UK Police looking to move beyond ‘heroic leadership’

Police leadership reviewThe British ‘bobbie’ on the beat has for many years been an iconic feature of the landscape here in London.  However, the impact of leadership in the police force is under scrutiny with the release of the College of Policing’s Leadership Review report – a wide-ranging look at trends in public sector leadership as well as what is required from the police over the next decade.  Among the ten recommendations was a point about leadership culture that caught our eye.  Talking about evidence gathered during the preparation of the report, the section on ‘Supporting police leaders’ (5.2.4) says:

We heard that in a command orientated world there is a tendency to shift towards the ‘heroic’ model of leadership in which an individual is the figurehead and followers are there to ensure the leader’s will is carried out. We advocate more emphasis on a model in which leaders are there to ensure the success of their teams.

This shift from heroic to post-heroic leadership is one that is engaging many organisations, both private and public.  This paragraph illustrates a key difference between heroic and host (post-heroic) mindsets. If the team fails a hero leader, it’s the team’s fault.  If the team fails a host leader, then it’s at least partly down to the host.

Imagine hosting a party which goes badly.  Is it possible for the host to blame the guests for the outcome?  Not really.  The host has set the context and so must look to themselves if they wish a better result next time.  The report continues (5.2.5):

Taking command remains an essential part of the leadership repertoire, but the overuse of command as a leadership style risks disempowering those who are being commanded. It poses potentially the greatest obstacle to the culture of candour and challenge that is necessary to succeed in the future context.

This captures a big risk of the hero metaphor of leadership.  If the leader always knows best, then what use is there in the others bringing ideas and their own energy?  If the leader is not interested in the others, then candour and challenge are very hard to come by.  On the contrary, a host leader will always be interested and concerned about their ‘guests’ (as we refer to ‘those who are being commanded’).

This leadership shift from ‘team implements hero’s will’ to ‘host brings people together’ is a key one in engaging people and creating results through participation and empowerment.

Mark McKergow is the co-author of Host: Six new rules roles of engagement, published by Solutions Books (£11.99)



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