Effective Leadership When You're Stuck In The Middle
“Why can’t I just tell the bastards what to do?” asked the Commander squinting at the diagram in front of him.
He adjusted his cap to block out the light, which caused the sun to glint off his cap-badge.
I could tell the veteran Borough Commander was half-joking, but it was the half that wasn’t joking that worried him.
Fergus, however, was unfazed.
“Because, you old sod,” retorted Fergus in the same tone. “the world has changed under your feet in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Fergus was taking a big risk.
This particular Borough Commander (let’s call him Brian) was well respected in the ranks. Which is exactly why Fergus had decided to start with him.
“If you don’t believe me, then keep wearing that uniform when you attend the next Community Leaders in Newham. The world’s a different place since the MacPherson Report came out.”
Brian tossed the paper onto the desk in front of him, took off his cap as he sat down and regarded Fergus critically.
“I know, I know. Okay you cheeky bugger, tell me what I’ve got to say.”
I heaved a sigh of relief and mopped my brow.
I could have swore Fergus did the same, but he gave no sign. Instead, Fergus tapped the diagram on the desk: “Influence works in four directions…”
A few years before I moved to Western Canada I was working in London England where I was contracted by “Scotland Yard”.
Technically, the Leadership Development Team of the Metropolitan Police was based out of a building a couple of blocks away from the building referred to as New Scotland Yard, but my colleague Ken Cameron insists on telling everyone that “Russell worked at Scotland Yard” because he feels it’s a far more recognizable term than “Metropolitan Police Service”.
I think he’s been watching too much “Murdoch Mysteries” personally, however the enthusiastic response of his fellow Canadians has won me over and I’ve begun to adopt the same terminology, albeit with the above caveat.
My time at “The Yard” taught me a number of salient lessons about organizational dynamics and I’ve since applied the Four Directions Model, originally developed by my colleague Fergus Lawson, to various organizations worldwide, including the UK Customs Service and my work with Volker Stevin, Bell Media, Rocky View County and Bow Valley College.
To clarify the structure of the Police Force in London and the definition of a “Borough Commander”, London has a population of
approximately 8.5 million people, split into 32 districts called Boroughs.
Each Borough houses 150,000 to 300,000 people. Each Borough Policing division has a Commander responsible for the officers policing that Borough and answering to the Commissioner of Police and Deputy Commissioners.
So Brian (the gentleman described in the scenario above) would have been in charge of approximately 350 – 1,000 uniformed police officers, plain-clothed Detectives and civilian support staff.
He would have worked his way up through the force and had typically between 10-20 years experience.
I joined the Leadership Development Team at New Scotland Yard approximately 18 months into a 3 year Leadership Development Program.
Fergus Lawson was its Director. He was always a sharp dresser with a big personality and a sharp mind, not always a welcome combination in the days when the Force tended to be suspicious of a civilian not in uniform.
Fergus was charged with building the capability of leaders within the police and specifically the Borough Commanders.
Particular attention needed to be paid to the manner in which they communicated and exercised influence with the world outside of the Police Force, but Fergus and I quickly realized that the issue extended beyond a single sphere.
We needed to address the manner in which they communicated internally with their peers, civilian support staff, with other divisions within the force;
...and also externally with other law enforcement agencies such as Customs, Home Office and Police services of other municipalities.
Policemen and women are trained, like military personnel, to give and receive orders.
Their hierarchical structure at the time resembled that of the military or a 1970’s factory. The Commissioner gives an order to the Deputy Commissioners, who relay it to the Borough Commanders, etc, etc.
Commands usually went one way (down).
Information may flow upwards, but rarely offers suggestions.
The modern military has challenged this structure to a certain degree.
My work with the British Army showed me how a modern military works increasingly as a team of specialists in which the platoon leader works more as a “Team Lead” and utilizes the specialist capabilities of his/her soldiers.
However, in the mid 1990’s the Metropolitan Police was still mired in the traditional, centuries-old command and control structure.
This was all well and good for internal communications. However, the problem arose when members of the Force began to interact laterally.
You can well imagine how a peer working at the police force of another city such as Manchester or Birmingham would react to a character from London ringing him up and ordering him to put a few officers onto a task in support of a London-based investigation.
I later had the opportunity to work for the Customs Service and witnessed first hand how such high-handed tactics mysteriously resulted in slower-than-normal responses.
Institutional racism term stopping Met reform