In my direct experience, Leadership is a form of a social compact between individuals who are members of the same organisation, department or team.
Leadership means knowing those you are responsible for as people and vice versa. This knowledge about WHO we are rather than what ROLE we are playing at any given time is critically important in developing the trust and confidence in each other that is essential for sustainable, high-quality performance. This is especially the case when our decisions put our colleagues in physical or psychological jeopardy.
In essence, it’s about being able to look people in the eye and know that we have a shared understanding of the stresses and pressures of our work environment.
There is a mistaken belief that you can manage or lead, by email or by Diktat.
We can choose the extent to which we entrust our livelihoods, sometimes lives, in the hands of people who regard us as numbers or names on an organisation chart. We can create the illusion of engagement, sufficient to ‘keep them off our back.’
I came to the realisation of the importance of visibility and credibility early in my role as a Police Inspector. The insidious effects of poor culture played their part in my original mistake in following ‘the way we do things here.’
Public Order Policing, in a city centre awash with drinking establishments, food joints and places for people to ‘mingle’ is fraught with challenges. The potential for confrontation, violence, and distress are the core ingredients of such an environment. Crime prevention, and ensuring the safety of the public and officers is key.
Every Friday and Saturday, the Late Turn Tour of Duty for officers was 10 hours; that is 1700 to 0300 hours. Incidents such as arrests generated a workload of several hours, often meant that officers would overlap the Early Turn, who started at 0700 hours. Refreshment Breaks where officers could relax and eat without interruption became a dream.
As a newly arrived Inspector, it was suggested by a number of colleagues that it was ‘overkill’ for Inspectors to perform such duties as it would inhibit the supervisory skills of Sergeants! The practice was for these Inspectors to work their 10 hours so that they finished at 2200 hours. To my shame, I fell in with this practice a couple of times. I convinced myself that this was the right thing to do.
I realised, when I paraded with my team the following day, that I had abdicated responsibility as I had no idea as to the nature of their experiences between 2200 and 0300 hours. I felt a fraud and felt that my colleagues had been let down by me. When I informed my team that I would be with them throughout their Public Order Duties, there were some raised eyebrows.
What I learned by being visible and accessible to those I was responsible for was invaluable. It was possible to truly get to know each other as people and that created a trust that cemented the team together. It was a lesson that I never forgot.
I felt more confident in my decision-making as I considered the impact on colleagues as people I knew and had responsibility for. I was also far better placed to encourage and support their development.
I felt that it would have been an admission of failure if I had to rely upon my rank to ensure my orders were carried out. Rather, colleagues had trust in my judgment and knew that I considered their wellbeing as well as that of the public, extremely seriously.
If I had to place colleagues in harm’s way, I shared that potential peril with them.
In business today, there are relevant lessons to be gleaned from my experiences.
Digital communication has its place. However, nothing replaces human interaction between colleagues who know each other as people, engendering the necessary trust and confidence in the Leadership.