Leadership – Then And Now

When I first joined the Met it was a much different animal to the one it is today.  At just about all ranks from Sergeant up to the Commissioner supervising officers threw their weight around and frequently (but certainly not always) bullied and cajoled junior officers into doing as they were told.

Being the sort of person I am I frequently found myself on the receiving end of the mother of all bollockings, somewhat similar to Fergie’s famous ‘Hairdryer’. Did I deserve them? Probably. Did they affect me? Almost certainly. Did disciplinary proceedings follow? Almost never.

Without those bollockings I wouldn’t be the man I am today, they toughened me up and helped form my character. The 19 year old that joined the Met in 1972 is not the same person I am now. Was it right? Quite honestly, I can’t answer that question. By today’s standards definitely not, but do I resent it? No I do not.

I most certainly remember undergoing my initial training at Hendon, a shy, retiring 19 year old being ‘tutored’ in the art of telling someone that their son/daughter/spouse had been killed in an accident etc.  I stuttered along with epics like “I’m sorry to have to tell you…..” or “I’m afraid I have to tell you…..” only to be shouted at by the instructor “You are NEVER sorry” and “You are NEVER” afraid.   I hate to think what modern-day training methods would make of that, but we all endured it and grew quickly.

There was what I used to call the Captain Nike culture about the place; “Just Fucking Do It” or simply JFDI.

Occasionally, just occasionally, one of those supervisors, normally an Inspector, would inspire and you would follow him/her to the end of the Earth and back again. That was a Leader.  They would shine like a beacon and would seldom be popular with senior management, mainly because they cared about their troops. It worked because of something called RESPECT, and it went both ways.

Then, some time around the late 80s things began to change. Constables were calling their Sergeants Jim, Steve or Harry, and this practice continued upwards. Instead of being told to do things, we were getting asked “would you mind awfully doing a School Crossing at Fenn Street?”  Frequently answered with “I’d rather not if it’s all the same to you”

Some time around the mid 90s the third era of ‘Leaders’ emerged. These were people who couldn’t actually ‘lead’ you along a length of rope.  Having got to their esteemed position in life they set about surrounding themselves with their chums.  Inspector or Chief Inspector Smith would get promoted and their friend Chief Superintendent Jones would discover that he/she had a vacancy and Smith would find themselves being posted to Jones’ unit.

In the twilight of my career I worked in an environment where we had to be vetted above the normal level. It wouldn’t be a lie to say that I got more than a tad pissed off seeing senior officers transferring in to our unit who either failed the vetting, or refused to be vetted, because their chum was in charge and said it would be OK. One particular senior officer got quite prickly with me because I repeatedly refused to tell him things he had not been vetted to receive.  Oh the perks of being in your 30th year.

These people are not Leaders, and I doubt that they ever could be. If they’re lucky they’re Managers, possibly Bosses, but Leaders they ain’t.

I don’t have close contact with anyone left serving any more so I’m a bit out of touch, but I get the distinct impression from what I can see and what I can read the the Met is now almost devoid of Leaders. They seem to have an abundance of Bosses, not many Managers, and few, if any, Leaders, but they do seem to have a lot of Senior Officers who have served time on Merseyside, or maybe that’s just in my imagination.

So there we are, at the end of my potted history of modern day bosses in the Met.  If I had my time all over again, which era would I choose?

No contest. Take me straight back to the 70s or I wouldn’t join again.  Did I enjoy being shouted at and getting the odd bollocking? No, nobody does, but despite everything I KNEW WHERE I STOOD, and if the excrement ever did hit the apparatus with rotating blades the bosses would normally back one up, the Leaders ALWAYS would. You may think that constitutes ‘Squaring things up’. I don’t. I think it’s a very effective way of dealing with a problem without causing unecessary shite. The problems were dealt with in a far more effective way than involving the forerunners of Professional Standards, and I’d call that Leadership, using Discretion, and making sure whatever it was never happened again.

I absolutely despair when I see the antics of the modern era Professional Standards, and I seriously don’t understand how they can continue to operate, particularly in the manner that has been described so often over the last couple of years.  If anybody there thinks they are a Leader, I’ll send for the men in white coats myself.

One thing is for certain, there is no place in the Command Chain for ‘Jobs For The Boys’. We need an IMMEDIATE return to ‘Best a Person For The Job’, and ALL Police Ooficers, regardless of rank, should possess a a higher than average level if a Ethics and Integrity. Lack of Integrity should automatically bebar any promotion candidate.  Only then can we once again claim to have true Leaders, able, and willing, to Lead from the front. Get it right and the troops will actually WANT to follow.

We must never forget, of course, that a true LEADER can be found at any rank, not just the higher echelons. Even the humble Constable can prove to be a LEADER. My last thought, is that in order to re-establish confidence in the MANAGEMENT, any officer, of any rank, who thinks that it’s appropriate to refuse to submit to Vetting at any level, should be sidelined, and left to count beans until they change their mind.  Promoting candidates in one’s own image, or because they belong to the same Lodge etc is a practice that should be formally outlawed. I have never had a problem with “best person for the job” and what little I did achieve in my career was obtained soley on merit and not Masonocracy or whatever.

The Sweeney, Ashes To Ashes, Life on Mars and even The Bill to a degree, I could live quite comfortably under regimes like those, with all their faults (I would never say that the Met has ever been perfect).  Pink and Fluffy, and Politically Correct do my head in, not because I want to slag people off and get away with it, but because, tough as it was, as I said before, YOU KNEW WHERE YOU STOOD.

Can any of you say that today?


14 thoughts on “Leadership – Then And Now

  1. It may be right that the combined experience of police leadership should be utilised to add value and optimise the service provided to the public and the rank and file. However, ACPO MkII must look to proactively avoid the horrendous historical mistakes of the past.

    Anyone that declares the leadership is not in crisis is guilty of the ostrich mentality typical of Chief Officers of recent years. Bury their heads, pretend it isn’t happening and DENY, DENY, DENY!

    Lord Dear, former West Midlands Chief Constable had it right with his letter to the Times. To quote “Not so long ago misconduct by a senior police officer was rare and newsworthy. Not Now.

    Too many top-rank officers in trouble in the courts and serious doubts are being cast about the trustworthiness of the service at all levels – the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 disturbances, Plebgate, phone-hacking, Hillsborough, the apparent politicisation of the Police Federation and so on. Now police recorded crime has been exposed as the crime of the century, the “Leadership” can no longer point to falling crime rates, and their response too often appears to be disconnected from what the public expect.

    The basic problem is leadership. The service has created, trained and promoted to its top ranks managers, rather than leaders. The roots of this go deep, certainly to a decision taken at the Police Staff College in the early 1990s to drop the focus on leadership on the grounds that it was “divisive and elitist” and concentrate instead on management. The police, like much of the public sector, remain preoccupied with the management ethic, ignoring the words of Viscount Slim, a noted leader in both the army and the commercial world – that “managers are necessary, leaders are essential”.

    Hardly surprising that Sir Hugh Orde vociferously defended the ACPO ranks, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas and they have too much at stake personally, with gold plated pensions, whopping salaries with all the frills and their glorious fiefdoms to protect.

    Is the leadership in crisis? Ask the public and the rank and file who were unanimously critical of their leaders in recent surveys.

    Police Oracle Readers added:-

    Sir Hugh added: “Chief constables are required to make difficult, complex decisions daily, often under extreme pressure. Making these decisions involves balancing risk and acting on the information available with the intention of protecting the public, WHILE SITTING AT A DESK, while the lads and lasses(particularly firearms officers)have to make similar decisions out on the streets, on the hoof, they don’t have solicitors and advisors with them when they make those decisions. .

    Well, I have to be honest. When ACPO are getting served papers at the rate they are, I see it as a crisis. In know the fed had a vote of no confidence in ACPO a while ago. If the same percentage of officers were getting papers, I have no doubts ACPO would view this as a crisis. The difference being a PC wouldn’t get the PCC speaking out in their support or asking for a proportionate investigation. The PC would be left to fend for themselves.

    When I was an officer the more senior the officer in the witness box (Sergeant/Inspector), the stronger the case. Thankfully you don’t see too many ACPO officers in the witness box!!!!

    The increase of ACPO officers under investigation is just symptomatic of the people now filling these posts. They are too close to Politicians, Media and Personalities and care too much about QPM’s and knighthoods. They are nothing like the old Chief’s who steered clear of the ‘P’s’……Press, Politians, Politicians…..and now PCC’s

    Ask yourself if everyone above the rank of inspector didn’t come to work for a month would the front line, where the workers are, even notice?
    The answer is NO.
    The job gets done regardless of these ranks.
    Now ask if PC’s Sgt’s and Inspectors didn’t come to work for one day what would happen?
    I Think we all know.

  2. Your comments took me back – I recall the most effective means of testing a senior officer who wanted PSD to investigate an Internal Allegation was to ask them to agree that we would look at the entire problem (inc the action or lack of action by all SMT members) they normally asked for a few hours to think things through then nothing further was heard from them. Spooky!

  3. For the last 10 years of my service I was effectively a full time ‘friend’ representing or assisting hundreds of officers subject to conduct investigations. As part of my role I gave talks to probationers.
    I found that whilst under going initial training they had been told if they made mistakes, they would be fine, provided they were made with good and honest intent, the MPS would look after them.
    I told them that was of course true.
    However my experience showed often it was the means that the MPS tested if they had good and honest intent that was the difficulty.
    Firstly the DPS/CIB would investigate them, then to test their honest intent would, charge them, take them to court, if the court acquitted them then the DPS would then consider discipline, if the discipline board/conduct panel acquitted them then they would be welcomed back with open arms as they obviously had good and honest intent.

    This did not happen every time of course, but certainly often enough to justify extreme caution.
    This was a failure of leadership, In my view often occasioned by the poor quality of too many of the Chief Inspectors in complaints units.

    • I too joined in 72 and I have to confess that some of the Chief Inspectors in Area Complaints Units were plain AWFUL One of them, referred to as Wan (you’ll need to use your imagination a bit there) and I had a right royal shouting match one day because when he told me that the complaint of assault was being withdrawn he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t accept Words of Advice because I simply hadn’t done it

  4. So very true and accurate. The work ethic of the 60/70s was ‘head down, work non stop, dread the boss’ but you buckled down & worked hard knowing if there was a problem the boss would sort it out unquestioningly. Your problem became their problem & you could rely on it being solved. The workplace was a team, all the cogs relied on each other to interact & provide the whole. Personal discipline/responsibility was important & trust in your superiors vital. The whole team helped each other & pride came from the group success. The subsequent fragmentation & personal glory ethos has been a retrograde step leading to the low morale of the many & hollow glory of the modern ‘inward looking’ managers. This new breed lacks leadership, integrity, honesty & care of those under their control. The present ‘workers’ do their jobs facing daily difficulties combined with the knowledge they are fighting on two fronts. They fight the enemy & in a lot of cases their own so called ‘support’. Is it any wonder stress is the modern day demon.

  5. Senior officers are too detached from the front line. I remember in the 800 as assistant station officer on early turn getting all the books ready for the chief superintendent to examine. That disappeared and senior officers stayed in their own environment of their offices. That severed an important link to front line.

  6. Pingback: Leadership – Then And Now | Policing news...

  7. I joined 72 as well.I had a Sgt. who I am sure as a probationer if you did’nt do as told he would have smacked you.This guy ruled by fear but he certainly looked after any Young Officer who showed a will to succeed.Senior Officers were men who knew the job inside out.The Police FORCE wasn’t pretty but it worked.Then in the 80’s we started with the rapid promotion bollicks and ended up with bosses who had never seen an angry man telling Cops what to do when they did’nt have a clue and were’nt fit to lick the boots of these guys.Senior Officers who could’nt find their arse with both hands.The rest as they say is history.

    • Quite right, the Police FORCE was never pretty, but it worked a whole load better than the Police Service. Personally speaking, I would much rather get a lad, vocal toasting and know where I stood than the constant looking over shoulder that seems to go on these days.

  8. I joined in 1985 as a 19 year old who was very naive. I did not enjoy the Hendon experience and Division was very unpleasant after I arrested a Detective for drink drive. However, I soldiered on and eventually got promoted to Sergeant. I really enjoyed making a difference on my team, being able to look after people and ensuring that the job got done. I liked things done properly and was consistent in this approach. If PCs did not like that, they went to other Sergeants who took a more liberal approach. I kept this approach when I became an Inspector. I loved having a team of people to lead and be responsible for. I looked out for them and they worked tirelessly for me. The team functioned well because everyone knew what was expected of them. My team led approach did not win favour with some senior officers. One even accused me of having, “gone native”. A full and frank exchange then followed between the senior officer and I. Apparently the conversation was heard way along the corridor! I retired last year and I do not envy those colleagues who have been left behind. They are crying out for and deserve outstanding leadership. They deserve to be looked after, led and inspired. Even in today’s challenging times, this would make all the difference. I think that it is a damning indictment of an organisation if people cry when they find out that they have not been successful in their application for voluntary exit. They are bitterly disappointed that they have been able to keep their job………..surely this should be ringing alarm bells somewhere in the depths of the Ivory Tower?

    • Thank you for that Dave, and yes I would agree that the best Leaders are not always the ones who are slightly more liberal, but when your troops follow you into Hell and beyond you know you’re doing something right. As you pointed out that does not always make you popular with the upper floors. Personally I would value the respect of my Team much higher than that of the SMT, it’s more meaningful, and much more valuable.

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