Great leaders plant trees under whose shade they will never sit

Recent weeks at Cleveland Police have been characterised by a series of letters addressed to me as Chief Constable from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Service (HMICFRS) detailing our impressive progress.

We’ve received a separate letter for each Cause of Concern raised by HMICFRS in their 2019 report and I’m delighted to say that they’ve noted improvements in each and every one of those areas. This acknowledgement of progress is pleasing for the workforce who have worked tirelessly throughout the last two years. That the improvements have also been undertaken in the face of a global pandemic makes the feat even more impressive.

I’m often asked what the difference has been over the last two years and how we’ve achieved what we have. People will have different views on how the improvements have been realised and most of those perspectives will have a degree of truth in them, but I put them down to two things:

  1. Relentless focus on what matters

HMICFRS is an incredibly important organisation and provides the public and every force with valuable feedback on services. However, I know they would by the first to agree with me that we should not start designing our services at Cleveland (or anywhere) to match the assessment criteria set down by HMICFRS. Services should be designed and delivered with the public at the forefront of our minds and if we get that right, HMICFRS gradings will follow.

Our progress on matters such as domestic abuse and proactivity on knife and drug crime has been led by community need and the way that message is delivered is vital. The setting of priorities is the important first step. Leadership is not about saying ‘yes’ to a good idea but the ability to say ‘no’ to a hundred other good ideas to focus on what truly matters and what is deliverable.

Pick your priorities and relentlessly pursue them.

Holding our leaders to account on results is also central to our work. This does not lead to the need for combative internal meetings to ‘get results’ or to place people under undue pressure but policing is a serious business which requires serious scrutiny. Asking why something has not been delivered as requested is as important (but not more important) as celebrating success when its appropriate.

  1. Leadership

Much was made in the 2019 report on the failures of leadership at Cleveland Police and that was wholly accurate. This is not the same as saying that all the leaders who had worked tirelessly at Cleveland over the previous years were ineffective. I have worked with some truly extraordinary leaders who’ve spent their entire service at Cleveland Police and are a credit to the organisation.

We’ve also ensured that the very best leaders from elsewhere in the country have been given an opportunity here. This is not an indictment on those that have spent entire careers at Cleveland. Manchester United promote internal academy players most years but it does not stop them buying both Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo in one summer.

This means that individual players will occasionally face disappointment in their career path but it is the results of the team that matter most, not the individual. It’s a culture which we are developing here at Cleveland; the best of our own home-grown talent with the best from elsewhere to create one team who consistently do well. This takes time and investment and results are not always instant, but it does work and is working here. There is a plan for change and improvement  to the services that will deliver and that will continue year-on-year and will be progressed and nurtured by these future leaders.

Great leaders plant trees under whose shade they will never sit – it’s a long-term investment.

With the progress that’s noted by HMICFRS, it’s a pleasure to thank the public for their support and our staff, officers and volunteers for their hard work (those that have spent a career here and those that have come from elsewhere to help when staying away would have been easier).


Published by Chief Constable Lewis

I'm the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police, the largest geographic police force in England and Wales, covering more than half the landmass of Wales. Previous to working here, I was the Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, one of the highest crime demand forces in the country. I'm blogging in a personal capacity and the views I offer and mine and not those of my employer.

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