This epic four-part series aims to support women in police leadership, helping to advance their UK policing careers via promotion through the Federated ranks of police Sergeant, Inspector and Chief Inspector, thereby improving the representation of women in formal leadership roles.
“If my strength intimidates you, I hope you realise that’s a weakness of yours.” – Anon
In Part 1, I covered common barriers, challenges, and concerns facing female officers, including a deep dive on ‘The Authority Gap’ and key stats on female officer representation. In Part 2, I offered an in-depth look at building confidence, covered the mysterious subject of ‘Imposter Syndrome’, and explored self-limiting beliefs and developing your growth mindset. In this ‘Strengths and Inspiration’ essay, I cover some of the strengths women can and do bring to policing and leadership. I also discuss inspiration, an essential but often overlooked element needed to fuel and support your career progression. As usual, I provide supportive signposting and wider research throughout.
Here’s the outline (with links) of this four-part series of essays, and I hope you enjoy this positive Part 3 to support your preparation and police leadership CPD:
- Part 1: Challenges & Barriers
- Part 2: Confidence & Mindset
- Part 3: Strengths & Inspiration
- Part 4: Enablers & Solutions
What do Women bring to Leadership?
“One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in, and where you want to go.” – Sheila Murray Bethel
A question often asked is whether gender makes a difference in terms of leadership. There is a vast array of research looking at areas to do with gender and leadership, a proportion of which is in contention, with contradictory findings being reported. So, what is the current state of research about the relationship between gender and leadership? In summary, the evidence is inconclusive on effectiveness, but does point to clear differences in style between the sexes.
As discussed in Oxford Review, a 2020 review of the current research looked at whether gender makes a difference in terms of leadership. Researchers found in their metanalysis there was no significant difference between the genders in terms of leadership effectiveness on any measure. However, in terms of leadership emergence, women are significantly less likely to emerge as leaders compared to men. There are two primary reasons they pose as to why women are significantly less likely to emerge as a leader, particularly in terms of putting themselves forward for leadership positions:
1. Risk tolerance: There is good evidence to show that female leaders tend to be more cautious than their male counterparts in displaying leadership behaviours and decision making. Also, female leaders hold less accurate and often more negative views of how others perceive their leadership behaviours compared to their male counterparts (e.g. see my Part 2 discussion on ‘Imposter Syndrome’).
2. Anticipated negative consequences: It has been found that female leaders tend to worry about negative reactions (backlash) to their decisions and leadership behaviours more than men, and tend to engage in significantly fewer self-promotion behaviours than men.
However, it has also been found that women tend to be rated more highly than men on social leadership and in situations that require high levels of interpersonal skill. It is here women tend to be rated as better leaders and demonstrate particular strengths. For example, in their informative article, ‘7 Leadership Lessons Men Can Learn From Women’, the Harvard Business review argues for a number of nuanced strengths women bring to leadership. They also point to research which has long shown that women are more likely to lead through inspiration, transforming people’s attitudes and beliefs, and aligning people with meaning and purpose (rather than through carrots and sticks). So, let’s explore some of these strengths further…
What Skills and Strengths do Women bring to Policing?
“Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex, moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.” – Joanne Ciulla
Interestingly, there is a considerable evidence base (beyond everyday anecdotes) to demonstrate that women bring and contribute significant natural abilities to support policing legitimacy and the UK model of policing by consent. For example, Canterbury University research indicates that women officers:
- Are less aggressive and are able to use less force, adopting less confrontational styles in their interactions
- Adopt a higher ethical code of conduct
- Demonstrate greater empathy and communication skills in serving the needs of women and children, especially those subject to violent or sexual abuse
- Have stronger relations with the community
- Are better equipped in developing positive long-term relationships in partnership working
- Adopt more transformational leadership styles than their male counterparts
The points above essentially summarise and allude to the often-reported observation that women demonstrate higher levels of emotional intelligence (EQ) than their male counterparts. For example, female leaders are often seen as more compassionate and empathetic than men. EQ is also something I’ve discussed extensively before (e.g. listen to my podcast, ‘CVF: We are Emotionally Aware’), therefore clearly being a strength when it comes to police leadership and promotion.
The abilities highlighted in research and alluded to above are clearly valuable and effective leadership attributes. If you happen to also have neurodiverse attributes and abilities, you’ll love this blog on the strengths of those who think differently. Finally, and returning to the Canterbury research findings, in terms of their contribution and style women in senior leadership positions are found to demonstrate:
“A more holistic, participative, consultative, inclusive, and transformative style of leadership, not traditionally associated within the police organisation. The benefits of such a style have been emphasised by a number of police commentators, in short, those using participatory transformative leadership styles are more likely to bring about successful long-term change in policing and move the service in line with a greater ‘ethical’ and ‘quality of service’ culture and ultimately greater legitimacy in its relationships with citizens.”
To expand some more on the strength of ‘transformational leadership’ style, let’s dive in some more on how cops like to be led…
How Cops Like to Be Led
“Transformational leaders are like the roots of a tree; they may not be visible, but they keep the tree alive.” – Gift Gugu Mona
The hardest jump to make in UK police promotion is from Constable to Sergeant rank, as emphasised by Simon Foy QPM in my recent podcast interview, ‘Beyond Inspector’. In supporting thousands of officers to successfully make that jump, one common theme I encourage candidates to think about and consider is that a transformational leadership style is how cops like to be led (here’s my podcast on this). This ‘transformational style of leadership’ is an aspect which I cover when discussing leadership styles in my Sergeant and Inspector / Chief Inspector toolkits and as part of my police Promotion Masterclasses.
Findings in various police leadership studies recognise that the dimensions of this leadership style are popular in UK policing, as I evidence in my guides. Specific dimensions include genuine concern for others’ well-being and development, empowering, delegating, and developing potential, along with transparency, honesty and consistency. These all resonate with cops and match their own descriptions of leadership behaviours they consistently value.
It’s no surprise to me to see that many aspiring women leaders I have supported inherently possess these leadership attributes, even if they are not initially aware. That’s where coaching can help. Coaching is sometimes described as a ‘conversation with a purpose’ and qualified coaches as a ‘thinking partner’. I like those depictions, because they encapsulate and summarise from my perspective the ‘activity’ of supporting aspiring officers who are preparing to secure leadership positions as Sergeants, Inspectors and beyond. Part of that includes me asking questions to ascertain and identify knowledge gaps, for example:
“What would you describe as your main strengths?”
Anecdotally speaking, male candidates seem more confident and comfortable with initial responses talking about their strengths, as I allude to in the ‘Confidence’ section of Part 2 in this blog series. However, follow up questions e.g., “how do you know this about yourself?” trigger more reflection.
When I ask the same strengths-based question of women candidates, it generally seems to generate more initial reflection, ahead of a considered response delivered maybe with less certainty than their male peers. Self-awareness in relation to strengths varies, but it is clear many have never meaningfully discussed or thought about this aspect in any depth.
One way I encourage candidates to understand the strengths they will bring to the role they aspire to, is to register and take the VIA 24 Key Strengths test. You complete a series of questions and will receive a personalised report prioritising your strengths. It’s a great way to open your Johari window! Most officers have never heard of this resource, but I find it quickly raises self-awareness and personal confidence for a wider conversation; especially around linking personal strengths to the role aspired to. It’s also a helpful preparation aid ahead of a strengths-based promotion interview.
Whilst women candidates may not always be as confident as male officers in their initial approach to promotion, they do appear to have an edge in ‘coachability’, i.e., the state or condition of being coachable. In exploring support options, women seem to me to be less sceptical and more willing to consider coaching as an option. Here’s some feedback from Tina, offering some insight into the value of personal coaching as a bespoke support option:
“Many people including myself find promotion frustrating and confusing as to what is required. After failing a board previously Steve demystified the process and made clear what you need to do and learn to be successful. I had one to one coaching focused on my individual needs. It gave me great focus on what I needed to do. I passed my board with confidence and have no doubt that I would not have done this without Steve’s input.”
Encouraging aspiring candidates to think of coaching as a ‘supportive conversation’ helps to remove uncertainty. I find that offering a free initial telephone conversation provides an opportunity to connect in person, to answer initial questions, and inform any decision to book a one-to-one support session and ‘continue the conversation’.
Another observation from my experience is that female candidates, after deciding to go for promotion, tend to commit over a longer period. This allows themselves more time for effective preparation ahead of anticipated (or ‘surprise’) promotion opportunities. They also more frequently express surprise upon achieving success about how good they were in the selection process, despite clearly having done the work. E.g.:
“Hi Steve, just thought I’d let you know that I’ve just had the call to say I’ve passed my first Sergeant board. Not only that but they have highlighted me for the next rank too. (Completely unexpected!) Thanks for all your help.”– Debbie
Who or What Inspires You?
“Inspiration and motivation may come from others, but true inspiration comes from within.” – Catherine Pulsifer
If you aspire to Sergeant, Inspector or Chief Inspector rank, it is anticipated and expected that you can inspire others. It’s an important aspect of preparation worth developing and focusing upon ahead of any promotion opportunity. Why? For starters, ‘We deliver, support and inspire’ is a specific competency assessed in UK police promotion selection processes as part of the competency and values framework (CVF). The CVF is something I encourage all aspiring candidates to learn to love and familiarise themselves with; my free blog above or this CVF podcast provides a solid start.
It’s easy to anticipate potential interview questions you may be asked in your promotion selection process. For example, “How will you inspire your team to perform to their potential?” or “Can you please provide an example of when you have supported and inspired others to achieve a desired objective, result or outcome?” You’ll will find an entire bank of practice promotion interview questions (both forward-facing and rear-facing questions) in my Interview Success guide.
My aim through both my premium and free content is to inspire future police leaders to think, develop themselves, and ultimately become the best leaders, managers, and supervisors for policing. “Inspiring”’ is one of the most used terms cops use to describe my promotion masterclass (along with insightful, informative, thought-provoking, motivating, and engaging). Successful officers are kind enough to comment and provide feedback on the material, products, and services I offer, which I personally find inspiring. It also helps me ensure I am ‘on point’ in terms of providing support, no matter how promotion selection processes may change.
Sharon: An Inspirational Case Study
“Don’t let a little stormy weather get you down, there is always sunshine on the other side.” – Heather A. Stillufsun
I’d like to start this section on inspiration with Sharon’s case study. When I read it for the first time, I found it incredibly inspirational. Like all unsolicited feedback from my successful clients, it reminds me why I do this. Sharon recently passed her force Chief Inspector selection process, and in many ways, her feedback encapsulates the preceding themes across this series of blogs: Challenges, resilience and grit, determination, self-belief, growth mindset in response to setbacks, and confidence in her own strengths that she would ultimately prevail. Here, Sharon summarises her personal experience, which she describes as ‘Crossing the thin blue line to promotion from Inspector to Chief Inspector’:
“For those that know me I am a competitive old soul who likes a challenge. However, when you have failed the promotion process on more than 1 attempt, the wounds of doubt grow deeper and knock your confidence to succeed. The word “can’t”, was never in my vocabulary until I had failed another attempt at the process. Thoughts clouded my mind, what if this is the rank I should stay at! You lack “empathy”, “compassion” you are not “strategic minded”! The ‘sorry you failed’ feedback kept repeating in my thoughts, tying my confidence in knots.
Get a grip I told myself, but no matter who I turned to, friends and family their reassurance just fell on deaf years. They are only telling me what I want to hear my sub conscious echoed, they don’t know just how hard this process is! I tried to recall successful times and what I did to prepare. I then remembered “Rank Success”. The name is quite apt. The last time I went to Steve @rank success for support was for the Inspector process a few years ago where I passed with flying colours.
Rank Success has moved on twofold since the masterclass I attended in Birmingham. Support is now offered in so many different platforms, ranging from podcasts, videos, group sessions and 1 to 1 sessions, including the good old fashioned research reports that Steve so eloquently summaries in key briefings for the reader to grasp the salient points. After reading and listening to a vast amount of his material I slowly started to find the old me, I can do this!
Less than a week before the assessment process, the nerves started to take hold again and suffocate me. Oh no! not long now you are not ready you have not prepared enough. What briefing model are you going to use for that exercise? Panic had well and truly set in.
I plucked up the courage and emailed Steve for an urgent 1 to 1, lots of words of self-doubt were in that email I was screaming for help. Less than 3 days before the process Steve arranged a 1 to 1 phone call for me late one evening. Just hearing his calm, brummie tones reassured me instantly. He does truly care about people and is passionate in offering support to those that really scream for help. He listened to my all concerns and provided that reality check I needed from someone who truly understands the process. I was petrified about the written assessment even though I had practised and rehearsed the process 4 times.
To say I am over the moon is an understatement, I passed. Not only did I pass but I passed with flying colours scoring 4’s, even in the written exercise! I can truly say hand on heart today I would not be writing this email of “rank success” without Steve’s support and fantastic online promotion support.
If you have self-doubt, lack direction where to start and just need that focus to start believing in yourself, you are not alone. We all feel this way it just takes that courage to admit you need support and direction.”
“We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” – J.K. Rowling
I thought it might be insightful to offer some personal reflection on the kind words and feedback Sharon provided about her own experience. As a coach, I believe in the potential of every client even if, and especially when, the individual may not. Selection processes for Chief Inspectors are indeed challenging and often underestimated. The process can be daunting, and having attempted it twice unsuccessfully before, Sharon alludes to “just how hard the process is”.
She mentions “plucking up the courage” to contact me, but I believe this was probably more about her intuition recognising the potential benefit of a supportive offline conversation with someone who understands the process. Perhaps her intuition also hinted that this could possibly be a missing ingredient compared with previous approaches. Coaching late at night is not unusual for me. Cops work varied shifts patterns and have childcare and other family commitments, all of which I have encountered in my own police career and understand the situation. Your ‘me time’ exists whenever it can be fitted in, so I try and cater for that.
As a coach I also tend to pick up on the use of language as an indicator of what mental ‘noise’ might be holding someone back or getting in the way, e.g., “Nerves starting to suffocate me” and “Screaming for help”. It is not unusual when I ask candidates how they feel about the opportunity ahead, to detect a sense of foreboding, anxiety, or trepidation. It sometimes surfaces quite illustratively in responses. Phrases from others have included “feeling like a lamb to the slaughter” and “a rabbit trapped in the headlights”. This is a good thing because once identified, we can usually get to what is really at the heart of that or other self-limiting thoughts or beliefs (see Part 2). My clear thoughts on listening to Sharon’s concerns were that she had clearly prepared herself well for this career progression opportunity, so this was essentially about reassurance and concentrating on the apparent concern, the written exercise. Whilst we focused on options and thinking models for the written test, clearly this bespoke session added value in terms of enhancing Sharon’s personal confidence levels and managing nerves.
As I allude to in this blog series, coaching is essentially a conversation with a purpose. This one offered a chance to recap, recalibrate and refocus generally ahead of what was an opportunity being offered by her force to excel. As it transpired, she did… “with flying colours, even in the written exercise!”
You can often learn more about yourself and who you are through setbacks and failures. Both feature in the journey to police promotion. Demonstrating her growth mindset, Sharon says it “just takes that courage to admit you need support and direction.” Her feedback is shared openly and honestly, I believe a great insight and encouragement for other aspiring women leaders. Having first spoken with Sharon when she was a Sergeant aspiring to Inspector, I personally find her attitude and resilience towards realising her potential incredibly inspiring. For the final part of this blog, I invite you to find your own inspiration to carry you through the hard work necessary and your onward promotion journey…
“A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark.” – Dante Alighieri
What inspires you? Inspiration is essential to promotion. If you can’t find it, you may be better off staying in bed. It’s certainly unwise to go for promotion without high levels of enthusiasm, determination, motivation, and inspiration. The dictionary can be helpful starting point:
Inspire: Fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. Inspiration is: ‘the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something’.
What follows are some things I personally find inspiring and to get me out of bed of a morning…
I find inspiration all around me in quotes (you’ll notice them peppering my blogs and guides), films, life stories and music. Rhapsody on a theme for Paganini by Rachmaninoff is one masterpiece I have always found inspiring. It makes me reflect upon a human life. Someone lucky enough to have been loved unconditionally, and who has also loved unconditionally. A happy and fulfilled life. I imagine this rhapsody as the musical telling of such a life from birth, burning bright, thriving throughout spring, summer, autumn, and finally the winter of what is essentially a short existence here on earth, arriving at a peaceful, gentle expiration.
The Rescue: I recently watched a documentary called ‘The Rescue’. A tremendously inspiring story of the rescue of 12 boys trapped in an underwater cave system in Thailand. It took weeks of planning. What a story of innovation, collaboration, risk taking and teamwork involving nearly 5000 people. Something that resonated and inspired me was the American soldier who recognised people were thinking from a position of “it can’t be done”. A change in perspective to “What can be done?” helped. Clearly all of Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats were being utilised, working through potential options and using a holistic approach to problem solving. The option that was chosen, to sedate and monitor each boy’s breathing for the underwater journey to safety was high risk. A Thai official summarised the successful outcome as having turned “An impossible mission into mission possible”. I challenge anyone to watch this documentary and not be massively inspired, moved, and astounded at the capacity of fellow humans to do good.
My family are a massive source of inspiration. For example, my daughter is a student police officer on response and loving it. She’s a working mum, completing a degree, enjoying life, full on. My son a Head Chef, also living life full on, opening restaurants and cooking on private superyachts cruising the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Five of my family are cops. I’m proud of and inspired by them all.
Feedback from successful promotion candidates fuels my inspiration to continuously hone Rank Success products and services with a relentless focus on what works. Helping to convert leadership aspiration into newly promoted Sergeants, Inspectors and Chief Inspectors, and sharing information via free blogs, videos, and podcasts to keep the cycle of success going. I like to stay ahead of the curve so that no matter how often the goalposts change, officers seeking career progression can find bespoke support.
The Union Jack Club: As a former Royal Marine, I stay at the Union Jack Club at Waterloo when working in London. The reception area is covered with photographs of Victoria Cross recipients. Reading their stories and citations of the bravery and sacrifice of these heroes is incredibly moving and inspirational.
Anyway, enough about me! I share these things to give you food for thought, so over to you… What really inspires you? Connecting with whatever or whoever it is gives you something meaningful to reflect upon and use to fuel your promotion aspirations. I cover more on this in my dedicated blog, ‘CVF: We Deliver, Support and INSPIRE’. You can find great inspiration simply from reading. In one topical book, ‘Work Like a Woman’, Mary Portas argues to ‘bring your whole self to work’ as part of five strategies for women to reach their potential in the workplace. It can also be helpful to reflect on inspiration that can be found from others…
Inspiring Women Police Leaders: Role Models
“I am thankful for my struggle because, without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.” – Alex Elle
In Part 1 (and within my blogs on the 2021 Sergeant and Inspector exam success rates), I outlined how women remain underrepresented as leaders in the police service. While that may be the case, there is not a shortage of inspiring female leaders. The stories and career pathways of courageous, professional, and ambitious women at all levels are there as a matter of record for anyone who chooses to look. For example, the British Association for Women in Policing magazine, ‘Grapevine’, proudly reports there to be a record number of female Chiefs in its Autumn 2021 edition. 15 of the 43 England & Wales forces are now led by women, several of which are making history in their force. You will find many more insights and inspiring career stories to reflect upon, here’s just three notable examples…
Dame Cressida Dick DBE QPM has had an extensive career in policing and is the most senior police officer in the UK. As Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis since 2017, she is the first female to lead the Metropolitan Police Service. In this more extensive bio, Cressida states she takes pride in the Met having women in all roles and ranks and are highly influential in London’s policing.
Dame Lynne Owens is the former Director General of the National Crime Agency (2016–2021). As reported in the NCA announcement of Lynne’s retirement, she is “recognised as an inspirational figure, Lynne has made a significant positive impact on law enforcement, demonstrating exemplary leadership of an operational Agency and the wider system that safeguards children, removes firearms and drugs from UK streets, disrupts cyber-crime and criminal finance and is at the forefront of innovative law enforcement techniques. She was made a Dame in the New Year’s Honours 2021.” Having retired for health reasons, she continues inspiring followers on via social media and sharing her journey.
Deputy Chief Constable Sam De Reya: Here in the South West and Deputy Chief Constable of Dorset Police, Sam has long been a passionate advocate for women in police leadership. She established the SW Women in Leadership programme to help female police personnel fulfil their potential. She was the former Superintendent Association gender representative; is supportive of equal opportunities and inclusion. In addition, she has personally supported many female officers with their CPD and careers on her way through the ranks. Here’s an insightful and inspiring article, where DCC De Reya is featured in a ‘top 100 influential women in 2018’ and shares insights into her career, professional achievements, and personal philosophy.
You can also look beyond policing to the top female UK business leaders. Albeit only 5% of UK FTSE 100 CEOs are women, compared to the 30% or so of UK police forces being led by women. You might want to look even further, beyond business and policing entirely. For example, you might take inspiration from this article marking International Women’s Day, on 100 inspirational women over the last 100 years.
I hope this Part 3 of this in-depth Women in Police Leadership series has provided useful food for thought and prompted your own thoughts on inspiration and strengths. Join me soon for the finale, but for the meantime I will leave you with my short video on ‘finding inspiration’…
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.