Police Leadership: Dilberts Born or Made?

Don't Step In The Leadership
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As those who have visited here before will know, I’m not a big fan of the quality and efficiency of many who hold managerial positions today. Especially those within politics, the public sector and in particular, the middle and senior management of our UK police forces.

There is a great deal of ineptitude, far too much nepotism and a sad lack of any charismatic inspiration. It is my opinion, a major negative impact on public sector management is; high levels of self-interest, self-indulgence and self-importance those we employ to do the managing. Irrespective of a necessity to possess good personal drivers and aspirations to actually achieve, there is no ‘self’ in ‘service’!

I have previously discussed my views on this in several posts and one which is very relevant to my theorising the reasons for it refered to the exponential growth of turkeys. In many respects, I often concur with the Dilbert Principle about our leaders and their management skills…

The Dilbert Principle refers to a 1990s satirical observation by Scott Adams stating that companies tend to systematically promote their least competent employees to management, in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing… He says that “leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive flow”… Although academics often reject the principle’s veracity, noting that it is at odds with traditional human resources management techniques, it originated as a form of satire that addressed a much-discussed issue in the business world. (Read more)

Grumpy note: you can purchase Don’t Step in The Leadership from the ‘Business Babble’ section of my book store.

Following on from the my previous post on psychology and leadership yesterday, I was interested to see details of the BBC R4 program. In a show entitled ‘Follow the Leader’Carolyn Quinn looks at the psychology of leadership and asks… Is there a list of ingredients for the perfect leader? And can you train people to improve their leadership skills? A good set of questions and, as Ms Quinn highlights in her article to accompany the program (see here) highlights; it is an age-old quandary…

The study of leadership goes back as far as Plato – and still it continues to intrigue psychologists… (Carolyn Quinn)

Sticking with the subject in a policing context; let’s examine some of the issues that impact upon police management failure and consequently, further my level of disdain for the ilk. In general terms, the rot sets in at the recruitment process, it continues through the officer development process and culminates during the strategic leadership selection process.

In broad terms, those recruited to the service usually fall into one of two categories or types. (1) Individuals who just want to be a police officer, with a desire simply to serve and protect. Initially, they have absolutely no aspirations to management roles. And (2) Those who are focussed and driven to achieve high office in whatever occupation they chose. Being a police officer is something of ‘a necessary evil’ and simply a conduit to their aspirational goal.

Obviously once appointed to the role of Constable, personal drivers and aspirations can and do change. They change for varying reasons, be they personal circumstances and choice, personal and organisational development or the methods used to quantify and value individuals within the workforce. The Personal Development Review (PDR) process, and more importantly the way in which it is often implemented, can (and does) have a massive impact upon personal goals and achievements.

Fore many years now, without tangible moves towards much talked about changes on the horizon, a fundamental (and misguided) PDR methodology has always been; “you need to get promoted son to evidence your commitment to the job and prove your ability”. Utter bollocks; being a well-trained, competent and efficient police officer requires differing skills to those of an administration, finance or human resources manager. There may be some areas of overlap however, promotion alone is not evidence of worth but is still used as such. This ethos and barrier to achieving competent status often drives people onward and upward when originally, they had no desire to climb the ladder of promotion. The simple factor of putting square pegs in round holes alone, has a negative impact upon the quality and ability of managers.

Not with standing the inherent failings in the current PDR process and its application, Chiefs will always need Indians, a Shepard will always need sheep and managers will always need workers. So, why does it appear acceptable to brand an individual as an underachiever, simply because they have no desire or aspiration for higher rank? So on to the management selection and structure in British policing.

Deborah Meaden, entrepreneur, businesswoman and Dragons’ Den investor says that a manager should be “Enthusiastic, successful and inspiring” she also highlights a factor believed by many in that; the essential qualities of a good leader are the same, whatever the field. This latter ethos is one which if true, would justify that leadership is a skill that can be taught. It also provides an understanding why executive training is a money-spinner and multi-million pound industry. Ms Quinn again questioned this belief…

Executive coach Kyle Jaggers brushed my scepticism aside. The feedback is very positive, he assured me, although some psychologists I spoke to questioned whether there was enough scientific evidence that leadership courses really work. (Carolyn Quinn)

For some time now I have questioned this ethos. Leadership skills are more about inherent personal traits than being able to recite management speak passages you learnt from a book? Some of the world’s greatest leaders never had executive coaching or went to management school.

Theory is all well and good but there will always be a need for substance, a need to be judged and assessed by those below you as well as your peers and those above. This factor alone, although still somewhat questionable, has been something of a foundation of one of my now common beliefs; the police service should adopt a management recruitment process similar to that employed by the military. A dual system that allows individuals to progress from ground level but also allows a direct entry point.

Being a good people manager and leader is also about being a person who has vision and can share it, someone you can genuinely trust. Ms Meaden believes a good leader can bring people with them in a way that is not all about saying: “Like me. I want to be your friend.” It is more about being able to say: “Trust me. I have got good judgement and, when I make my decision, I am using the right information and doing it for the right reasons …for the good of the company.”

ACPO and the Police Superintendent’s Association have consistently contrived to shift blame for all police failure down to the lowest level possible, ably assisted by our politicians. They either never had or have lost sight of what the policing function in our society is all about. The time has come to fess up eat some humble pie, admit your failings and bog off. But when is the right time to give up as a manager and jump ship?

As Ms Quinn points out; “The end is often a brutal experience, rarely voluntary”. She went on to explain how several of our political leaders and prime ministers over the years “found it difficult to stand down and let someone else take up the reins.” Perhaps some of our ACPO members should consider this fact and also listen to the advice…

…consider it a failure to slog on with a business that is going to die sooner rather than later… A lot of people are blinded. They think, “I can’t give this up. I’d feel like a failure.” (Deborah Meaden)

It is my genuine belief that; current police recruitment, selection and development processes are the causation factor of many management failings. We have systems that are creating, developing and promoting the Dilberts in our management structures. We have selection assessments that constantly fail to weed out the born Dilberts, or correctly assess personality traits and personal skills prior to development and promotion. A sea change is required in police development and to reitorate my mantra… There is still no ‘self’ in ‘service’!

Many police managers are like a Slinky; not really much good for much but they do bring a smile to your face when they’re falling down the stairs!

7 thoughts on “Police Leadership: Dilberts Born or Made?

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