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The RCMP: A Team Without A Coach

Sep 11

I was recently provided with a hard-copy of a video presentation made by Mr. Paulson, Commissioner of the RCMP, to the general membership.  In it he wanted to share with them five things that were “bugging” him.  He went through the usual fare of “first rate policing services”, “leadership, accountability and supervision”, “discipline”, “an ethical organization”, and a “respectful workplace”.  Visionary?  Innovative?  Transformative?  I don’t think so.  But before I drill down a little deeper let me tell you a story to illustrate a point.

As the story goes, a drunk stumbled about, under a street lamp, as if searching for something.  A neighbour passing by asked him what he was looking for.  The drunk answered, “I’ve lost my keys”, and they both began to search.  After some time had passed, and no success, the neighbour inquired as to whether they were looking in the right spot.  “Oh no”, said the drunk, “I lost them over there, but there’s no light there”.

Do you find this absurd?  With respect, apparently Mr. Paulson and his executive don’t.  The whole point of the exercise, that they don’t get, is that such a search will produce nothing except more of the sameMore of the same just happens to be, although deceptively simple, one of the most effective recipes for disaster on this planet.  Over the course of hundreds of millions of years it has lead to the extinction of several entire species.  It is a recipe that has been familiar to our animal ancestors since their first appearance on this earth and practiced by RCMP leaders for decades.

The recipe is composed of the stubborn and unyielding belief in adaptations and solutions that at one time may have been successful, or have just become habitual (corporate culture?).  This approach is bound to become problematic as situations tend to change over time.  Now I will grant Mr. Paulson that no organism (or in his case, organization) can respond to its environment in a random fashion; that is to say, successful adaptation requires the development of specific and repetitive patterns of behaviour designed to bring about survival.  However, for some yet unknown reason humans, animals, the RCMP, and our federal government, all tend to view these adaptations as fixed, final and valid forever.  This tragic misconception now obscures the fact that these patterns are doomed to become more and more anachronistic with the passage of time.  Moreover, it eliminates the consideration of other possible and perhaps better solutions – that likely have always existed.  This myopia can have catastrophic adaptive effects for an organization like the RCMP.  First, it allows the solution to become increasingly useless and the situation to become more and more hopeless.  Second, the increasing misery in tandem with the rigid belief in only one solution leaves only one conclusion – that they must do more of the same.  And of course by doing more of the same, they produce more of the same misery.

In his highly predictable, more of the same “pep-talk” Mr. Paulson has demonstrated clearly why a police person is not often the best choice to run the “people/business end” of a major law enforcement organization.  It isn’t really fair to blame him, as he wasn’t hired, some 26 years ago, for his leadership potential.  Like every other (regular member) Commissioner before him, Mr. Paulson was hired for his potential to become a general duty police person; and the profile of a leader is vastly different than that of a police person.  And no amount of costly executive training can change that very much.

What do you think of this?  At the conclusion of his remarks Mr. Paulson says, “…I ask that if you have watched this video that you take a second and go and talk with your colleagues about the things you have heard me talk about.  Have a discussion about these five points and see how you can contribute to engaging in these important matters”.  Inspirational?  Motivational?    I don’t think so!

Do you recall the name of the Super Bowl Trophy?  It’s called the Lombardi Trophy and it is named after a former coach of the Green Bay Packers.  Vince Lombardi never had a losing season as a head coach in the NFL.  He transformed the Green Bay Packers from a group of lacklustre losers into a dynasty.  He racked up a 73.8% regular season winning average, and a 90% post season average.  He won the first two Super Bowls, and is considered widely as a transformational leader.

Want to have some fun?  Let‘s see how Coach Lombardi might have delivered Mr. Paulson’s message to the membership.  It might have gone something like this:

“Are you happy?  What makes you happy?  Usually its things like family and work.  Is your work making you happy these days?  I don’t think so, and I’m here to change that.  The RCMP has suffered from a lack of leadership for decades.  Your “leaders” have let you down.  I am sorry that you have had to endure that and I assure you it will not continue.  Your leaders have been accountable to no one since this organization began; you and the public have suffered.  That will change.  The RCMP lacks focus; we are spread too thin.  Our tasks are out of check with our resources; you and the public have suffered.  That will change.  We have lost the confidence and trust of large segments of the Canadian public.  As a result, you and they have suffered.  That will change.

I am about to make some “turn around” changes in the RCMP.  I am making them in the interest of the Canadian public and you, the working members of the organization.  With these changes the RCMP will not just survive – it will thrive!  If you are interested in working for a 21st Century police service, then welcome aboard.  What I propose is this…”

And he would proceed to outline transformative solutions to problems, that might include:  separate employer status; a  public advisory board; purebred civilian oversight; unionization; downsizing, and the identification of two or three tasks upon which the organization could focus and excel (Vince Lombardi won 5 division titles and 2 Super Bowls with basically 2 plays – “Packer Sweep Right” and “Packer Sweep Left”).

Now some of you reading this might be thinking that the Commissioner of the RCMP doesn’t have the authority to make the kinds of transformative changes that are suggested above. If that is the case, then no transformative leader would want the job. Transformative leaders are deeply passionate, energetic, and enthusiastic about their visions and would not want a job where they were bound by others’ lack of vision; especially those influenced by politics. So the very nature of the job, of commissioner of the RCMP, requires a more transactional than transformative leader. The transactional leader (read manager), rather than having an emotional connection with followers, has a more exchange-based relationship, focused on reward and punishment as motivators. They tend to be risk-avoidant and prefer to function in harmony with the present state of the organization, rather than looking to the future in hopes of creating something greater. They concentrate on day-to-day operations and efficiency and tend to suffer from a lack of vision. Sound familiar?

Like the title says, “A Team without a Coach”.

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