This four-part blog series aims to support women in advancing their UK policing careers through the Federated ranks of Sergeant, Inspector and Chief Inspector, and thereby improving the representation of women in formal leadership roles. In Part 1, I covered common hurdles, challenges, and concerns facing female officers, including a deep-dive on ‘The Authority Gap’ and key stats on female officer representation. In this blog, I provide an in-depth look at building confidence, cover the mysterious subject of ‘Imposter Syndrome’, then explore self-limiting beliefs and developing your growth mindset.

Here’s the outline of this four-part series of essays and I hope you enjoy this meaty Part 2 to support your preparation and CPD:

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” – J.M. Barrie, ‘Peter Pan’


Coaching for police officers

“I passed my sergeant promotion process comfortably, to say I am over the moon is an understatement. I was able to answer confidently, and this has given me the confidence to push myself even further.” – Manpreet 

From my experience to date supporting thousands of UK police officers with promotion, I notice some common themes. Aspiring women candidates certainly have a broad measure of operational policing experience from which to choose their potential promotion examples and supporting evidence. Most are clearly competent at ‘doing the job’, however a common theme arises from a lack of confidence in some areas around a promotion selection process. This is especially the case for the hardest jump to make, stepping up from Constable to Sergeant. Confidence issues also surface ahead of subsequent promotions. Hence why I shall cover various facets of confidence here and how to tackle what has been described to me as ‘monsters in my head’…

To help start and focus supportive coaching conversations, I’ll often use my bespoke Rank Success coaching wheel. It’s a great conversation-starter! Confidence is one section of the wheel that is frequently indicated, highlighted, or that conversation gravitates towards. Many referrals I receive are via word of mouth from successful women candidates. I believe that’s partly because the coaching wheel is a great way to ascertain areas of strength, identify knowledge gaps, and also recognise aspects where confidence may need a boost.

It’s entirely natural to experience a degree of uncertainty ahead of a promotion process. In this VUCA world, I’d be surprised if it were otherwise. It’s why I encourage every aspiring candidate as a broad strategy for promotion success to commit to a depth and breadth of preparation over time. Of course, not everyone wants to hear that message, because it alludes to the reality that it can often take much longer than the period factored in, or that many candidates allow around life’s other priorities to prepare for a promotion opportunity. Some candidates schedule just a couple of weeks or a few rest days. Reality bites when board results are published.

“I passed my Sergeant interview and came 2nd! Your interview guide really helped me focus and structure my prep for the interview and feel more confident about what I needed to do.” – Julie, Successful Sergeant

Anecdotally, I do see some differences between men and women candidates on this point. More men tend to leave it to the ‘last minute’ to prepare and also seem to be far more confident in their approach. The message to commit to a depth and breadth of preparation to allow yourself more time seems to resonate more with female candidates. 

“I passed my Sergeant board this week! I went on your masterclass last September and really thought about everything I learned when doing my preparation.” – Lesley, Successful Sergeant

From my experience, once deciding to go for promotion, women also tend to seek support earlier and prepare over a longer period This links strongly to a growth mindset… more on that later!

Inspector Promotion Toolkit

Competence Aids Confidence

“Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age.” – Jon Stewart

Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. In the context of preparing for a police promotion opportunity, most aspiring candidates start out as Incompetent Cops. And that’s ok, because it’s not normal to walk around in a state of heightened readiness for a promotion interview! You must commit to some meaningful, focused work to raise your awareness. To do well in the various component tests that make up your force’s promotion selection process, competence means doing it successfully (better than others) and efficiently (maximum productivity, with minimum wasted effort). Enhancing your competence in turn builds your confidence. Learning to love the CVF is a good place to start.

How else might you improve your competence? Well, you could imagine being asked this strengths-based question in your promotion board:

“What is your preferred learning style?” 

Sometimes I ask that question. It’s not one that officers expect and often, they simply don’t know. It’s a knowledge gap, a lack of self-awareness. The good news is this gap can be filled promptly. Here are some models and resources that may be helpful in doing that, by raising your awareness around your own preferred learning style. It can also be helpful when taking the time to develop others.

Dominant learning styles: To learn, we depend on our senses to process information; the three main types of dominant learning styles are:

  • Visual (seeing): Absorbs and retains information more effectively when presented in images, charts or illustrations.
  • Auditory (listening): Responds best to voices, listening to podcasts, presentations or discussion.
  • Kinaesthetic (feeling): A ‘hands on’ approach, using props, touching, and feeling, aids the learning experience.

Which best describes your main learning style?

Honey and Mumford’s learning styles questionnaire: If in doubt, this helpful (and free!) resource can quickly assist you to identify how you learn. Are you an Activist, Reflector, Theorist or Pragmatist for example? 

Once you know this about yourself, it can serve you when thinking and developing responses to potential interview questions, something you’ll need to become competent at to succeed in a promotion selection process. Self-awareness is something I’ve specifically blogged about before and is one component of emotional awareness; a specific competency area assessed under the CVF for promotion candidates.

Kolb’s Learning Model: When it comes to a promotion opportunity, you can also consider and reflect upon where you are in terms of competence on Kolb’s learning model.

Kolb learning model

In Kolb’s model, learners move from a stage of ‘unconscious incompetence’ through to becoming ‘unconsciously competent’. Learning to drive is a good example of moving through Kolb’s 4 stages of competence. Experienced drivers are so unconsciously competent, they don’t need to think about driving, they just do it. This is a cognitive learning process, whereby the learning occurs in turn through each of the four stages. 

Kolb’s model can also explain the learning progression for promotion candidates: Many start out unconsciously incompetent, but by the time their board opportunity arrives, they have moved much closer to unconscious competence. For more on this model and moving to competence in your police promotion aspirations, you may be interested in my recent video shown below.

Appreciating different learning styles is an important consideration when offering promotion support resources to accommodate a mix of learning needs. That’s why I provide a suite of free CPD resources for you to readwatch, and listen to.

Building Confidence: Who has Questions for my Answers?

Confidence in police promotion

“Confidence isn’t optimism or pessimism, and it’s not a character attribute. It’s the expectation of a positive outcome.” – Rosabeth Kanter.

Confidence is the feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed. A little equation I use to help candidates think about confidence divides the concept into two main areas as a basis for supportive discussions: Experience and KnowledgeCoaching is essentially a conversation with a purpose. Focusing on it in this way helps with aligning operational experiences to promotion competency descriptors, while recognising knowledge gaps for the rank to which you aspire.

Experience: Almost every aspiring promotion candidate has comprehensive police experience. The main issues in terms of making the case for promoting you lie around interpretation, structure, and presentation of evidence, whether verbally for interviews or in writing as part of an application form

Knowledge: Identifying and addressing knowledge gaps is almost always the key to incrementally building confidence. Focusing on and closing any knowledge gaps is a significant part of effective preparation and return on your time/£ investment. For example, knowledge about your promotion process and how to relate your experience to it.

Confidence is the product. It’s a kind of magicWhen you have it, confidence is like a superpower. Everybody wants it. When you have it, you are up for giving the best account of yourself that you can. Having confidence makes a massive difference, particularly in interviews. But you must work to achieve that state. 

Confidence is what you get when you add your policing experience onto closing your knowledge gaps. Some practice and preparation on top to distil, refine and reflect on things is often transformational. Unsurprisingly, a lot of what I do is around supporting and building confidence levels of future levels.

For female officers, my eyes have been opened to the fact that the equation of ‘Knowledge + Experience = Confidence’. As I outlined in Part 1, there are negative experiences to consider that can particularly affect confidence of women seeking promotion. These challenges and barriers include experiences of misogyny, culture, and personal wellbeing, and can all potentially undermine women’s confidence compared to their male counterparts. 

Coaching is a great tool to support and overcome such hurdles. As part of doing this, I might ask: “On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your level of confidence today?” If the answer is lower than 10, I’ll follow up by asking “What needs to happen to get your confidence nearer to ten?” This prompts reflection, new insights and triggers supportive conversation to move things up the scale. One thing I also notice with female candidates is that when asked these questions, they tend to be more realistic in their responses. By that, I mean answering with 3 or 4 initially, whereas male candidates may start at 6 or 7. Maybe it’s an indicator of higher levels of emotional intelligence (EQ) that women are thought to possess. What do you think about that? Do we tend to oversimplify things when it comes to gender differences in EQ? Are women more emotionally intelligent than men? I’ll look more closely at EQ and some of the other strengths that women bring to leadership in Part 3!

I do find male candidates tend to be more confident initially in approaching promotion opportunities than female candidates (‘bravado’?). Whether that confidence is justified is another question, but as a general overview it’s what I observe.

Here’s some more food for thought to bear in mind for building and developing your confidence:

  • Don’t compare yourself to others. 
  • Focus on self-awareness and closing your knowledge gaps.
  • Focus on things you can change, improve, and control.
  • Prep when you can (little and often is as good as a big, sustained effort – probably lends itself to working around shifts too!)
  • Surround yourself with supportive people

I sometimes ask candidates to imagine walking into their promotion board and thinking proactively:

Which of you have questions for my answers?” 

I don’t for a moment recommend you say that out loud! However, thinking it to yourself, being mentally on the front foot and on point with it, indicates both a state of unconscious competence and a heightened level of personal confidence.

Coaching is a safe space that allows for confidential conversations. Personal confidence issues are shared honestly and openly. A couple of themes that surface more often with women candidates (in my experience) include imposter syndrome and limiting beliefs…

Police promotion free guidance

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome in policing

“Help tame the monsters in your head, and realise you can achieve if you put the work in.” – Masterclass Feedback

Imposter Syndrome is a pattern of self-doubt that can lead to anxiety, stress and missing opportunities. It is a psychological pattern, in which a person doubts their skills or accomplishments, combined with an internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. I’ve listened to aspiring, qualified, female candidates with a range of operational experience who have taken on additional responsibilities, e.g., Acting/Temporary duties and are actively developing themselves; yet have delayed applying for promotion, sometimes for years. At the heart of this, has been a combination of self-doubt, lack of meaningful support, and a perception or belief that others have what is needed or are stronger candidates. All are unhelpful symptoms of Imposter Syndrome. A supportive and focused conversation, with an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the strengths around examples, and to recognise that the evidence they possess is as good as and often better than others, is often the catalyst for action.

Who hasn’t at some stage, questioned their own competence or capabilities? Research shows it is widespread among both men and women. People with imposter syndrome aggressively pursue achievement while not being able to accept recognition when success is achieved. Consequently, in the workplace, those with imposter syndrome may have increased levels of stress, burnout, and decreased job performance and/or satisfaction over time. Such anxiety or doubt can hinder candidates from gaining traction in their promotion ambitions. 

Here are some thoughts that may help to manage and alleviate imposter syndrome…

  • Accept the facts as they are. Start with an honest assessment of where you are starting out. A reality-check.
  • Work on your Continuous Professional Development (CPD). Start a ‘humble brag’ file e.g., What are you proud of achieving?
  • Develop Affirmations. What’s that about? Let Jessica explain in the video below…
  • Stop seeking perfection. There’s no such thing.
  • Identify the root of any concerns. What’s at the heart of them?
  • Think about the wider picture. Develop your ability to think strategically.

If you are interested in finding out more about imposter syndrome, here’s a great article by Lolly Daskal: ‘How to stop thinking like an imposter’.

Self-Limiting Beliefs

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.” – Richard Bach

Like imposter syndrome, limiting beliefs can also hold you back from your potential. They are powerful thoughts which limit action and can stop you moving forward. Some are a result of social conditioning, often from childhood acting as your very own filter of reality, affecting how you see and experience the world. These negative beliefs are also invisible. As the ‘owner’ of these thoughts and beliefs, you can choose to get rid of them through raising your awareness and proving them to be false.

Sometimes described as ‘stinking thinking’, one way of dealing with these thoughts is to reframe them. Reframing is a technique for altering negative or self-defeating thought patterns by deliberately replacing them with positive conscious self-talk. It’s about changing your perception and generating new options.  For example: “I don’t have enough time”, when reframed becomes: “I prioritise things that are important to me”. Here are some more examples of limiting thoughts positively reframed:

Limiting beliefs in policing reframed

Other limiting thoughts might include: “Others have a better chance”, “I’m too young/old”, or “I don’t have time”. How might you reframe these?

“If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?” – Teresa Mummart

Recognising stinking thinking and reframing helps with getting your mental approach right going forward and can help build confidence. I hear lots of aspiring candidates using terms such as “if I’m successful” or “if I pass” when talking about board opportunities. It’s stinking thinking, a subconscious barrier. It reflects inner doubt, lack of self-belief and can prevent you from presenting the best version of yourself during a promotion selection process. Reframed simply to “When I pass” is more positive. As a coach/mentor I tend to pick up quickly on limiting thoughts and beliefs when they are voiced. From there, the only way is forwards! Here’s more on the subject of limiting beliefs.

Police promotion to sergeant and inspector
Complete promotion support for UK police officers

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Police promotion growth mindset

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” – Newt Gingrich

A ‘growth mindset’ simply means that people believe their intelligence and talents can be improved through effort and actions. The clearest example of this is attempting a promotion board again after being unsuccessful. Some officers give up after failing. Others, whilst they may be disappointed, go back to the drawing board using feedback, reflection and what they learned from the experience to adjust their approach to try again more intelligently. Here’s a snapshot of what that can look, sound and feel like:

“I was successful this time! I loved the mnemonic. It definitely kept me focused and structured for the ‘How are you going to get the best from your team and manage performance question.” -Yvonne

“l just wanted to tell you l passed my board 2nd time round, thank you for your help. Growth mindset was very much the key!” – Lorna 

“After four unsuccessful interviews I knew I needed to take positive steps. I attended one of Steve’s Master classes, I found it invaluable. It brought into focus for me there are no shortcut and if I REALLY wanted promotion, it would mean becoming an expert on me as an individual, and as a leader and what the role means to me. I was able to structure the approach I took to my preparation, and at my next interview I was successful!” – Rachel

Growth mindset Carol Dweck

As summarised in Carol Dweck’s model above, individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to: 

  • Put in more effort to learn
  • Value and embrace lifelong learning
  • View feedback as an opportunity to learn
  • Believe that their intelligence can be improved
  • Believe that effort leads to mastery
  • Believe failures are only temporary setbacks
  • Willingly embrace challenges
  • View the success of others as a source of inspiration

Watch Carol Dweck’s video on the power of believing you can improve for further useful insights on her growth mindset approach.

A key decision in a growth mindset is asking for help. Seeking support is something female officers tend to be more comfortable with. Not everyone asks. Why? Well, it can be hard to find meaningful support or rather the right support – for you. Time is the most precious commodity any of us have. When you ask for someone’s help, you are asking for their time. 

It can take weeks or months to prepare, depending on your starting point. Time to read, to reflect, to practice psychometric tests and rehearse briefings or develop verbal responses to potential interview questions. Doing this allows you to pick up insights into yourself and the process. Effective promotion preparation is about smart focus, not just hard work. When things click you may look at things differently. Ann, a new Sergeant, alludes to this:

“Prior to the Masterclass I was very much focused on my evidence and me. I didn’t really look beyond what I had in front of me. The class helped me look at the bigger picture and think more about the organisation and how my focus should be about how my experience fits into the needs of the police service. It just completely changed how I looked at everything and it was like the penny just dropped.”

Grit and perseverance are qualities closely associated with a growth mindset. If interested, here’s my blog on perseverance for further reading, and I will leave you with a video on grit from Angela Duckworth. This will lead nicely into my next blog in this series, on women’s strengths and finding inspiration. I hope you’ve found these blogs useful so far and see you in Part 3!

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.

Video for achieving police promotion