In my experience as a police officer, the traditional methods of ‘Leadership’ could be politely described as ‘Command and Control’ or ‘I’m the Boss, pin your ears back’, ‘ My door is always open but don’t dare enter unless I’ve sent for you’. I describe such people as ‘Enforcers’. The cultural implications of such behaviours are self-evident. I would like to concentrate in this article on an endangered species, the Leader, as a PERSON.
Traditional means of ensuring compliance were not available to me. These included: ” Do this because I’m ordering you to; do this because I’m ordering you to, do this because this is the way we do things around here.”
I discovered coaching as a leadership style, in 1998. I became an ‘enabler’. This resulted from a module on an Executive Diploma in Leadership and Management. Some 30 Inspectors were in the room, with facilitators. A role play was arranged. I played an Inspector, a colleague, played a poor performer who was reluctant to admit it. That person was chosen deliberately, as they were high performers, who were reluctant to even utter the words ‘poor performer’! My focus was totally on my colleague, the people in the room, became peripheral to my consciousness. Traditional means of ensuring compliance were not available to me. These included: ” Do this because I’m ordering you to; do this because I’m ordering you to, do this because this is the way we do things around here.” I had to CONNECT with this ‘poor performer’ in front of me.
The process became very real. I could see my colleague, WAS that poor performer. We achieved a successful outcome and remained friends! I thought to myself, ‘Wow! If this is what happens when you play at it, what will it be in real life?’ I was about to find out. In essence, it is ESSENTIAL that a Leader knows those he has responsibility for, as INDIVIDUALS.
I inherited a team who were regarded with wry amusement by other teams. For several years, they had been micromanaged and indulged. A toxic combination in my view. I made it my responsibility to ascertain the poor performers on the team. I held meetings with them individually, and gave them the option to change, in line with the Values I expressed, or to accept the consequent career choices open to them. I became a firm advocate and adherent of kaizen, the Japanese principle, of continuous improvement. That it is everyone’s responsibility to deliver performance and efficiency improvements.
During the first months, I introduced myself, personally to my team. I explained that I needed them to make decisions, and to record their rationale, based on information known to them at the time, ( e.g. save a life ) for any subsequent procedure. I told them that matters sometime after the event could look rather different to interested observers. Lessons learnt would be captured for our future knowledge, but that no one was going to be hung out to dry! The benefit for me, as a Leader, was that my investment in time and energy getting to know ‘my people’ meant that I freed up significant chunks of time.
I could strategise, performance motivate and manage people. Quite often, Performance Management is regarded as dealing almost exclusively, with poor performers. I was also able to devote quality time to the needs of ‘middling ‘ and high performers. In terms of the latter, this included helping colleagues develop out of their current roles, and, in some cases, the team itself. This opportunity to meaningfully engage with my team was exhilarating.
Throughout my subsequent career, I found that motivated staff made demands on me. They knew the system and procedural defects that were impacting negatively upon performance and service. My role was to appropriately evaluate and implement change. As trust between us became more pronounced, colleagues began to propose changes that would positively impact on our service delivery and performance.
The ‘Command and Control’ Leadership style adopted by many of my fellow Senior Officers, produced significant downsides for them, including stress, burnout, an ‘us and them’ mentality which engenders limiting beliefs.
I was in the position of knowing that my people were producing and giving of their best. I was honoured to have played a part in their development and to ENJOY the responsibility I had.
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