Effective preparation for your police promotion board opportunity involves reconnaissance work. Whether your force is in England, Wales, PSNI or Police Scotland, this reconnaissance should include investigation, examination, and scrutiny. 

The origin of this word is from French, reconnaître to ‘recognise’. It’s normally used in a military context concerning observation of a region or to ascertain strategic features, however gathering information is a critical aspect of meaningful preparation for boards. It also happens to be the starting point of the police National Decision Model (NDM)!

“Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.” – Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

One question I ask aspiring police promotion candidates is “What do you know about your force selection process?” The answer is almost always very little. So, as part of preparing for an interview opportunity, I encourage individuals to recce the ‘lay of the land’. It’s a tried and tested approach to heighten awareness and provide an ‘edge’. 

Why is this important? Well, the last thing thing you might expect to encounter in your promotion board is a ‘booby trap’ question. Given the connotations, e.g. trip wires, ambush, or hidden danger, it sounds like something you should sidestep. “Come on Steve, the promotion process is hard enough” I hear you say.

However, plenty of aspiring promotion candidates unwittingly walk straight into booby trap questions hidden in plain sight. Clearly, they are not intended or designed as a booby trap, that would be unfair. Nevertheless, the effect is the same for less prepared candidates as I will outline in this blog. In fact, they can be such a hazard, I even created a free video on these questions too (embedded below)!

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So, what exactly are we talking about here? I cover a range of practice interview questions in my premium digital promotion toolkits. But let’s for now look at one example ‘booby trap’ question in the following section…

Watch Out, It’s a Trap!

Watch out for tough police interview questions

“Knowing where the trap is – that’s the first step in evading it.” – Frank Herbert 

Imagine this as your first promotion board question:

What leadership style have you adopted? Tell us about your approach.” 

What are your first thoughts? How would you respond? It’s a question that could be tied to several CVF competencies or values.

It’s worth reflecting upon this one because a well-prepared candidate will spot the trap and recognise instead the opportunity being offered by the panel, to smash this question out of the ballpark. It’s why I include discussion on this within my >4 hour video masterclass on police promotion and leadership!

Less prepared candidates tend to walk (or rather talk) into the trap. What I mean by that is something along the lines of: “The leadership style I have adopted is…”, followed by a one-dimensional response that may seem to answer the question directly, but misses the open goal on offer to impress the panel and importantly attract a higher scoring answer.

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Groundhog Day

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Elliot

The Sergeant and Inspecting roles involve leadership for people, performance, and change. So, seizing the opportunity to communicate your wider knowledge around the role functions and dimensions, the various of styles that exist and how you might use some of them in performing the role going forward would be part of a more effective response. Because the example question asks, what style have you adopted, unprepared candidates will do just that – allude to one style. 

How do I know this? Because like the iconic film Groundhog Day, I’ll include the same practice question when supporting aspiring candidates and the booby trap is activated with the same answers every time. The great thing about that is it highlights room for improvement; we can focus on that to help build confidence before the day.

Ok, hands up. Admission time. Whilst it’s helpful to think about potential interview questions from that perspective, there are no interview booby traps as such, just under-prepared candidates. Whether a question feels ‘easy’, ‘difficult’ or even like a ‘curve ball’, is entirely related to the preparation conducted beforehand. I alluded earlier to hitting the ball out of the ballpark. Candidates who prepare thoroughly have enhanced awareness to recognise such opportunities and maximise their potential. Consider Manpreet’s experience of confidence and comfort…

I passed my promotion process comfortably, to say I am over the moon is an understatement. I was able to answer confidently, I practiced, remembered and it worked perfectly… This has given me the confidence to push myself even further. I am sure I will be contacting you in the future. Thank you for the support. I will be recommending your products to anyone I will be supporting in the future.” – Manpreet, Passed Sergeant’s Promotion Board

Removing the Blindfold

Example police interview question

“I contacted you as an acting Sgt, who’d had a previous catastrophic board. I just received feedback from my successful board, I lost just one mark in the whole of the interview process. It dawned on me, I wasn’t able to ‘see’… the first time, as I wasn’t thinking in CVF mode.” – Meds

Ok straight to the point, how do you respond more effectively to an interview question about your leadership style? Well, as you may (or may not) know, there is no one style of leadership. Policing requires you to adopt different leadership styles often across a single day.  A good leader is able to switch between different styles, so consider these questions:

What leadership styles do you know about?

How do you like to be led? (listen to my podcast for more on this concept of leadership in policing)

What leadership styles do you witness in your current role?

These are good questions to start raising your awareness and in doing so come to the point where you can more easily ‘spot’ the opportunities on offer around questions. When you are leading, at least if you are emotionally aware (read my blog for much more on this CVF competency used in police promotion processes), you will adopt different styles. Determining which type of leader, you are, or strive to be, doesn’t mean fitting into any one style. 

Which leadership styles work well in policing? The following are a few leadership styles to consider. Which ones make the most sense to you? One way to think about leadership and the various styles is as a sliding scale, moving from directive behaviours at one end to more supportive behaviours at the other. 

You might slide back and forth along the scale, depending on the situation, individuals or groups you are working with.

Transactional (Authoritarian, Autocratic, Directive)

Transactional leadership focuses on the present, emphasising group supervision, organisation and performance. You as leader/manager decide everything. Telling, enforcing, and micro-managing are features, with little feedback sought or provided. The assumption is that people are motivated by discipline and reward. Transactional leaders reward good performance and use their position of authority to get people to perform.

If this were the only leadership behaviour in your toolkit, you are clearly unlikely to communicate effectively in some situations, to promote trust or inspire wider teamwork. It is most effective in emergency or action situations, where there is little time for discussion. 

Transformational (Visionary, Supportive, Empowering)

Transformational leadership focuses on bringing out the best in followers, promoting creativity, new ideas and putting the needs of the team ahead of your own. In contrast to transactional leaders, the transformational leader focuses on the future, making tomorrow better, by empowering teams to be the best they can be. 

Adaptable and proactive, transformational leaders inspire others through their personal integrity and by working towards the organisational vision authentically rather than for personal gain. Taking the time to develop others along the way, while adopting a growth mindset, means that the team is constantly being transformed for the better.

Coaching (Asking questions, encourage)

With a coaching leadership style, you as leader concentrate on future development of the team based on individual potential aspiring to develop qualities and competence. A coaching leadership style is most effective where teams are more responsible, experienced, and agreeable.

The basis of this style is the dynamic interaction between yourself as leader and the individual. Necessary requirements include patience, a longer-term approach and of course ‘coachable’ individuals. A coaching leader is unlikely to be effective where staff are not engaged and motivated. Using questions to help people to find solutions for themselves helps team members to understand their strengths and weaknesses, reach agreement on targets for development and ultimately achieve goals.

Some Other Styles

There are other leadership styles that you may wish to research and reflect upon.

As part of your development, you may wish to read up on these styles, e.g. Daniel Goleman describes six styles of leadership for those wishing to develop their knowledge. What are their advantages and disadvantages? In what type of situations would each be useful? Bear in mind, there are also different generations and diversity of approaches in the workplace today; consequently, you need to be agile in your leadership style.

Here’s a summary infographic from my HD Video Masterclass where I discuss these styles as a sliding scale. It’s just a small part of my over 4 hours of comprehensive, uninterrupted, pausable, rewindable, rewatchable, and quality content to help you prepare for promotion to Sergeant, Inspector, and Chief Inspector:

Police leadership sliding scale

Take Action!

If you aspire to promotion, I encourage you to develop your ability to talk for five minutes about yourself as a leader, because it quickly identifies your gaps and allows you to build confidence until you can do this with ease. It’s a tried and tested element of effective preparation for promotion boards and converting leadership aspiration into promotion success

If you can’t do it yet, that’s ok. Better to discover that today than during your promotion board. When you can do this comfortably, record yourself. Listen back to it. How do you sound? What’s good about it? Where might you make changes?  When you are closer to where you want to be, why not include some of it in your personal statement? 

Here’s another great open example interview question for you to really think about and to develop a personal response to:

“What’s it like to be led by you?” 

You’ll find many more example interview questions and comprehensive preparation materials within my complete digital toolkits for Sergeant, Inspector and Chief Inspector. These include what good example evidence looks like to help you hit the ground running.

For now, consider this final potential booby trap question (also previously asked in a promotion board), which I will cover in due course in a follow-up blog:

“What makes a good leader?”

Kind Regards, Steve

If you found this blog helpful, you can hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, attend or download my Police Promotion Masterclass, or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, a podcast, plus free blog content both here and via my Police Hour guest articles.

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