I recently had the opportunity and privilege to interview T/ACC Una Jennings in Cheshire Police. I share the interview in this blog, while using the inspiration it gave me to discuss leadership more widely. If you’re aspiring to Sergeant, Inspector, or beyond, I believe you will find the content helps you on your way…
“Our children will one day have children of their own and they will ask us what we did, in our place, in our time, to make things better.” – Una Jennings
What is Leadership? An Academic Maelstrom…
Leadership occurs at all levels of policing and across the organisation. Leaders are found throughout. By definition, leaders are simply people who have followers, and rank has little to do with that. A myth about leadership is that people who get to the top or who occupy leadership positions are leaders. Not necessarily; people who get to the top may have done so because of political acumen, than from true leadership quality.
Having said that, police leadership can be complex, and there remains ambiguity over which styles and behaviours are most effective. There is a wealth of literature on police leadership if you are looking to prepare for a promotion opportunity to a formal leadership position. Be that as a Sergeant, an Inspector, or step up to the Chief Inspector rank and beyond, you will definitely benefit from immersing yourself in some of the literature, to support, challenge and provoke your thinking. Take a look for example at my YouTube series ‘All Leaders Read’ for some ideas and inspiration.
Try googling the term ‘leadership’, you’ll get literally millions of results. Leadership has gripped the interest of humanity for thousands of years. There’s over a hundred years of academic study on the subject and millions of books written about it. You could read all the literature for a thousand lifetimes, yet still be no clearer on a meaningful consensus of what it is. There are as many definitions and explanations of it as there are leaders, or so it seems.
Leadership scholars today continue the decades-long tradition of conducting studies, attempting to determine the definitive styles, skills, and personality traits of great leaders. Trying to pin down the essence and profile of what makes the ideal leader. In this academic maelstrom, the College of Policing has hung its hat upon the CVF as the desired behaviours of leaders in policing, yet police leadership goes far beyond that.
As an aspiring promotion candidate expected to deliver, support and inspire others in policing, this is only good news. It means the path is clear for you to take ownership and put forward your own explanation of what good leadership looks like!
For many others, leadership remains a mystery, an abstract hypothetical concept. As alluded to above there is a vast amount of material to help. For example, cops know how they like to be led. As part of my continuous professional development, I purchased a book years ago and am now reacquainting myself with it. Called Leadership: A Very Short Introduction, it’s written by Keith Grint. One interesting question to ponder and addressed by Grint is: Are good leaders born or bred?
If you’re looking to develop your understanding of leadership, it’s as great a starting point as any. I cover a range of helpful reading material to support promotion candidates in my YouTube All Leader’s Read series, such as the video below. In addition, one of my 100 previous blogs provides 8 Top Reads for Promotion Candidates.
Leadership in Context: 21st Century Policing
“Having the courage to acknowledge the world as it currently is, the world as it should be and the gap in between.” – Una Jennings
Because leadership is such a vast subject, I encourage aspiring promotion candidates to think about ‘leadership in context’. That’s because it helps significantly with focus and ‘cutting through the noise’ in your quest for promotion. The context is… 21st century policing!
Leaders give direction. Leaders motivate and good leaders obtain extraordinary performance from their people. They inspire yes, but are they the product of their story or of circumstances? That’s a great question to reflect upon and here’s some food for thought, in context, to help with that.
Whatever your views on leadership, sometimes it’s good just to sit back and listen to the experiences of others for ideas and inspiration. Saving the best ‘til last in this blog, I recently had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Una Jennings, who is currently Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) in Cheshire Constabulary. In 2019 and then as Chief Superintendent, Una delivered an incredible TEDx talk at Stormont which I’m delighted to have stumbled upon in preparation for my interview with her.
For a snapshot of what inspiring police leadership looks like, sounds and feels like, grab yourself a coffee. Watch as this senior UK police leader shares insights about her life and career in policing, her leadership journey, and the core values that have kept her grounded. It is compelling, engaging honest and inspiring. For anyone aspiring to a formal leadership position in policing or other organisations, this presentation offers a valuable aid for thinking about and reflecting upon. Especially for some of the personal and professional challenges of career progression, including those pertinent to women in police leadership.
The essence of this speech resonated with me, reminding me of the reasons I started Rank Success in the first place: to inspire people, motivate them, and to connect them with the essence of what good leadership looks like, sounds like, and feels like. In turn, helping great cops get promoted and positively influencing police leadership of the future.
If you are looking to develop and progress your policing career through the ranks, you can sit back, watch, and listen to one of the most powerful and personal police leadership stories you will probably ever hear. What follows are some take-home themes, insights and remarks I’ve compiled from her talk…
The Importance of Values
Raised in Northern Ireland, her story starts with being encouraged to read from an early age and to have an opinion.
“I was raised to believe you couldn’t be, what you can’t imagine.”
“Three core values sustain me in my policing career. Courage, clarity and compassion… And the desire to connect with people and families, to individuals, to connect the strategic with the very local and the head with the heart”
The following comments from ACC Jennings all struck me as describing great courage…
“I learned from my mother, to plant my feet and take my position on what the right thing to do is.”
“To bring my whole self to work, as a single mother, lawyer and as a woman.”
“That I see in the people I work with every day, despite the very evident mistakes we make in policing and God knows, we’ve made many.”
ACC Jennings also alludes to a number of firsts in her policing career, including: “Being first in my family to join the police and first of a new squad of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) recruits in 1st November 2001”, a decision to help realise and contribute to…
“A police service that looked, felt and thought like the full spectrum of the community that we are tasked with protecting and serving.”
She also shares thoughts on the courage she sees among the people she’s met in her policing career, describing them as heroes and heroines, with an extraordinary degree of both humility and humanity, with a profound sense of duty and responsibility.
Expanding on her core value of ‘clarity’, Jennings states:
“Like most things, I Iearned later in life – that agency moment – when you stop relying on external validation to tell you that you are doing ok, and you start relying on your internal criteria.”
“[Clarity] Came from trauma, divorce, and being torn between time for my daughter and the time I give to ‘the job’.”
“Good policing changes lives, it is about so much more than crime, it is about hope, education, equality, social mobility and rebuilding trust in shattered communities.”
The value of compassion also shines through her poetic talk…
“For me [compassion] is about being more than sympathetic, it’s about acknowledging a need in someone and then, crucially, doing something about it.”
“Compassion is a driving force for any good policing response, because policing is a profoundly human endeavour… I’ve met very, very few truly bad people, but I’ve met a lot of broken ones. I ask cops to be compassionate with each other. This is really tough work and it takes all sorts, which is why we need all sorts… policing is about people… people who will sometimes pay the ultimate price.”
“Imagine we could be truly compassionate with each other… our children will one day have children of their own and they will ask us what we did, in our place, in our time, to make things better.”
Connection and Legacy
Jennings concludes with the theme of connection (a topic I’ve personally touched on in my promotion masterclass). For example:
“With each other, in our heads and in our hearts, I learnt that from my father.”
The final theme she alludes to is legacy:
“What we leave behind is not engraved in stone, it is woven into the lives of other people around us. It’s a stewardship of the past, reinvigorated, rejuvenated, the responsibilities of the present, a focused stewardship of the future.”
The leading quote at the top of this blog is another point expertly made by ACC Jennings on connection. She also makes connection to the timeless Peelian Principles in all of this.
My Podcast Interview with ACC Jennings
Building upon a series of Women in Police Leadership blogs, aimed at supporting women in policing to advance their careers and improve the representation of women in formal leadership roles, I was able to interview ACC Jennings in relation to some of these issues and to discuss more about police leadership.
As Vice President of the British Association of Women in Policing, ACC Jennings explains that the BAWP is the only national organisation to embrace women of all ranks and grades with aims to:
- Raise awareness and understanding of issues affecting women in the Police Service
- Build discussions on issues and provide the female perspective.
- To develop a professional network of officers both nationally and internationally to contribute to the professional development of members.
Here’s the link to our podcast conversation. Una shares insights from a personal perspective of issues facing women in policing. ACC Jennings also alludes to good initiatives and policies elsewhere to help improve equality. She talks about role models who have inspired her in her life and career to date. We also cover coaching, mentoring, aspects of police promotion processes, and her own approach to career development.
I hope you find this blog and the podcast interesting and helpful. If you’d like to learn more about Cheshire Police and their latest performance, take a look at my Cheshire Police PEEL assessment summary and stats video.
Wherever you are on your police leadership journey, I wish you all the very best. You’ll find lots of free resources on my site at ranksuccess.co.uk including videos, podcasts, eGuides, and blogs. If you simply want to hit the ground running with targeted promotion preparation, then invest in yourself today and thank yourself tomorrow… download your personal digital promotion toolkit for PC to SGT or SGT to INSP / INS to C.INS, as these successfully promoted officers duly did.
Kind Regards, Steve
Want to go further right now? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, and/or my Police Promotion Masterclass. You can also 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.