that can be dabbled with, it’s fundamental to the police’s existence in the future. If we continue to use experience as the defining feature of leadership selection, then no true change will take place. And we need to change, if only to address the wellbeing of the people that work for the police as an organisation. A learned friend (not in the political sense obviously!) and serving Inspector once said to me in a well received Twitter DM:

“The trouble with the cops, is that there aren’t enough nice people who are cops.”

It resonated quite strongly with me, as being nice to people (and by nice I don’t mean pink and fluffy, I mean caring about people) often didn’t seem to rear its head as a standard feature of leadership in my constabulary at that time. Maybe it’s time the police looked at who holds the keys to the gatehouse, and whether they themselves believe that a move away from experience as the primary definer of competence is something more than just ‘garlic bread..?’

Talk is cheap, it’s active change away from experience that needs to be seen by those in service now, and more emphasis on leadership qualities that are distinctly counter-culture needs to be established. This isn’t just a changing of the guard, it’s a removal of them as holders of the keys, followed by establishing a new guard that doesn’t listen to the people in the keep. It’s not cosmetic surgery, it’s genetic engineering, looking and re-addressing the way that we both evaluate and develop leadership at its basest level.

It’s about replacing:

“How many years service do you have?” or…

“Have you done your time on Neighbourhoods?”


“What kind of leader are you, and how do you know?”

“What have you done to develop yourself (not your skills) for this role?”

“What would others say about you as a leader?”

Recognising that leadership is a skill in and of itself, and is not solely reliant on experience is a start, but physically developing and harnessing that is the challenge. Because:



And we’ve been doing it for a very long time.


Let us be a little humble; let us think that the truth may not be entirely with us.

(Jawaharlal Nehru)

I am choosing to write on this topic for many reasons, but the most prevalent has been a course I attended recently on Whistleblowing and Ethics. The course was a few days long, but the conversations that followed and that occurred during really got me thinking. Much talk was had around the term itself, as the feelings attached to the term were thought to be quite negative. If you were considered a ‘whistleblower,’ it normally hangs an air of mistrust around your neck. Yet the people who spoke at the event seemed to have the strongest principles and values you could ever want to see displayed in anyone… In fact, they were the kind of people with which you knew where to stand, and who professed to having staff working for them who would happily defend them to the hilt. They were leaders.

Yet none of them were leaders.

Not one had actually survived the event of whistleblowing. All were struggling in the workplace and outside of it. They were fighting on, in the passionate way that people with really strong principles do. Watching them discuss what had happened was heartbreaking, because – you know what – they were right. They were right in the stance that they had taken, they had been offered incentives to ‘forget’ about the things that they knew. They had been chased and hounded, generating high levels of personal paranoia. And some had been accused of having mental health problems.

They had been accused of having mental health problems because they disagreed with an element of culture that others believed was acceptable. I’m not going to reinforce any stigma about mental health problems being anything out of the ordinary, but I will point out that seeing something differently in life doesn’t qualify as any illness I’ve ever heard about?

I’ve had that conversation. That exact one. It was immensely painful, and the self-reflection that followed was too. I couldn’t help but imagine what these speakers had gone through, and share a little of how they had felt – or even were feeling.

At the beginning of the workshop, a video was shown of an army general who had whistleblown in the USA. The conversation that followed was a typical cop one, concerning the whistleblower’s motives for releasing the information, and whether they could be trusted. I think this is totally normal, and it’s certainly indicative of cop culture, as we are both good at making judgements fast, and suffer with institutionalised suspicion. Let’s face it, that suspicion is pretty darn useful, but the ability to turn it on and off is the bit that we really need.

You see, when whistleblowers make the decisions that they do, there are no ‘good’ outcomes for them. They know that they will likely become pariahs in the workplace with colleagues, friends, and supervisors. They are aware that there is no way in hell that it will ‘help’ their career. They know that talking about what they know and have seen will be emotionally painful. They know that their relationships at home will suffer. And… they know that they will not be believed. As a good friend said (@abloodynicechap):


A quick google of the above saying can pretty much guarantee you some interesting reading. Along with the mnemonic: FIFO. FIFO stands for, ‘Fit in or F*** Off.’

It’s all about not challenging. All of it. It’s about going with the flow and sacrificing how you feel about things, for the sake of the status quo. The status quo is a powerful thing. It’s seductive, and seeps into the fabric of everyone’s reality. The status quo means people concede towards feeling and thinking the same about things. People think it stays pretty static, but it really doesn’t. It only takes a few role models within the status quo to push the boundaries, and people will edge towards those boundaries too, setting up a ‘new’ status quo.

The tighter the teams, the more likely it is that the status quo moves imperceptibly. People are always trying to fit in, so as the role models change their behaviour, others start to embrace the new boundaries created, and even if the shift is small, it’s cumulative. Over time, the new status quo looks nothing like the old one, but it feels like nothing has changed. It still feels normal. Anyone outside that team – if they really looked – could see that the new status quo isn’t quite right, but tight teams rarely let people break through, because FIFO is in action.

Imagine this happening over an entire culture? Do you think when targets in policing were introduced, that officers would be reclassifying burglaries and persuading people to retract complaints? Yet where did we end up? That behaviour crept in. It was insidious, culture creeping its way slowly towards a new normal that actually wasn’t normal at all. There were whistleblowers, and then the whistleblower (@J_amesp) with hard evidence and an unrelenting need to change things – not for the culture, but for the public. Conceding to culture wasn’t an option, because deep down, they knew it just wasn’t right.

These people are brave. I mean, they are courageous. They make decisions that do nothing but disadvantage them. They ruin their home lives and many of their relationships because they believe in something bigger than themselves. They are the early warning systems for culture, and for leaders; they are like the goose that lays the golden egg…

“Hey, Mr/Mrs Leader, you know these practices that are going on? They don’t serve the purpose of the organisation and they are harming people. I’m telling you about them because I care about what I do and I want to help these people that are being harmed. I know that this doesn’t paint me in a good light, but I can’t sleep at night. Please help.”

If there were a ‘google translate’, you wouldn’t go far wrong with the above paragraph. If you were a leader, and you heard the above, what would you think?

So… why do snitches get stitches?

What if those practices that the person in front of you is discussing, are accepted as ‘normal?’ What if they are what got you promoted? What if what they are telling you may harm your career? What if it may cause a huge amount of work for you? What if that person has been ‘difficult’ to manage? What if the things they are challenging, are part of your very identity?

Here is where a great leader steps up to get some stitches.

Humility is one of those things that is discussed in the realms of leadership regularly. I’ve had the ‘humility talk’ and I know many that have also experienced it. The problem, is that:


I would say that Nelson Mandela and Gandhi were pretty humble people. They also spoke their truth to power, through the most difficult of experiences. There’s this misunderstanding that seems to have gotten in somewhere, that humility is inextricably tied up with a lack of challenge.

“Who are you to challenge on this? You need to be more humble.”

This isn’t humility, it’s deference. It’s power telling the challenger to get back in their box. It’s power telling the challenger to be more grey. It’s power telling the challenger, that actually, they need to realise who holds the power.

Of course, it’s very possible that the whistleblower is wrong, just as it is possible that the leaders may be wrong. I don’t think we need to discuss where the perceived possibility of being wrong ends up. It certainly doesn’t end up with the leader. If it did, then that leader would be showing humility, because really, they may be accepting that they – and their actions – may have contributed to the problem. What is driving the leader’s decisions at this time? Is it humility?


I think this is a great way to think about humility. It isn’t about not challenging, or not seeking change. It isn’t about being grey, or being quiet. And it isn’t about doing what you are told, despite how you feel.

Humility is about realising that you are no better than anyone else, that everyone you meet has trodden a path that you can’t even comprehend, and that others always hold knowledge of greater value than you. Always.

If leaders displayed humility when a whistleblower knocked at their door, then maybe these incredibly courageous people would be able to help to make the change that they wish to see for the greater good? Maybe bad practice could be openly discussed and changed? Maybe we could prioritise those who are subject to those processes, instead of the processes themselves? And finally, we may realise that not only do we not know all the answers, but that there may well be people that do know the answers, to whom we would not normally listen.

Humility is not deference. Humility is empowering, supportive, sharing and caring. Maybe if we concentrated on building each other, then there wouldn’t be a need for whistleblowers at all, and we could save those people from immensely painful experiences. Challenge, and challenging yourself and your views leads us down better paths, inviting it is the hard part…

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