Leading the Police

If you’ve ever had anything to do with the Police, either directly or indirectly, you’ll know they have a reputation of being a strong, even closed, culture. The impression many of us have is that leadership is based on toughness, authority and possibly even mateship.

A recent talk I attended validated some of these thoughts. The traditional Police model of leadership is a heroic, male-oriented, command-and control environment.  There are even elements of some policing units being very close to the criminals they chase. The temptation for some police is great. As they say, the brighter the light, the darker the shade.  That kind of culture is supported and encouraged in some quarters.

Power is exercised visibly eg by rank, by insignia, by uniforms. It’s a very masculine environment which is why some female officers have had challenges fitting in when they don’t subscribe to the dominant culture. This culture impacts not just women but other males who don’t condone that model.

It’s an entrenched culture – heroic, ego-driven, control-seeking. There is a strong sense of leadership and what that is.

In 1999 a study argued that the Police leadership was not strong on things like influencing and motivating others, visioning, generating creative solutions or negotiating in  collaborative manner.

Police training in Australia has fundamentally two paths. Recruit training at Goulburn. Advanced training in Sydney.

The demand for ongoing training in areas such as leadership is increasing at a rapid rate. Changes are occurring in policing and pressures exist for it to change its culture. Training is one way of achieving that.

At the Australian Institute of Police Management, they are on the cutting edge of remodelling leadership in the service. They are advocating leadership as a behaviour, not a role or an individual. Leadership is seen on three levels – self-leadership, leadership of the organisation and leadership in the community. At the AIPM, they have adopted and adapted the Kennedy School of Government (Harvard) model which posits:

  • a framework
  • use the participants experience
  • use what happens in the room

Blending this model with the theory of Adaptive Leadership they have added elements of Mindful and Generative Leadership theories. A generous use of Case in Point teaching is included.

Adaptive Leadership focuses on real issues rather than work avoidance. it points out the dangers of leadership (and emphasises not all are suitable to be leaders), the adaptive challenge, leadership versus authority, how to control the heat while bringing conflict to the surface, work avoidance, looking at the whole system and the leader’s role and self.

It’s early days for the application of this new model of teaching and building leadership behaviours in our Police service. Initial resistance from died-in-the-wool, crusty old police wears away quickly as they open up and explore leadership. Just getting some police to look at leadership concepts rather than simply how it has happened on the job is confronting enough. It’s  along road and the results are not in just yet but the increasing demand and the feedback on the courses being run are demonstrating promise. Perhaps the AIPM is changing the culture of the force one cohort at a time!

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