Coward of the County

Coward of the County

Andy Singh

Kenny Rogers’ 1979 song Coward of the County is unlikely to ever be a cultural classic. It only has one really good line “But you could've heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door”.

Last week I had one of those door locking moments. ‘’By 2028, 70% of our current leaders – Team leaders to Commissioner - will retire”. The bolt slid across the door and I realised we are all going to get a whoopin.

The door is rapidly closing for a generation of public safety leaders who might remember this song from their youth. They dominate across all levels of leadership. They form the last cohorts of the baby boomer generation and the first cohorts of Generation X - both groups have alternatively been referred to as the gripper generations - those gripping onto the privileges of better pay, position and power for as long as possible.

With the average ages of our organisations somewhere between 42 and 46, Generation X firmly hold the demographic centre. They have patiently progressed through slow promotion and deployments. Now their time has come. They have the opportunity of translating careers of high performance operational activity into their own better pay, better positions and greater power and responsibility. But before they celebrate the opening up of leadership roles, they shouldn't be too complacent.

Held in suspended adolescence is the Millennial generation. They are pondering their options. Many delayed their entry into policing, choosing a first career, education or life experience. Many have high expectations of a career they came into through choice. Some high potential Millennials are breaking out of the pack, making runs down the outside, and mowing down the straggling journeymen from Generation X. Being promoted on potential is an increasingly common refrain. Others are looking elsewhere for recognition and reward.

So where is the whoopin? The whole police career journey, from recruitment, training, operational placement, competency, specialisation, leading a team, leading a team of teams, qualification to rank, progression to a commissioned officer, acts as constraints on trade, talent and progression. The system is designed over decades to slow the progress of individuals into a limited number of commissioned officer vacancies. The whole system is paced to produce an irresistible internal candidate for Commissioner. What could be our worst fear? An external candidate, who brings in new ideas and ways of doing things, and is young enough to stay around for long enough to actually make change stick.

This formal career framework is supported by a culture, which in a thousand different ways limits the expression of talent, experience and education. We hold onto the normative culture as an essential part of policing - the cultural unity of sameness. With a strong intent of schadenfreude, we burden any externally sourced leaders with impossible expectations of followership and the exceptionalism of experience.

The whoopin comes in the rebuilding of policing and public safety as viable and attractive careers, where talent and hard work are rewarded over loyalty and service. It will include the deconstruction of formal structures and the purging of established cultures.

The bolt slides across the door. No one is leaving unscathed.

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