Ten Thoughts About Leadership


I’ve been a police officer for 24 years. I’ve been a human being for 46.

I’ve seen and experienced plenty of brilliant leadership in that time. I’ve also seen and experienced the alternatives.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.


I.     It’s people stupid

Right there. That’s the whole ball game.


Leaders who don’t care about people aren’t leaders at all. They might be bad managers, but that’s really not the same thing.

People are precious and rare and extraordinary and brilliant and brave and creative and resourceful and kind. They are also thinking, breathing, feeling, bleeding, sometimes flawed souls who, every now and then, need a helping hand.

Great leaders understand these things. They understand people.


II.     Every contact leaves a trace

Edmond Locard was a French Forensic Scientist, born in the 19th Century, who gave his name to a law that remains fundamental to the investigation of crime in the 21st Century.

Locard’s Principle states simply that ‘every contact leaves a trace’.

Every time two objects come into contact with one another, an exchange takes place – fingerprints found at house that’s been burgled; microscopic fragments of broken glass found on the clothes of the burglar.

It’s a principle that explains how many crimes get solved: traces left by the suspect at the scene; traces from that scene carried by the suspect.

But it seems to me that Locard’s Principle also applies to every kind of human interaction, whether between lifelong friends or passing strangers.

Every time two people come into contact with one another, an exchange takes place. Spoken or unspoken, for better or for worse. We smile or we scowl, we encourage or we ignore, we appreciate or we dismiss, we hold out a hand or we withdraw it, we are angry or we forgive, we bless or we curse, we give or we take, we love or we hate.

Great leaders understand not only that what they do is important – but that how they do it is equally so.

Because every contact leaves a trace.


III.        Leadership is service

The first responsibility of a leader is to serve. Before anything else, to serve.

Colleagues and communities alike.

Leaders who put themselves first aren’t leaders at all.

My primary role as a leader is to enable you to do your job to the very best of your abilities. That means making things easier rather than harder for you, removing obstacles rather than putting them in your way, investing in your training and development and, on occasions, setting my own comfort and convenience to one side.

It can never be all about me.

If the pursuit of my own ambitions has become more important than the cause we all serve, then I have lost my way. If my promotion matters more than your progression, then I am in danger of losing myself.

As the ancient wisdom suggests,

‘Whoever wants to be great among you must become the servant of all…’


IV.     Everything can’t be a priority

If everything is a priority, then nothing is.

Leaders have to decide what matters more.

Take policing as an example.

Every crime matters to every victim. Understandably so.

But not all crimes are equal. Some cause infinitely greater harm than others. And those are the ones that have to matter more.

Domestic Violence has to matter more than shoplifting.

Youth Violence and Knife Crime have to matter more than the theft of a bicycle.

Any crime that has a child or vulnerable person as its victim has to matter more than one that doesn’t.

Leaders need to be absolutely clear about what’s most important – particularly in a world of limited resources.

And they have to be consistent about it. We can’t be changing our minds on the basis of this morning’s headlines or the latest round of heckling from the stalls.


V.     Two ears, one mouth

As a child, I was taught that we have two ears and one mouth – and that they are to be used in those proportions.

Great leaders are great listeners.

And they understand that there is a difference between listening and hearing – and between hearing and actually doing something about what’s been said.


VI.     Leadership requires bravery

Having courage doesn’t mean that you never feel afraid. It means feeling afraid and doing the right thing anyway.

It is both physical and moral.

Great leaders stand for what is right, even if it comes at personal cost.

Great leaders stand against what is wrong, even if it comes at personal risk.

Great leaders have difficult conversations (with people, not about people).

And they do these things constructively and positively and professionally – because bravery and bullying have nothing whatsoever in common with one another.


VII.      The difference between activity and progress

Being busy and making a difference are not the same thing.

I played a game in my younger days that involved placing my forehead on an upright broom handle and spinning round in rapid circles, before affording my  friends the opportunity to have a good laugh at my attempts to walk in a straight line.

Plenty of movement. No progress whatsoever.

I know a lot of busy, dizzy people.


VIII.     Leaders must be dealers in hope

Apparently, it was Napoleon who said that. I’m not sure he’d be my source of inspiration on too many things, but I’m with him on this one.

The more challenging the context, the greater the responsibility that leaders have to deal in hope – to tell the kinds of stories and to paint the kinds of pictures that get people up out of their seats and cause them to come, running.

It’s not the critic who counts.


IX.     Leadership is about character

It was the American General, Norman Schwarzkopf, who said:

‘Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But, if you must be without one, be without the strategy.

Who I am matters. What I believe in and what I stand for matters.

Great leaders ask you to do as they say.

And as they do.


X.     Legacy

I’m indebted to a friend for pointing me towards a book about the All Blacks written by James Kerr. Called ‘Legacy’, it draws lessons on life and leadership from experience of the world’s greatest rugby team – perhaps the greatest team in any sport.

Amongst any number of compelling ideas in the book is the suggestion that, at the end of their time in the team, every All Black player has an obligation to pass their shirt on in a better condition than when they inherited it.

(There’s also the principle of ‘no dickheads’ in the team, but perhaps I’ll save that for another time.)

Great leaders provide the shoulders for others to stand on.

To adapt a quote from the journalist Walter Lippman:

‘The final test of a leader is that they leave behind them in others the conviction and the will to carry on.’








20 thoughts on “Ten Thoughts About Leadership

Add yours

    1. Sir, i want to thank you for your support your blogs that have got me through hard times i need help now 1. i have spoken to a barrister i waiting for them to come back to me im hoping they will take my case on. i need help to talk to police who are going to listen and believe me and also i need help to move away from here to keep me and my children safe so we can build a new life here i can carry on with my studies and also teach and help other young people who are suffering with mental distress and help them and get the message out that having a mental health problem their is no shame about it but also domestic violence/child abuse i want the police to understand what its like to live and be brought up and live like that you maybe understand victims more and have an understanding to help them when they need to disclose and go through the court process. Thank you and the police officers who have been working in the background to help me and keep me and my children safe and have given me a voice its much appreciated and sorry at times i ve lost it on twitter and thanks for all being understanding. take care keep safe to you and all your colleagues at the met i do need help now.


      1. Hi there… I have just seen your message for the first time. The best thing for you to do is speak to officers at your local police station. They are there to help you. Very best wishes. John


  1. There’s a great book on leadership by Mike Brearley called The Art of Captaincy (although it might be a bit of a slog if you don’t like cricket). Plenty of great quotes in there from Brearley himself, but he starts in the introduction with a quote from Xenophon from 504BC on the desirable attributes of a general:

    “He should be ingenious, energetic, careful, full of stamina and presence of mind…loving and tough, straightforward and crafty, ready to gamble everything and wishing to have everything, generous and greedy, trusting and suspicious.”


  2. I’m a senior NHS manager and totally agree with your thoughts here. Refreshing to see such a great reflection of leadership and how it ‘should’ be.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An inspirational blog. Well done sir. Retired now, I spoke to my Chief Constable on my last day. He had just introduced a policy that stops the “butterfly promotion”. If an Officer goes into a new post and introduces ‘new’ ideas or new policies, they stay in post for 2 years and see the legacy of their ideas or policies. Stops them coming up with a nonsense idea and then buggering off before the effects have had a chance to be felt. That Officer has to stay and deal with good times and bad times of change. Seems like a good idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a Detective Senior Sergeant in charge of 20 young detectives and three veteran and highly experienced Detective Sergeants in a very busy and robust Command I sometimes wonder if I have what it takes to ‘lead’ the office. And whether I deserve to. Regardless they are my charge and it is my tremendous privilege to represent them, to the Commander, the rest of the police in the Command and the Community.

    I have been a police officer for 20 years and in Criminal Investigation for 17, I know I have the ability and experience, but what I realise more and more – it is about character and how you deal with people. Ultimately Leadership is just as much about developing yourself as developing your team, knowing your job is simple, gaining the trust of your team and leaving a legacy is the hard part. Most of the detectives who work in my office are at the beginning of their career and have very exciting places to go – I want to give them the best start possible. Thankyou Commander for helping me with that job.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: