My career journey began in 1989 when I joined the Metropolitan Police as a constable. Following various postings at Hackney and Westminster I was promoted through the management ranks of sergeant and inspector, this led to my first leadership appointment in 2001 as Chief Inspector of the East London Borough, gaining me a place on the Senior Management Team, (SMT). The Metropolitan police services delivered policing in each of the 32 London Boroughs through these borough-based SMT.
While the notion of writing about the police may bring some negative connotation, I have endeavoured to avoid the widely criticised aspects of public sector professionals and focused on my personal view of leadership and management in the public sector.
It was around the early 2000’s when Metropolitan Police chief officer group seemed to have looked at a dictionary after following what was apparent in the ever changing world of ‘management speak’ ,(or perhaps leadership speak!), and for no apparent reason, or one that I could understand, overnight every SMT was renamed the Senior Leadership Teams (SLT). This change in title came with no change in responsibility, accountability or policy, in fact we had no distinct change in the workings of that team.
I suggest what this reflects is the universal ambiguity over the two terms, after all it’s really only been since the late 1950’s that leadership has been a discipline that requires different skills to that of management, and thus the dichotomy of management and leadership. Often the two are thought to be interchangeable, I would proffer that as a member of that team I was both a leader to some and a manager to others.
To me it’s always been this way. To my senior officers, in my view I think the reality was they thought of local borough teams as mainly managers of corporate policies and directives. They saw our role to manage people, processes and performance. This is what we were held accountable for.
However, to officers that worked for us and with us, I am certain they looked at us as leaders. Leaders in the sense of strategic direction and support, (albeit frequently dictated from the Chief Officer Group). We were responsible for building and maintaining local strategic relationships and being responsible for the general wellbeing of all staff through effective HR process, financial grip and operational effectiveness and resource efficiency.
As my career progressed, I had vastly more ‘leadership’ responsibilities when I transferred to the national police policy unit, then known as ACPO, (the Association of Chief Police Officers).
At ACPO, unlike in other areas of the Metropolitan Police I felt that I had not only a voice but that it was heard. I was able to develop strategy and effect change in national policy and practices. I was also clearly identified as the leader of my Teams to all strategic partners, HMG and international organisations as we discussed topics like, vision and finance.
My frustration was always in my inability to change my SLT as I saw fit and, in my inability, due to central control, to shape and structure my 800 staff as I and the SLT saw to be most effective use of valuable resources.
We invested rarely in senior officer training and / or development and succession planning was suggested but never followed through. We all undertook some type of psychometric testing like Myers-Briggs. Acknowledging its potential short comings with some in the academic world, as an organisation we did nothing with that information. It was perhaps at best ‘’vaguely useful’ to me but it ended there. I am not suggesting for one moment that SLT should be built on such information from tests but ‘results’ weren’t shared, discussed or given any credibility. So really to me it was of minimal worth and potentially a missed opportunity.
My last operational posting was as the Temporary Borough Commander of a busy Borough in east London. I would say the most challenging in terms of service delivery and demand. I was responsible for around 800 staff, yet even as the Borough Commander, I was very limited as to how I could structure and deploy officers and staff. I can absolutely understand the need for corporate approach to many issues, yet I always struggled with the sense I always had “one arm tied behind my back’.
Our communities knew I was the leader of the Borough police. I was responsible and accountable for our performance, for the satisfaction levels of our service delivery and for building trust and confidence between all communities and the local police. I was happy knowing what I was to whom.
In hindsight I’m certain that at different times and to different people I was a leader and a manager sometimes at the same time. To be agile in order to shift between the two and to identify which ‘hat’ was required is a skill and to know for sure which people look at you as being in which role is vital.
The view that being seen and working as a ‘leader’ is ‘better’ than operating as a ‘manager’ I believe is flawed and demonstrates lazy thinking. I believe both leaders and managers are of equal value in these days of adaption and speed of change or evolution of organisations. To me every leader manages, and every manager should lead.
Guest Blog Post prepared by Ian Larnder