Collective leadership
Collective leadership

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Collective leadership

2.1 Working collaboratively

You will now hear from a highly experienced leader who is a Chief Constable in the police force in England. His name is Chief Constable Giles York and he believes that, to ensure your organisation has an opportunity to work effectively, understanding and working collaboratively can help make a difference.

While you listen to Chief Constable York, think about yourself as a follower; without followers, there would not be leaders. Make some notes on the topics he discusses and then complete the activity that follows.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2
Skip transcript: Video 2 Chief Constable Giles York

Transcript: Video 2 Chief Constable Giles York

Hello, I'm Giles York, Chief Constable for Sussex police. And I've been asked to talk about collective leadership. And what does it mean in a practical setting of policing?
So what I'd like to be able to do is cover probably three parts that I think is where collective leadership is relevant in policing. The first thing I'd like to do is cover the perceptions of policing from outside. And possibly, what I might call is a common misconception of what policing looks like from the outside. I think what I'd then like to be able to cover off is what does collective leadership look and feel like in policing? And probably, in Sussex police today, what have we done to develop it? And then the third bit I'd like to be able to say is, and what needs to be different for us to be able to make a step change for the future?
So the first of those is the perceptions. Quite a lot of people look at policing from the outside and they see this first, and they think we're like the military, and we follow orders all the time, and it's all about discipline. And actually, do you know what? On the inside, it doesn't really feel like that. In 28 years of policing, in 26 years of being a supervisor, I think I've probably only given one order. And that was in the middle of a football match fight. So that's the one time I have given an order.
The vast majority of the time, it's about trying to move people as a collective, giving them an understanding of why it is where we want to be able to get to. So that's one of the things I'd like to kind of push out from policing is, it's not all about law, order, lawful orders, and following discipline, and you say it, I'll do it. Actually, there's a huge amount of discretion that sits at the police constable level in policing. That's what sets it aside from so many other organisations, is the powers are invested in the constable, not in the hierarchy of policing. And so only by using collective leadership are we able to exploit the power of that discretion.
So the second part of it, in Sussex police, we have been on a very deliberate journey. a journey over about the last seven years, of using a term I don't necessarily warm to, but about empowering our staff, trusting them, putting in deliberate actions and processes that says, we want you to make a decision. And if you make a decision, we'll trust the results that comes out of it. We've been trying to do away with what's colloquially known as the 9 o'clock jury-- the people who come into the office in the morning and start judging what happened at 4 o'clock in the morning.
My stance is, if you have done your best with the skills and abilities available to you, the equipment I've given to you, then I will try to protect you as much as possible. If you choose to transgress, act criminally, neglectfully, exploit people, then I will try to do everything I can to get you out of my organisation. So there's some very clear lines here about asking people to do challenging, difficult things, understanding the approach that they take to it, and supporting them in it.
It may sound an odd phrase to be associated with something like policing, law enforcement, but one of the statements that we've had in the past during this programme of change has been, it's better to do the right thing than just follow the rules. Trusting people in their judgement, that they know what the right thing is to do, and not just say, well, the policy says this, or the book says that. That's the judgement I need, not only in my leadership, but actually, in everybody conducting work within policing. So I think that's where we've got to within Sussex police around collective leadership.
So what's that step change that we need for the future? It's about absolutely clarity and certainty to officers and staff making those challenging decisions, giving a framework-- and I think it does need a framework-- that defines, this was a mistake that I made, this was an honest mistake with all the capabilities and facilities I had to my hand at the time. Being really clear about saying, but you know what? This was a deliberate act. This was something intended to do wrong. And we need to be able to hold people to account to do that. And the public expect us to hold people to account for behaving in that way.
So within Sussex police, I can set the standards and enforce those standards time and again and be able to support people in the challenging decision making that they make. And we are held to account externally by the IOPC. And sometimes it is their behaviour that's seen by officers that says, I feel less supported. I don't feel that I'll be protected if I make these challenging decisions.
And I'm really reassured by some of the changes that we're seeing in them now and an assurance from their new chief exec that says, I get it. I understand it. A lot of the black box thinking that goes on around saying, only if we can be honest in feedback, only if we can really understand it, can we change the way we do our service for the better. All the time, we feel the need to be defensive and push things away from us. We will never honestly change our approach to things.
So in closing, what I'd say, whatever your perception of policing from the outside, please be assured it's not lawful orders, following policy, and always following the book. It is about trusting discretion, giving powers right down to the constable level that says, it's better to do the right thing than just follow the rules. We've been working on a programme on that in Sussex police over many years, around empowering people and trying to create the environment where they feel trusted to do the right thing. It's about creating a just organisation, where they know that their actions will be supported, when they've been conducted in the right way. And absolutely, I think the step change is around creating that environment of trust right across policing, in the way that we've seen it in other bodies, like health, where the law has actually changed to allow people to be really honest about what's going on.
End transcript: Video 2 Chief Constable Giles York
Video 2 Chief Constable Giles York
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Activity 3 What type of follower are you?

Timing: Allow about 60 minutes
  1. Having listened to the perspective of leader/follower relationships from Chief Constable York, now read In Praise of Followers [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] by Lawrence Suda.
  2. Spend about 10 minutes thinking about what type of follower you are.
  3. Whether it is while you are studying, working or part of a club, how do you view yourself as a colleague or team player?
  4. What skills, qualities and traits do you bring to the ‘collective’?


If you look back at the list of qualities that people expect from leaders, many of the skills, traits and competencies are the same qualities needed in effective followers. Both entities need to demonstrate initiative, independence, commitment to common goals, and courage. A follower can provide enthusiastic support of a leader, especially one where there is trust and respect. However, a follower should not fail to challenge a leader who is unethical or threatens the values or objectives of the organisation.

It could be argued that ineffective followers are as much to blame for poor performance or ethical and legal lapses within organisations as poor and unethical leaders are. Therefore, as a follower, individuals have a responsibility to speak up when leaders do things wrong.


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