The best leadership traits transcend industries, boundaries and cultures. One change management expert shares some lessons she picked up during her time with the largest police jurisdiction in the world.
I’ve worked for more than 18 months at Western Australia Police as a change management specialist. One thing that makes this organisation unique is that this police force is the single largest jurisdiction in the world. From remote communities to a thriving metropolitan city, its some 6500 officers have to work across all of Western Australia’s 2.5 million square kilometres.
Managing such a geographically dispersed and diversely skilled team requires incredible savvy and know-how. During my time here, I’ve been fortunate enough to observe some of the ways this organisation’s leaders engaged with and leveraged their workforce to meet the job’s challenges. Here are the top leadership traits I’ve picked up that can help transform any management team.
1. It’s not about the top of the pyramid, but the bottom
Too often, there’s a disproportionate focus on managing up. The most effective leaders are humble enough to realise the ones supporting them from below need to be taken care of first. Leaders remove obstacles and provide tools and resources that set their team up for success. This boosts employee morale, increases capability and enhances self-esteem. Oh, and in case you missed it, it supports achieving the ‘bigger picture’ we always talk about.
2. You can’t lead without passion
Great leaders truly love the industry, the job and all that it stands for – not just the leading part. The most enthusiastic leaders have almost a cult-like following because their energy is contagious. Regardless of how they arrived to their current role, whether it’s working their way up as a fresh-faced cadet or graduating from the academy as a late-starter, their work ethic and authenticity is undeniable. They prove themselves quickly, cementing their reputation as a credible force to be reckoned with.
3. Leadership should be hands-on and visible
One of the best leadership traits is to be hands-on, and this means they get out of their office and onto the floor as often as possible. Not only does this help leaders understand the roles and responsibilities of each department, but the dependencies and underlying political landscape within which it operates. Visibility breeds trust, which is critical to gaining support for massive change.
4. Communication and engaging with stakeholders is paramount
The most effective leaders know most changes will not be received with open arms. Or even a hint of a smile. Their response? Communication, involvement and education. Employees don’t have to love every decision that’s made, but they sure need to understand the rationale behind it. By involving impacted stakeholders early, great leaders are able to facilitate understanding of the ‘why’, which eventually morphs into acceptance.
5. Accessibility and responsiveness is key
I report directly to a high-ranking officer who possesses many great leadership traits. He understands the importance of communicating with all stakeholders – especially employees – and hosts regular presentations and demonstrations to hear employee concerns and feedback first-hand. His door is always open and everyone is encouraged to ask him questions. He’s also an email fiend: If you email him directly, you’ll likely have a response within 24 hours. His quick and personal response demonstrates he values the input of others.
6. We all love story-time
The art of story-telling is one of the strongest leadership traits. Stories stick in our memory. Leaders share their own ‘war stories’ to convey the importance of personally connecting with employees. The message is powerful, and the story approach explains corporate decisions much more effectively than any glossy business case could.
7. Connectivity and team-work is vital
In an ideal world, each member of a project works in the same office. In reality, siloed teams in locations scattered around the country or the globe are becoming more common. The response to this is a working group with representatives who meet regularly, whether it’s through a teleconference or face to face. This facilitates understanding of each party’s role, enables learning from each other’s insights and reminds everyone what they are really there to achieve. These recurring meetings were instituted and mandated early on at Western Australia Police. And they were effective in not only ensuring milestones were met, but also in finding common ground that developed strong social ties among colleagues.
8. Be a wallflower
Or should I say a fly on the wall? Leaders most in touch with the ‘pulse’ of the organisation have sharply honed observation skills. Early on in the project, I took the opportunity to go on a ride along with one of the police units. In that moment, I understood the significance, pain points and desired future state of the new technology I was engaged to implement. I encourage you to sit for an hour and just observe, whether it’s in the lobby, work area or meeting hub. I’m sure you’ll return back new ideas to improve processes or client experience.
9. Playing nice only gets you so far
Accountability: Not only do great leaders hold people accountable, they hold themselves up to the same standard. I’ve seen leaders fall on their sword by acknowledging the impact of their actions (or inaction). They then communicate their next steps or propose a solution. No buck passing or mutterings such as “I couldn’t have seen it coming.” This commands respect and instills confidence that history won’t repeat itself.
10. Leadership theory put in practice
These lessons or leadership traitis aren’t new. What is rare is someone who embraces them, applies them and lives by them. Change is hard to implement, especially when you’re shaking up an ingrained mindset that fiercely guards its authoritative structure. It necessitates detailed introspection, enhanced emotional intelligence, and the influence to convince others to share – and support – your vision. But most of all, it requires a leader to step forward.
The leaders I’ve encountered here are on par with the foresight, astuteness, and willingness to adapt as those in the most innovative and successful businesses in the private sector.
If teamwork, passion and communication are some of the key ingredients to success, leadership is the method that brings it all together.