Police leadership as a professional practice

Police leadership as a professional practice

Cathrine Filstad | Policing & Society

Police leadership as a professional practice

Cathrine Filstad | Policing & Society

Abstract

In this paper, we ascertain whether a practice-based approach can increase our knowledge of police leadership. This approach represents an alternative to normative management models which have dominated the management literature. The normative approach often focuses on how police leaders must lead as well as on the traits and skills of police leaders. In contrast, our focus is on what leaders do and why and, therefore, what constitutes their professional leadership practices. We conducted qualitative explorative studies with Norwegian police leaders in 2016 and 2018. Our data were collected through the following means: a one-day shadowing of 27 police leaders, six weeks of fieldwork, 63 formal interviews of police leaders and a substantial number of informal conversations with police leaders and subordinates. In our analysis of leadership as practice, we recognise the importance of structural, cultural and contextual conditions as well as the emergent and dynamic nature of leadership practices. We identified four important practice dynamics: producing, relating, interpreting/sensemaking and negotiating. These practice dynamics were concerned with the relationships between leader(s) and employees, often characterised by the following. ‘Taking care of each other’ and ‘us against them’ within a leadership practice. Interpretations and sensemaking of the ‘reality’ within practices and production of policing as collective achievements. The language, symbols; artefacts, the police mission in relation to how it belongs/identifies with the practice and the negotiations of police leaders ‘fighting’ for resources (silos). And the continuously creation of manoeuvring spaces in what constitute police leaderś professional practice.

Introduction

In this article, we investigate police leadership by employing an alternative approach to management studies: we study leadership as practice epistemologically. Our objective is to gain more knowledge of what police leaders actually do and why police leaders practice as they do. We explore these characteristics of police leaderś professional leadership practice as two sides of the same coin (Schatzki 2001; Whittington 2006, Orlikowski 2010, Gherardi 2012, Nicolini 2012, Day et al. 2014, Raelin 2016). We study the ongoing everyday dynamics of police leaders’ and employees’ relationships and practices as well as how these processes constitute leadership practices, a research approach that theorists argue would add value to more traditional leadership studies (De Rue et al. 2011, Fleming 2015, McCusker et al. 2019).

The ways in which police leaders lead and how they create their leadership practice beyond what others perceive as effective leadership have received little attention thus far (Pearson-Goff and Herrington 2014, Fleming 2015, Flynn and Herrington 2015, Filstad et al. 2018, Karp et al. 2018). The issue of how leaders practice everyday leadership is seldom addressed in general leadership literature, which is dominated by normative leadership models of what leaders ought to do. Such normative models are, at the least, problematic and even naïve, as they do not take into account social and cultural interactions and how leadership needs to be understood in relation to certain contexts and all their associated complexities (Day et al. 2014, Alvesson 2017). Numerous examples exist in the literature of studies separating individual police leaders from actual police leadership practices and not addressing the cultural and structural contexts and what constitutes the leader-follower relationship within these practices (Pearson-Goff and Herrington 2013, Fleming 2015, Pfeffer 2015, Carroll 2016, Raelin 2016).

Instead, traditional leadership literature has focussed on the individual attributes, traits and competencies of leaders, independent of the leadership context (Carroll et al. 2008, Crevani and Endrissat 2016, Dovey et al. 2016). Moreover, leadership research based on behavioural-based self-reporting questions continues to dominate literature on leadership (McCusker et al. 2019, Reggio 2019).

The literature on police leadership also focuses on how to improve the individual police leader rather than on the leader-follower relationships, without accounting for the context of policing, its structure or its culture (Bratton and Malinowski 2008, Eterno and Silverman 2010, Cockcroft 2014, Pearson-Goff and Herrington 2014, Flynn and Herrington 2015, Haake et al. 2015). Our research aims at exploring how police leaders practice leadership and why through investigating what constitutes their leadership practice. We use a leadership-as-practice perspective to contribute as an alternative way to study police leadership.

In what follows, we first provide a brief literature review of leadership studies, police leadership literature and the leadership-as-practice perspectives. Second, we briefly look at contextual factors, such as police structure and police culture, and their relationship to leadership practice. Third, we outline the methodological choices and the context of our study – the Norwegian Police Service (NPS). Thereafter, we provide our results, discussion and conclusion.

Read more

Police leadership as a professional practice, Cathrine Filstad, Policing & Society, 2019

 

Share: