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Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader

Blue book police leadership

“It’s what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it” – Oscar Wilde

Opportunities for self development are important, not just for those who aspire to police leadership positions but for anyone seeking to enhance their skills and knowledge.

Whilst some self development activities might be expensive, others are relatively cheap and accessible and of these reading is a simple option. It is easily overlooked but the potential for return on investment is infinite.

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader” – Margaret Fuller

The Space Between

I was prompted to write this particular blog as a result of something that frequently occurs when I speak with officers who want promotion.

A ‘wonderful’ silence almost always follows when I ask the question: What are you reading?

I refer to the space between questions as a ‘wonderful silence’ because my role as a coach/mentor is to build responsibility and awareness. This is the space where new insights often occur.

The question sometimes catches some people off guard. You can almost see the cogs grinding as the person thinks it through and considers a response.

Recognition follows that it might be a helpful question. A millisecond later there is cognitive realisation that reading as form of self development is something available right under your nose.

A Philosophical View

We tend to lead busy lives, with emails, text and social media offering ‘bite size chunks’ of information – a practical and efficient means of communicating. For many this shortcuts the need for reading and so we may read less…

It’s understandable that wider reading can sometimes take a back seat unless it is a pastime or forms part of academic studies.

The Philosopher A.C. Grayling says of reading that it does not automatically make people wiser or better. When it has that effect, it is because readers have done the work themselves, quarrying the materials from their response to the printed page.

Scarcely anything compares with books as the mine where that quarrying can begin.

Promote self understanding

“The book you don’t read, won’t help” – Jim Rohn

To read is to enter other points of view; it is to be an invisible observer of circumstances which might never be realised in one’s own life; it is to meet people and situations exceeding in kind and number, the possibilities open to individual experience.

As a result, reading not only promotes self understanding, it equips one with insights into needs, interests and desires that one might never share but which motivate others, in this way enabling one to understand, and tolerate and even to sympathise with other people’s concerns.

Henry David Thoreau enquired “How many have dated a new era in their life from the reading of a book!”

These views suggest that reading for personal and professional development can be a critical element of leadership development, in raising awareness and improving thinking.

“Think before you speak. Read before you think” – Fran Lebowitz

Rescue time

Replies to – What are you reading? can be quite wide ranging, sometimes amusing but rarely surprising.

“I’m not reading anything” is not unusual. That’s a good thing, because it’s only forward from there!

It is neither a new experience for me to be rescuing individuals at the other end of the scale, who intend on reading through the entirety of their own force policies. They have the genuine but mistaken belief that it is time well spent!

It is clear that guidance and support as part of an informed and focused approach is both welcomed and appreciated.

Question time

Support for promotion candidates apparently ranges between non existent and scarce. Uncertainty clearly exists around what could be helpful to read and it is fair to say that many may be overlooking reading as a valuable element of wider preparation for promotion.

In evidence, I cite some of the questions I am often asked, including:


Understandably some officers say they “don’t have time” to read. That is understandable because policing is a demanding job, but ultimately we each have 24 hours a day.

On this point it may be useful to consider an ancient but insightful viewpoint which doesn’t seem too considerate of the right we all have not to read:

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance” – Confucius

A Final Chapter

So if you are an officer aspiring to promotion to Sergeant or Inspector rank, what might you choose to be reading at the moment?

Of course it doesn’t necessarily need to be a book, but here are a few options you may wish consider.

Taking a serious approach to your promotion preparation and starting it well in advance of any promotion opportunity, does not mean it can’t include some humour. On that note, I will wish every one of you the very best and let Groucho Marx have the final word:

“From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it”

Kind Regards, Steve

Wherever you are on your promotion journey, can help with guidance and support.


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