Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Art of leading men (and women).

Since I have been in the police -there have been many changes, in fact the obsessive tinkering by Nu Labour meant that the rate of change increased rapidly after 1997, to the extent that 'change' itself is now seen as a four letter word.
'Shit, wank or toss' being the ones that fit most situations.

One of the changes brought in is an emphasis on 'leadership' (meaning management) and the role of being a 'leader' (meaning being a manager).

Go into any UK police force, and I would be surprised not to find posters, leaflets, online resources, training courses, and enormous volumes of hot air all about this 'leadership' thing.

This is something that has come in on the crest of the wave of introducing ideas and concepts from private industry (who else has 'customers','business partners','business cases' and so on) - I mean we are the public sector - monopoly suppliers of policing - there is no customer choice - I would argue that they are not customers as they have no choice and certainly aren't expected to pay... but that's a different rant.

With the posters, also came the motivational ones, spreading like the ravings of benign vandals across corridors and noticeboards and even the occasional office. I hate these with a passion. Below is an example - albeit a satirical one, but it gets the point across:

(For more - I suggest you get over to despair inc. )

Sadly, with the obsession over leadership/management, comes the jargon/bullshit that goes with it. Renaming the 'Senior Management Team' to the 'Senior Leadership Team' is an obvious one, but it does nothing apart from saving a small amount of ink. It's still the same bunch. With all their quirks, obsessions and habits. And if you have a Chief Officer who has been bitten by the 'Leadership bug', then expect it all to come from the top down.

So this is how come Sgt Custerd goes on a training course on 'Managing Change and Improvement'. Or, two days of twaddle. Harsh, but 'management' as a subject is based on the loose academic principles of some very soft and squishy social sciences - often contributed to in large parts by US academics or business people, working in US industry and firms. (And for what US business can teach the world -think Union Carbide, GM, Lehman Brothers & Bernard Madoff - but that was an easy swipe..) I prefer my academic subjects underpinned by solid scientific laws, or else weighty chunks of philosophy. For an example, think Hobbes' Leviathan as opposed to the outpourings of the Harvard Business School, which mainly relies on 20th century studies of organisations. Sun Tzu and Macchiaveli would probably haved burned the place down, Adam Smith would have had them all making pins.

'Change' is many things - but management training will tell you it is inevitable, a good thing, that organisations thrive on change an so on. Experience tells me that 'change' is inevitable, poorly thought out, often unnecessary, implemented for personal and self-promotional reasons, prone to being reversed. It is also politically motivated, sometimes follows changes in society, and the adage 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' works an awful lot of the time.

So when being told that the police are resistant to change - it's a fair comment - combine shiftwork, stressful situations, real actual crises, unusual working practices - and I defy anyone to greet a change in legislation, or procedure, or working practices with open arms and a happy smile. Try working in the grimier end of life for years and then resist being cynical and sceptical, world-weary and 'seen it all before'.
So at the end of a two day input from some very earnest management trainers, I had switched off a little. I found it intensely patronising, simplistic, and all to often geared to the world of commerce. Parallels were made with BT and the Prison Service - one being in private industry - the other part-privatised, so the examples didn't really hold. And it's not like I don't manage change - just getting on with it with minimal grumbling and making new systems work is all it's about. Normal working practices go out of the window with a murder, riot or other serious incident, so you can't accuse police officers of not being dynamic or adaptable.

So does knowing John Kotter's 8 point model for successful change help me in the slightest? - it's clearly an obsession for modern management - for example, Google gives nearly 36 million hits for 'managing change'. There are plenty of books or courses available to help executives 'create coalitions', 'communicate', 'express a vision', 'empower' and so on - in fact, I've noticed that the language of 'management' and the language of counselling often have a shared vocabulary (is this significant I wonder...?) - but in the long run - does it really help?

I may be wrong, I may be in a minority of one, but people who talk like professional managers, with 'vision' and a 'mission' come across as massive wankers. Not necessarily bad, evil or stupid - quite the reverse, but very often as misguided, naive, and deluded, and certainly anyone who wants to 'link in' with me, as opposed to come and 'speak to' me has already got my hackles up.

Don't let the bastards grind you down.

Sgt C.


  1. All I can say is THANK YOU. If you weren't almost on the other side of the world I would shake your hand. This leadership crap makes me crazy, and it appears to be taking over every formerly sane supervisor I've ever known. Well said.
    If I may, I think you would enjoy Brant Hansen's "Rules of Awesomely Bold Leadership."

  2. I went in tonight for a cpd evening, in the training room they had 8 of these up.

    I burst out laughing l never usually go into the room and wouldn't have noticed the posters if l had not read this post they would just have been "back ground noise".

    The room is not that big it was knees up to neck time the chairs were so tight with 25 of us in there.

    What l can say is that they were pretty pictures, just a pity they spoilt them with inane writing.

  3. Ruggy Dill ex pc.17 June 2009 at 11:34

    I am reminded of the following quotation from the first century by a Roman satirist :-

    "We trained very hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress, while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation."

    I printed this out and posted it on various notice boards around whatever station I was posted to.
    In some I had to replace them weekly, in others hardly at all.
    I think it says it all about the modern service but it also applies to Parliament and society.
    Considering I retired over 10 years ago, there is nothing new under the sun.

  4. Custerd - just discovered your blog. Brilliant.

    Yourself and Inspector Leviathan Hobbes at have much in common i imagine.