More hosts than heroes: a model lesson in leadership from the constabulary

7th September 2012 at 01:00
Latter-day policing has much to teach us about a `coalition of the willing'

John Carnochan, co-director of Strathclyde Police's Violence Reduction Unit, is smart, powerful and sharp as a tack. I've heard him speak on Scotland's culture of violence and ways to challenge it.

Recently, I had the privilege of hearing him apply his policing experiences to leading change in a multi-agency context.

The traditional command-and-control model is largely discredited. Leaders must be hosts, not heroes - and must start by identifying what can be changed. "There are," he said, "wicked problems which we cannot fix, but which our actions can either make better or worse."

Scotland's 98 per cent detection rate for murders dealt only with the tip of the violence iceberg, but leaderships are obsessed with statistics. Despite a 35 per cent reduction in violent crimes as a result of the Gangs Initiative in Glasgow's east end, for some commentators only 0 per cent violence would be acceptable. The public sector, he suggested, is judged by unattainable statistical targets.

Alienation was the key to understanding the problem. Restraint dissolves for those who know no fear, have no buy-in to society's rewards or whose multi-generational experiences have been exclusion from all the common incentives which encourage conformity and cooperation.

He cited Percy Sillitoe, Glasgow's 1930s chief constable who established "the untouchables", hard cops given carte blanche to charge and lock up the hard-men. Sillitoe hit the headlines, but today's police officers are still locking up the great-grandsons of those "the untouchables" sent down. The cycle of violence, never tackled at its roots, continues unabated.

Tactics changed and the police now seek a "coalition of the willing" in their battle against violence. The leader's task is to recognise that the assets for achievement are usually on the ground awaiting mobilisation. Leaders should be pragmatic, bringing together the "do-ers'. Make a judgement if an action is right and likely to be successful: and do it!

The purpose of collaboration among professionals is to deliver better services. Leaders are defined not by their place on the status ladder, but by their willingness actively to help that improvement agenda.

Leaders need to see outside traditional sector roles and to connect across boundaries. His current example is the training of dentists to spot signs of domestic abuse among patients and to use their relationship to advise and inform victims of possible strategies. At the heart of all his work is the idea that mutually respecting relationships are key to all successful organisations and mature leaders seek to establish these.

Alex Wood, Former headteacher works at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration.

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