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Imagine The Possibilities

Dec 11

Leadership is a hot issue within the Force and on this site.   And as I spend my days reliving my experiences with examples of poor management and failed leadership within the Force, I also look to examples of what leadership means and what benchmarks and tools define and develop great leadership.

It is strikingly interesting that the issue of recruitment of ‘people’ vs ‘leaders’ appeared in a blog entry yesterday. Over the years, I’ve met 30-year constables and guys who have jumped the queue to sergeant and above in a little over a decade. I recognize that there are only so many positions to go around, there’s also some poor practice in terms who goes up the ladder and how it happens.

The prevailing wisdom is that leaders are largely made, not born. So, why not start the process of molding leaders when one is identified by merit-based evaluations and observations. That is step one. Step two is to develop a leadership program, in-house or otherwise, that cultivates this leadership factor.

But what does leadership look like beyond this point? I leave you all to imagine, if you will, what that looks like. The following points come courtesy of Warren Bennis, a scholar, organizational consultant and a pioneer in contemporary leadership studies.

Note that it does not say anything about needing a union to make things productive or for the workplace to be safe and fair. This draws the big lines, but the inside lines will follow whatever culture the big lines put forward. Put on your ‘imagine’ caps, kids, and blow your own minds with the potential that adherence to such principles could create for our RCMP? (Thoughts in parentheses are my own.)

  • At the heart of every Great Group is a shared dream. All Great Groups believe that they are on a mission from God, that they could change the world, make a dent in the universe.
  • They manage conflict by abandoning individual egos to the pursuit of the dream (the greater good vs greater evil).
  • They are protected from the “suits.” All Great Groups seem to have disdain for their corporate (or government) overseers and all are protected from them by a leader — not necessarily the leader who defines the dream.
  • They have a real or invented enemy. Even the most noble mission can be helped by an onerous opponent. (Wouldn’t it be great for everyone to feel free to focus on catching the bad guys and know that the system had their back and best interests in mind and at heart?)
  • They view themselves as winning underdogs. World-changing groups are usually populated by mavericks, people at the periphery of their disciplines. The sense of operating on the fringes gives them a don’t-count-me-out scrappiness that feeds their obsession (note “on the fringes” does not mean “outside the rules” or “above the law.”
  • Members pay a personal price. Membership in a Great Group isn’t a day job; it is a night and day job. Groups strike a Faustian bargain for the intensity and energy that they generate.
  • Great Groups make strong leaders. On one hand, they’re all non-hierarchical, open, and very egalitarian. Yet they all have strong leaders. That’s the paradox of group leadership. You cannot have a great leader without a Great Group. (It sure as hell is not an ‘old-boys-club mentality)
  • Great Groups are the product of meticulous recruiting.  Cherry-picking the right talent for a group means knowing what you need and being able to spot it in others. It also means understanding the chemistry of a group. You see the same thing in great coaches. They can place the right people in the right role. (And, yes, perhaps that means that a great Comm CAN be a civilian or someone outside of the Force, but it means the Serge-clad ego needs to disappear.)
  • Great Groups don’t know what’s supposed to be impossible. That gives them the ability to do the impossible.
  • Great Groups are usually young. But Great Groups are also young in their spirit, ethos, and culture.
  • Real artists ship. Great Groups have to produce a tangible outcome external to themselves. Without something to show for their efforts, the most talented assemblage becomes little more than a social club or a therapy. (Sound like an org you know of?)

Bennis’ new rules for leaders also define common behavioural traits, traits not seen from a Comm in a long time (rumour has it Zacardelli was a master of long knives). In Bennis’ words –

Without exception, the leaders of Great Groups:

  • Provide direction and meaning. They remind people of what’s important and why their work makes a difference.
  • Generate and sustain trust. The group’s trust in itself — and its leadership — allows members to accept dissent and ride through the turbulence of the group process.
  • Display a bias toward action, risk taking, and curiosity. A sense of urgency — and a willingness to risk failure to achieve results — is at the heart of every Great Group.
  • Are purveyors of hope. Effective team leaders find both tangible and symbolic ways to demonstrate that the group can overcome the odds.

Imagine the possibilities… weep at the loss of potential for our current Force.

Jamie Hanlon

One Comment
  1. Mike McTaggart permalink

    There was a time, many years ago now, when being a member of the Force was a way of life, not a job. In those days, many of our NCO leaders were expert police officers with an enthusiasm for the job that was infectious on us young guys. As times changed, the Force became simply “a job” and people were promoted for many reasons that often did not include any expertise or enthusiasm beyond what they needed for their own advancement. Old NCOs were promoted on their ability to do the job and teach the job to the younger guys. Those who did slip through the system usually made it no further than corporal. Officers were not made until they had at least 17 years of experience, had attained the rank of sergeant and been successful detachment/unit commanders. Some officers were jerks, some were great guys. There was a sense of loyalty to your coworkers, your Detachment, Division and the Force. But the world in general was an easier place back then and the Force was no different. Recognition and self esteem were based on accomplishments not on simply showing up to your place of work. People were accustomed to making mistakes, owning up to them, making things right and moving on. There are so many people today who never learned “how” to fail, won’t own a failure and certainly feel no need to be accountable. You wonder how the Force ends up today with so many crappy leaders? Take a person who has never learned to fail, never had to be truly accountable, went from constable to staff sergeant in three or four years and then onto the officer ranks without learning anything but how to succeed in the promotion process and you have a big part of the answer. If you consider that person by the sum of their parts, what type of leader did you really expect?
    Too bad isn’t it!


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