“Our biggest fear is that we will show ourselves and we will be rejected”.
Being authentic is a term used a lot to describe a good leader, suggesting that in order for people to trust and follow you it is essential that you be true to who you are. Makes sense and I am sure you agree that authenticity sits right alongside integrity as an essential quality in no only a leader but for everyone to strive for.
Yet when it comes to being a female leader in a bureaucracy constructed upon paramilitary foundations and traditionally masculine in its membership and in its culture, being authentic just isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Yes there is a lot of work being done to support diversity and to develop, promote and encourage female leaders in policing, yet the fundamental problem is that a diversity of people sitting at the table does not, in my experience, transfer to diversity of leadership styles.
The very nature of the organisational culture and inability to truly become a flexible innovative organisation means that for women rising through the ranks of policing a number of influences work to maintain the status quo within the organisation.
First is the well-known phenomenon of like attracting like. By this I mean that senior leaders, while espousing a desire for diversity of thinking in their executive team, consciously or unconsciously surround themselves with people who think like them. So what appears to be diversity is simply the same values and style of leadership in different clothes
Second is that all police leaders have achieved a high rank by progressing from the bottom of the organisation through each of its levels, though the same developmental strategies, through the same training courses and generally some slightly different configuration of the same policing experiences. Yes, some have come through the detective stream, some primarily through front line policing and others through more administrative streams, but largely there is more similarity than difference in the development of a senior police officer.
During all of this development and training there has been the constant pressure to belong to the team. In a profession in which males dominate in number there is a subtle and sometimes not so subtle pressure to conform to a more masculine way of being in order to be accepted and to belong.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with wanting to belong. I am not saying there is anything wrong with the masculine way of leading or being. There are undoubtedly many interactions and situations in a police officer’s career in which they need to be assertive, directive and logical.
What I am saying is that when it comes to aiming for diversity in policing, the mere presence of a female senior executive officer does not necessarily mean there is diversity in leadership.
Within this environment it is very difficult for an aspiring female police leader to find and retain their voice; to discover their unique leadership style and to remain true to their values, personality and desires.
If you spend the first half of your career making sure you fit it and forming your leadership style through role modeling of senior males then when it does become your turn to lead the question becomes “Who am I as a leader?” I hear statements such as “I feel like I have been wearing a mask so long that I no longer know who is the real me.” This type of questioning usually arises when their starts to be a disconnect between how you are expressing yourself and your true inner nature.
Authenticity is important, not only for the organisation and for the ongoing growth of policing as a profession, but authenticity is important for you as female police officer wanting to make a difference to your profession.
As with any cultural change, promoting true diversity that encourages authenticity will require a top-down and a bottom-up approach. Senior executives must understand diversity is not simply about meeting quotas. Aspiring leaders must maintain vigilance, continually monitoring their self-awareness, checking that their mindset is in alignment with their goals and with their inner self, building confidence in their unique strengths and working to improve and grow in ways that meet organisational needs but don’t crush their identity.
Through delivering keynote presentations, facilitating corporate workshops and coaching, Kim helps individuals to stand up and be themselves at work and in life.
To find out more about Kim’s Signature Program – Self Leadership: Your Mindset, Your Success email firstname.lastname@example.org