What do we look for in our leaders?
There is a passage from an unused script in the West Wing which poses the question, who would you follow?
1. The man with crooked associates and two mistresses, who hides his disability, chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day
2. The man who was sacked twice, used opium in his youth, drank brandy and champagne to excess daily and hid his mental illness
3. The vegetarian, teetotaling, non-smoking war hero who never had an affair
I hope most would go for FDR (1) or Churchill (2) rather than Hitler (3).
The point is the portrayal of leadership and the requisite skills depend on context and circumstance.
This is why the current furore over direct entry and overseas appointments is such a difficult subject to unravel.
The answer gets even more uncertain when you throw into the mix, what problem is the government trying to solve?
Along with large parts of the service I am absolutely clear that the police are not representative of the wider society that we are entrusted to police. Now let’s be clear, it’s impossible to mirror society but it needs to be representative and it isn’t.
But is direct entry and overseas appointments the answer? Well it’s hard to see how. The military may have many virtues but its leadership is not diverse. When did you last see a woman or black senior officer at the higher echelons of the military? How will importing white men in their 30s assist the police service to address under representation?
So let’s turn to business. Fewer than 3% of FTSE 100 companies have a female CEO and they appointed their first black CEO in 2009 and I don’t think there has been another since.
The scandalous lack of diversity (and not just in terms of gender and ethnicity) in leadership roles across the spectrum of the public and private sector is an issue of national scandal, so why is it felt that policing should be singled out for ‘reform’?
I am the first to acknowledge that the service needs to do more to tackle these profound issues but I cannot work out why we should be singled out for special attention and I am even less clear how the proposals as presented will solve the ‘problem’.
So let’s move to competence.
The government announced this week they have paid out over £15 million in compensation to detainees in Iraq for uncontested cases of torture and human rights abuses. I must have missed the clamour for the public inquiry into the ethics, integrity and leadership within the military that allowed this to happen on their watch. I am even less certain how the National Decision Making model, framed from the ECHR and the values and mission of policing, will be greeted never mind the principles enshrined in policing by consent and accountability to a PCC. It’s not a question of being better than each other; we are different and to assume we are interchangeable is an insult to both the police service and the military.
Then there are the wunderkinds in the City who steered the economy onto the rocks and the politicians who borrowed, then spent and then cut their way out of crisis. I am sure amongst their many skills the ability to deliver over 20% of savings in budgets, whilst maintaining service, will be at the forefront of their applications to join the leadership in policing. Alongside honesty and integrity.
So, in what other organisation would we be making a virtue of getting to the top quickly? The judiciary, medicine, politics, teaching or indeed the military? These are all professions with a career path but I have never heard a government Minister promulgating the virtue of getting to the top of these professions quickly as a goal in itself. Surely it is what you do and what you deliver along the way that helps you learn and improve. It’s about making a difference and building teams and when you get to the ‘top’ you apply what you have learnt to support and lead others to make a difference.
Now, for the record I am not against the appointment of foreign cops to roles within the UK. However, in delivering comparable competence there is no evidence that it will address diversity or under representation. The vast majority of jurisdictions being considered also operate without an officer class in policing so they would bring with them the virtues instilled in them from a lifetime in policing, invariably modelled on the UK.
As a service we export police officers across the globe and they adapt to their new role and generally add value so it would seem hypocritical to say that we are somehow unique and that we only export policing. But prospective candidates for Chief Constable would need to adapt their experience and approach to the UK tradition of policing and acknowledge the constraints that this may place on their leadership and style. So deciding that everyone needs to be armed might be a hindrance!
I am an advocate of a testing, challenging and larger fast track promotion process that could and should discriminate in favour of ability. It may be that we need to focus these schemes to positively attract under represented sections of our communities. But we come back to the underlying challenge. People need to want to join the police and we need to make it a positive choice for them and at the moment that has not been their experience. So in my view this is about building confidence in policing. Announcing by implication that there is a crisis in the leadership and potential within the service seems counterproductive.
But let’s not forget few of us have been recruiting and underrepresented staff profiles just got worse over the last 3 years. As forces move to recruit there is no reason why they cannot focus recruitment and take positive action to attract the best possible candidates from underrepresented groups. This benefits policing and society and should not be seen as a threat by the service.
I do believe that ‘fast track’ should start at the foundation of policing as a constable – this is not some emotional attachment to nostalgia; it is the bedrock upon which policing by consent is built and the challenges facing officers every day is experienced. It is invaluable as learning and should not be so easily dismissed by those who have never experienced it. However this is not an argument for time served or incremental progress through every rank and the service needs to accept that we can be more creative in designing our future.
As is probably clear by now I am unpersuaded by the appointment of superintendent ranks from outside policing. Again police colleagues from other jurisdictions may be able to add a new dimension to our approach but I remain unconvinced that the numbers waiting to land in the UK to police will ever make this more than a symbolic nod to openness whilst avoiding the wider societal problems of under representation.
I think the police service should do more to attract skilled professionals with expertise in areas such as IT, HR and finance, forensic accounting and covert techniques etc but I cannot understand why they would need to come, or indeed want to come, as police superintendents and spend months training to undertake a generic role when it is their expertise we need. Instead of creating new pathways into policing lets celebrate the police staff that serve the public and deliver policing every day.
Finally let’s not forget the context of the other changes being introduced into policing.
What is the incentive to be a chief officer in your 30s if you have to work till your mid 60s? Why would anyone speed to the top, to end up on a 4 year contract aligned to a PCC and the vagaries and risks associated with the electoral cycle?
So, in acknowledging that policing could and should do better to bolster the breadth and depth of leadership in the service I feel that the approach being advocated from the Home Office fails to recognise the complexity of the issues and seeks to provide simplistic and headline grabbing solutions. While this at least is consistent with many of the solutions proffered to address the ‘problems’ in policing, these solutions have the potential to alter the vital relationships within policing but more importantly in the fundamental relationship policing has with the public.
Which brings me back to the question, what do we look for in our leaders?
Let’s face up to this question and avoid the headline grabbing gimmicks.