I’ve been asked recently about my thoughts on leadership and having a personal interest in leadership I thought I’d stray away from a purely police topic for once.
Prior to becoming a police officer I held a position in upper management with a multi-national communications company. I worked with some amazingly talented people. The journey from my first junior management position until I stepped down as a Director was nothing short of an incredible learning experience. Along the way I also managed to acquire a Queen’s commission as an officer with the Canadian Forces. Ultimately I made the choice to “come home” to Delta and settle down with my family.
As I walked out of one door as a Director one day and into the Police academy as a rookie the next I had one of the hardest challenges in my career. I was no longer “the boss”, I still had a burning desire to be a “leader”.
What is a leader? The Canadian Forces defined it for me: “Leadership is the art of influencing human behaviour to accomplish a mission in the manner desired by the leader”. No where in this definition does it say that a leader must have a title or a rank. “Manager”, “Director”, “Sergeant”,”Lieutenant”,”Inspector” or “Chief Constable” are not words that define a leader. They are however positions that should be held by a leader.
I had the privilege of mentoring several managers as they went through the same journey I had previously taken. I’d told several people that “Management is a process; Leadership is an art”. It does not take a “leader” to manage schedules, resources or process. There is no art in knowing that you need people to unlock the doors in the morning and shut the lights off at night. You do not need to be a leader to be a manager if your goal is only to manage the status quo. If a sales man, an engineer or even a police officer are good at their job they will know how to manage it. The art of leadership is a completely separate skill that is in no way inherent in management. Long term sustainable success and innovation requires leaders.
As I began the transition away from my previous career and began to write letters of reference for people that worked with me, several returned the favour and wrote letters for me even though everyone knew where I was going. I hadn’t truly considered the impact I had on some of the people that worked for me until I started to read these letters.
A leader needs to be inspiring. A leader needs to be passionate about developing those that will follow. A leader needs to understand what motivates each individual and appeal to that. A leader needs to have a vision and more importantly must be able to share that vision clearly.
We can all be leaders. It’s as simple as making the choice to appreciate the art. As I walk on scene in my uniform there’s no doubt people are looking to me to lead whether I’m the rookie or not. It’s my choice to be a true leader as a father. It’s my choice to influence people around me to do great things and better themselves. We, as in society, can all be leaders and at some point need to be. Leadership is a choice that we make to influence behaviour. You don’t need to be a manager, an officer or some form of authority figure to be a leader. We can influence our children, our family, our friends, our neighbours, our community without authority.
Everyone has heard that “Art is in the eye of the beholder”. This holds true for the art of leadership. No two people can be led the same way. A leader needs to communicate their vision to individuals who may interpret it slightly different and then appeal to each individual’s unique motivation to achieve the mission. There is no magic formula and this is exactly why it’s an art.
Part of understanding your followers is knowing their strengths and weaknesses. I had architects, engineers and physicists working for me who were far brighter than I will ever be. While I had a vision I had to know where to draw strength from. I also knew that being a part of the solution and engaging in the decisions motivated my teams.
You can not create art that appeals to people if you don’t know them. You can not draw from people’s strengths without pushing past their limits and appeal to their motivation if you truly don’t know them. I’ve also said that the word “team” evokes a true sense of an emotional bond and support structure. The word “team” should never be used as a corporate buzz word. You also have to understand that your team is constantly evolving. As you develop people, as their circumstances change their strengths, limits and motivation will change.
This is no simple art and that’s likely why truly amazing leaders are somewhat of a rare breed. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some truly amazing leaders, I’d like to think I’ve helped a couple find their own way at some point as well.
Leadership is not a process, it’s a deeply challenging yet very rewarding personal art form.