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In a critical analysis of conventional understanding, leading authors Claire Davis and Marisa Silvestri present bold new conceptualisations of police leadership.

Drawing on empirical research in criminology, sociology and leadership studies, they present a thoughtful critique of the nature and practice of leadership in contemporary policing. The book:

- Critically explores the identities of leaders and their positions within wider organisational structures and processes;

- Provides a critique of contemporary reform to police professionalisation, training and education, equalities and diversity by situating these developments within wider historical, social and political contexts;

- Draws on critical theory to offer an alternative, challenging and novel interpretation of police leaders as not simply the result of individual experiences and attitudes, but of the social, institutional and historical processes of policing and the cultures that exist within it;

- Points towards future directions and a reimagining of leadership in the police.

Accessible and stimulating, this is an essential text for policing students and valuable reading for current leaders and those interested in policing, criminology and leadership.

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Policing in England and Wales is undergoing significant and relentless change across a range of domains. The last decade has witnessed unprecedented reforms to police governance and accountability, education and recruitment, and pay and conditions – all of which challenge traditional working practices in the police. This chapter situates the understanding and practice of police leadership within such a context. Set against a backdrop of concerns over leadership standards and integrity, the chapter begins by critically exploring the meanings of professionalisation. It provides an examination of changes to police education and training, evidence-based policing (EBP), ethics, and recruitment practices as illustrative of the contemporary narrative of police professionalisation. The chapter then outlines the radically altered landscape within which contemporary police leaders now operate through an appreciation of the arrival of the police and crime commissioner and the attendant changes in the governance of policing. Through a consideration of such reforms, this chapter demonstrates that the contemporary professionalisation agenda is celebrated as a solution to the ‘problem’ of police leadership.

A series of high-profile leadership failings in recent years has increased the scrutiny of leadership in the police in England and Wales. The inquest into the 96 deaths at Hillsborough Football Stadium, Sheffield in 1989 signalled the most significant exposure of the systematic failings of the police system for a generation. The standards and ethics of police practices have been exposed in the Leveson Inquiry and the Inquiry into Undercover Policing, and the priorities of and decision- making in the police have been criticised following the failure of the police to adequately investigate child sexual abuse allegations.

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Leadership theory has long been critiqued for its lack of relevance to policy and practice, and the gap between the lived experience of leaders, the concerns and priorities of organisations, and leadership theorists. However, leadership theory has made a significant contribution to informing the understanding of what leadership is and how it ought to be performed. Empirical studies of police leadership in particular have typically conceptualised leadership through conventional theory. This chapter provides a critical insight into the conventional theories of trait, behavioural, situational and transformational theories. Through a consideration of these theories, we demonstrate how leadership has been conceptualised and studied over time. In doing so, we argue that conventional theory has a powerful legacy in relation to dominant discourses of police leadership, which perpetuate the person-centred assumptions about the nature and practice of police leadership.

As the first attempt to define and study leadership, many reviews of leadership theory begin with the trait approach. Popular in the 1920s and 1930s, the central premise of trait theory is that leadership is a product of individual characteristics or qualities. Leader traits refer to the ‘relatively stable and coherent integrations of personal characteristics that foster a consistent pattern of leadership performance across a variety of group and organisational situations’ (Zaccaro et al, 2004: 104). Traits are therefore understood as stable or consistent individual psychological or biological characteristics; these characteristics are measurable, temporally and situationally stable, and predict behaviours and outcomes (Antonakis, 2011). As such, trait-based leadership research focuses on the identification of the traits that predict an individual’s capacity for leadership.

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Conventional theory, which dominates current understanding of leadership in the police, neglects to consider leadership as a complex and dynamic social process. This chapter explores the key principles of critical leadership studies and the theories of followership and shared and distributed leadership as alternative perspectives, and considers their relevance to police leadership. We argue that a social-constructionist approach to leadership, where leadership is considered as a product of historical, cultural and institutional processes, has an important contribution to the understanding of leadership in the police.

Influenced by the principles of critical management studies, critical leadership studies, as an emerging strand of leadership research, represents a body of work that ‘denaturalises’ the basic assumptions of conventional theory (Collinson, 2005a; Grint, 2005b; Ford, 2010). Rather than being concerned with effectiveness or efficiency in leadership, critical leadership scholars consider leadership as a dynamic, negotiated, emergent and contested process. As Hosking (1997: 293) explains:

We need to understand leadership, and, for this, it is not enough to understand what leaders do. Rather, it is essential to focus on leadership processes: processes in which influential acts of organising contribute to the structuring of interactions and relationships, activities and sentiments; processes in which definitions of social order are negotiated, found acceptable, implemented and renegotiated; processes in which interdependencies are organised in ways which, to a greater or lesser degree, promote the values and interests of social order.

The work of critical leadership scholars is influenced by Meindl et al’s (1985) concept of the ‘romance of leadership’, which refers to the ‘false assumption making’ of the exaggerated importance of leadership in mainstream discourse and a leader-centric understanding in which leadership is romanticised, idealised and understood as essential (Meindl, 1995).

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Despite a range of diversity initiatives, police leadership has continued to be perceived as a strongly homogeneous group over the past century (Reiner, 1991; Wall, 1998). With the vast majority of police leadership roles occupied by white men, the lack of embodied diversity among police chiefs is a visible and stark reminder of the ongoing inequalities in policing. This chapter draws upon the concept of police occupational culture to explain contemporary developments in leadership selection and promotion processes in England and Wales. Underpinned by the sociology of policing literature on occupational culture, training and socialisation, it considers the barriers and opportunities faced by police leaders. We explore the meanings of diversity in the context of police leadership, and assess how the diversity agenda is understood and enacted within policing. Through a consideration of the criminological and sociological literature on race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, we argue that contemporary police leadership emphasises diversity in terms of an embodied identity, that is, ‘appearance’, rather than diversity in terms of alternative ‘thinking’ or experience. Moreover, we emphasise that the contemporary police diversity agenda is limited in its capacity to fundamentally transform police leadership and, as such, that diversity in police leadership does not necessarily create diverse leadership practices. Rather, we note the powerful nature of occupational culture in shaping leadership practices in the police and conclude that it is not only the person that shapes the leadership role, but also the conventions, expectations, norms and values of the leadership role that shape the person.

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Well-being and resilience in the police have garnered much attention among academics and policymakers. For police leaders, their personal resilience and the well-being of their staff is increasingly recognised as fundamental to successful organisational performance. In this chapter, we problematise the conventional rhetoric of well-being and resilience in the police through an analysis of the steadfast attachment to ‘heroism’ in leadership. We argue that the introduction of well-being policy is difficult in a police occupational culture that prioritises romanticised and idealised versions of leadership. The chapter begins with a critical consideration of the stress literature, followed by an overview of the ‘romance of leadership’ thesis. We emphasise the problematic consequences of the contemporary well-being and resilience rhetoric for both individuals and organisations, and argue that such rhetoric reinforces unhelpful and regressive notions of heroism in police leadership. The final part of this chapter considers the challenges for police leadership in adopting alternative ‘post-heroic’ forms of leadership, and makes recommendations for future practice.

There is an established interest in the nature of stress in policing. This body of work explores assumptions about police work as inherently stressful, and more stressful than other occupations, and examines the negative effects of stress experienced by the police, as well as the relationship between stress and police occupational culture (Brown and Campbell, 1994; Chan, 2007b). In understanding the nature of stress in policing, Stinchcomb (2004) distinguishes between episodic stressors and chronic organisational stressors. Episodic stressors refer to the traumatic aspects of policing and the emotional and psychological strains of police work, which are not necessarily regularly encountered by police officers.

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Understandings and practices of police leadership are informed by powerful, taken-for-granted ideologies. This book has problematised the fundamental assumptions underpinning conventional leadership discourse and theorised police leadership as a socially constructed activity. This concluding chapter provides a summary of the key arguments and debates presented in the book. Future challenges facing police leaders are examined to illustrate that conventional practices in police leadership are no longer appropriate. We conclude by making a case for alternative approaches to police leadership based on the shared leadership principles of collectivism and interdependence.

Contemporary constructions of police leadership are heavily influenced by the beliefs and assumptions inherent in conventional leadership theory. Transformational leadership, for example, is a popular endorsement for police leaders, and transformational qualities, such as innovation, inspiration and charisma, form part of the dominant contemporary leadership narrative (Dobby et al, 2004; Neyroud, 2011b; Swid, 2014). Police leadership is typically conceptualised in leader-centric terms, as person-centred and positional, and as firmly situated as a product of the traits and behaviours of individual leaders in formal positions of authority. Conventional theory also perpetuates assumptions of causality in leadership, with leadership understood as outcome-oriented, which places primacy on the capacity of leaders to inspire change, improve team performance and ‘get the job done’. In other words, leadership is about ‘getting results’, the assumption being that leadership can get results. Dominant discourses of police leadership therefore assume leadership as residing in ‘the person’ and ‘the position’, and evident in the production of ‘results’.

In such conventional discourse, leadership is typically conceptualised as a one-way process.

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Contemporary police leadership operates in a highly scrutinised and ever-changing environment. This is particularly so since 2010 and the advent of the Comprehensive Spending Review’s announcement of a 20 per cent reduction in central police funding, equating to a saving requirement of £2.4 billion for police constabularies in England and Wales. With an average of 70 per cent of police funding coming from central government, the scale and impact of the cuts to British policing are unprecedented. The increasing financial pressures have necessitated significant organisational and operational reform, and constabularies have had to make concerted moves to understand and reduce demand (Neyroud, 2011a; HMIC, 2014). Despite the political rhetoric of ‘protecting the front line’, from 2010 to 2018, police officer strength fell by over 21,330, reaching the lowest number of officers since comparable records began in 1996 (Hargreaves et al, 2018; Allen and Zayed, 2019). Police organisations have also had to make fundamental changes to how policing activity is organised and delivered. Police force amalgamation and regionalisation, privatisation, and partnership working are now normalised as ‘business as usual’ (Manning, 2014; O’Neill, 2014). Combined with other policy reforms, such as changes to police pay and pensions following the Winsor Review (Winsor, 2011), this means that increasing productivity within the context of diminishing resources and the management of low staff morale is an accepted feature of contemporary police leadership (Brogden and Ellison, 2013; De Maillard, 2015). These economic challenges are situated as the responsibility of police leadership, with HMIC (2013: 20) confirming that ‘leaders will need to demand more of fewer people, ensuring they can work in different ways, against a backdrop of fewer opportunities to advance, and less advantageous conditions’.

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