From Blame to Praise in Policing: Implications for Leadership and the Public Conversation

Tomkins, Leah (2020). From Blame to Praise in Policing: Implications for Leadership and the Public Conversation. CPRL, Milton Keynes.

Abstract

Leaders play a crucial role in fostering (or inhibiting) cultures of learning. Their influence relates both to their own attitudes towards learning and to the ways in which they do (or do not) encourage learning for other people – both within their own teams and across functional and organizational boundaries.

Being open to learning involves feeling that the challenges of one’s role are recognised by others, especially those who have authority or sway over our careers. Recognition of the real difficulties and paradoxes that MPS leaders face might, therefore, help to encourage organizational learning which is constructive and rewarding for both individuals and the organization. However, securing such recognition is not straightforward in a policing context, where scrutiny is intense, risk is high, failure is inevitable, attributions of fault are often individualised, and even ‘damage limitation’ takes considerable leadership skill, effort and care.

Some of these leadership challenges can be crystallised as various forms of asymmetry, or things being off-kilter or out of balance. These are significant for individual leaders and their organizations, because they can reflect and/or reinforce various forms of behavioural and cognitive bias and dissonance. The specific instances of asymmetry explored in this paper are:

Agency Having more responsibility for, than control over, events

Response Receiving and/or expecting more blame than praise

Reason Experiencing and/or expecting interpretations of failure based more on individual fault than on task or situational complexity

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