In search of me, we, us and them

In search of me, we, us and them

Andy Singh

In search of me, we, us and them

Andy Singh

Identity will be at the core of discussions at the AIPM this week. Onsite will be some of Australia's best leadership facilitators for their own professional development with peer supported conversations about the topic of identity.

Identity is at the core of our work at the AIPM. We can break this down into three statements – Who do you think you are? Who do you want to be? Who could you be?

Identity is at the core of the culture in public safety organisations. Upon recruitment I is subjugated for the We, and then a career is spent proving we are still in the We, we can be trusted, we can conform, we will protect the We. The narratives of our stories told weave the concepts of loyalty, family, commitment and service, all tightening the knot of conformity around who We are.

Identity is at the core of our challenge to keep our public safety organisations agile and ready for the next threat. Identity wrapped in any uniform, tends to end up too tightly bound. Personalities never fully develop, individuals suffocate, potential passes by, and then there is the collective constipation of overused command systems, addiction to authority, and the over reliance of role and rank.

Identity in a crisis is a great enabler - mobilising people, money and intention out of sloth and into action - but speed to action extracts it's price post event, when those not with Us are therefore cast against Us.

Identity is most interesting when it is part of a dynamic – when the questions of Us and Them need to be renegotiated. And if Us and Them can be reconstituted into something new, then maybe there needs to be a rethink of who I and We really are.

Jared Diamond’s book Upheaval (2019) argues nations successful at surviving crisis do so, because they are able to hold a mosaic of identities at the one time – loose, flexible yet still meaningful. Strong enough to drive Finnish soldiers into the snow filled trenches in 1940 against the invading Russians, yet flexible enough to make peace in 1944. Diamond has a whole chapter on the quiet revolution which occurred in Australia after World War Two. Somehow Australia discarded the Us of the British Commonwealth for the Them of a multi-cultural, immigration dependent peaceful and prosperous community. We now stand at the edge of a new revolution, with an offer to join indigenous communities in a new concept of who We could be.

In the AIPM we offer core development opportunities – EDS1-3, graduate programs and three foundation leadership programs. They offer core personal development for a public safety context. But the AIPM purposefully offers more. We have redefined a swag of programs (some running for more than a decade) into what we are calling Partnership programs. These include the Leadership in Counter Terrorism program, Regional Executive Leadership Program, AFAC’s Strategic Command Program and the soon to be renamed, SAHELI program.

Over this summer, fire has been the dominant challenge for many Australians. The size and scale of this challenge has been the conversation at the AIPM for the last 8 years in the AFAC Strategic Command Program where a new generation of leaders have been developed for campaign and strategic level crisis management – similar to what Queensland Police’s Steve Gollschewski would call the ‘loose shirt of command’.

Now the dominant challenge is the looming Covid-19 global pandemic. Again this conversation has been running at the AIPM for the last three years in SAHELI, where the intersection of public health and public safety and security has been on the table.

AIPM partnership programs extend core public safety leadership capabilities to the mosaic of context, threat and challenge across contemporary and emerging public safety.

Tightly bound identities provide for consistency and continuity in how We operate – perfect for responding to known challenges. But a new generation of crisis may require us to renegotiate how we distinguish between Us and Them, and in doing so redefine who I am in terms of the We. To don a loose shirt of identity at the time of greatest uncertainty, maybe the catalyst to rewrite just Who is in this crisis, and Who is part of the solution.