Saturday, April 19, 2008

Too busy to lead?

You won't be too busy to die

It's odd how things happen in themes, it's a bit like waiting for a bus. There isn't one for ages and then three or four all arrive at the same time. For some reason this is happening with our contact with a certain type of 'leader' at the moment. I put the word leader in parenthesis for a good reason; they aren't really leading even though they call themselves leaders.
They are far too busy solving problems, managing people and directing operations to lead.

Let me tell you a (true) story:

In the early 1980's, the British police forces had a big problem. There was increasing civil unrest in the form of strikes, riots and other large scale public order events. In 1981 the police service was largely unprepared for these events in all sorts of ways. I know because I was involved in all of these as a young police officer. We didn't have the equipment, training and worse still the leadership to deal with these kids of large fluid and dangerous situations. Many mistakes were made and many people were injured and in a couple of cases deaths occurred.

The big issue was the leadership.

The first night on the Toxteth (Liverpool) riots in 1981 saw a police force overwhelmed and needing backup from neigbouring forces. Rows of houses, shops and cars were in flames. Crowds of 100's and in some cases 1,000's were thrashing the local force. Only 1 in 20 police officers had the equipment or training for public order events, and even then not on the scale being experienced during that hot summer with it's very long nights. I know I was there.
One night we were in the front line being petrol bombed, bricked and generally attacked with anything the crowd could get hold of. An officer next to me got hit by a petrol bomb and a brick at the same time. I and another officer doused the flames and pulled the officer back whilst protecting him with our shields from the rain of missiles. The plan in these situations is to remove the injured officer to safety, get medical help (which should always be just behind the line) and then return to the line. We pulled the smoldering officer into a doorway whilst screaming for a medic. Whilst we were waiting we made sure the fire was out and started to attend to his most immediate injuries. At that moment we both realised that we weren't alone in the recess of the building. I flicked my torch on, quickly protecting the injured man with my shield fearing the worst. The beam of the torch quickly picked out the shape of a police officer who was standing right at the back of the deeply recessed doorway. Confused at first we then realised that it was the area commander, a superintendent who was meant to be in charge of this overall situation. the other officer who had helped me drag the injured man back with said spontaneously "F*** me, I hadn't realised we had gone that far back!"

Many things were learned in the those days of the 1981, particularly in terms of leadership which as I got promoted became a central theme of my professional work as Director of Studies at the then, National Police Training.

Like most leaders senior police officers get to their position by doing the job. When they come under pressure they often revert to type and want to get involved in the action (Action Bias). As a result I was involved, with many others in restructuring the way we lead and managed situations that were 'out of the ordinary' incidents. Out of this came the Gold Silver and Bronze command system.

The idea here was to put a framework around leader's and manager's roles and responsibilities. Gold are the leaders at a strategic level. They set the mission goals and then ensure that silver has all the resources they need to do their task. They are kept separate from Silver and are not to go on the ground.

Silver achieves the mission by developing a strategy with gold and bronze as advisers and then commanding operations with one bronze expert as a tactical adviser. Silver commanders are not allowed to leave the command centre. Under no circumstances are Gold or Silver allowed anywhere near operational workings. They almost always (there is lots of evidence for this) make things worse for the people actually doing the job and usually distract them.

Bronze are the managers / commanders on the streets. It their job to make the strategy work at a local level using their operational expertise and without interference from above.

As you will no doubt realise this takes trust. Trust in the professional abilities of other people to do their job.

In short if you are too busy to lead you are doing the wrong things. In our seminars, workshops and coaching we help to get people back to doing what they are meant to be doing and get the organisation running properly.

Quite often the blockages in an organisation are blockages of thinking at the top. Free this up, get organised, start trusting and organisations start to flow and achieve.

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