COVERTHE FUTURE OF LEADERSHIP IN POLICINGBy Inspector Chirag Bhatt, York Regional PoliceLeadership development is a key priority for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. In this article by Inspector Chirag Bhatt, Co-Chair of the OACP’s Leadership Development Program Working Group, we follow the leadership journey of York Regional Police. Under the leadership of Chief Jim MacSween, the Executive Leadership Team at York Regional Police (YRP) established a mission to re-imagine leadership development within the organization. YRP knew that standardizing leadership principles and delivering them to all ranks of the organization would enrich the development of ethical and professional leaders.Police organizations often make the mistake of beginning leadership training when members assume leadership positions, creating a gap in leadership thinking, conduct and expectations.Identifying this gap led YRP to develop a program based on a common understanding of leadership and what comprises an effective leader. Anchored in the organization’s core values, the program also focuses on the inclusion of all members and its relevance to each participant.ORGANIZATIONAL SHIFTS Like any culture-transforming project, program development takes time and patience. The team of advocates and stakeholders steadily grew, with leaders from various areas, ranks and roles providing input. After a year of research, four organizational shifts were identified at YRP.The first shift was to replace standalone leadership programs with baseline leadership development across all ranks. Traditionally, leadership development within policing used a “hand-picked” approach that created micro pockets of development in the organization. This can be effective at times for developing high-potential leaders, but not transformative enough for an entire organization. Additionally, previous programs were primarily geared toward the sworn membership of the organization.To optimize relevancy, YRP required custom leadership programming for every role and career stage in the organization, consistent with the values and key themes of the organization.The second shift was to ignore the common mistake of training leaders only once they assumed a leadership role. The fact is, members need leadership skills like initiative, accountability, risk analysis, personal brand and communications to succeed in any role at YRP.The third shift was to anchor the program to the organization’s core values: professionalism, compassion, fairness, courage and respect. Everyday leaders navigate through challenges and stressors but are expected to live these values and bring their best skills and leadership capabilities to the table. To best serve the community, YRP needed a program that, regardless of rank , helped bring these values to life, shaping member behaviour to help them execute their commitments. The training needed to challenge leaders’ interpretation of the values so they could understand how they demonstrated those values in their day-to-day interactions.The fourth and final shift was to expand the organization’s thinking beyond core policing functions. Today’s policing complexities require creative leadership, new strategies and innovative thinking that will challenge members to develop new perspectives and ideas. To achieve this, YRP required an innovative training partner who could create a customized, values-based, hire-to-retire leadership development program for all members. These qualities were found in a partnership with York University’s Schulich Executive Education (Schulich ExecEd). Schulich ExecEd was willing to hyper-customize each element of the program, which evolved into a five-stream, specially curated set of micro-credentials, titled: “The Future of Leadership in Policing.”Form left to right: Carlo Sicoli, Director, Business Development and Partnerships, Schulich ExecEd, Schulich School of Business, York University; Sergeant Jeremy Brewster, program graduate; Chief Jim MacSween, York Regional Police.STREAMLINED EDUCATION Each stream factored in two measures: YRP core values and relevance to rank/role. Relevancy was critical as it required police-focused content on the right skills for the right time in the member’s career, from community-based leadership in early career stages to strategic foresight when leaders are taking on more responsibility.Stream one, Personal Leadership, starts at the base of a member’s career, focusing on first-class constables and civilian police professionals with a minimum of three years of experience at the organization. This stream creates a leadership foundation for members by encouraging them to assess their emotional intelligence, create a personal brand, enhance their communication skills in the workplace and learn basic leadership principles.Second, the Developing Stream focuses on sworn and civilian police professionals who have shown interest in leadership roles by becoming mentors, acting for supervisors and successfully moving into specialized positions. The sessions in this stream allow members to learn how to coach their peers, manage change and resolve conflict, which in turn inspires trust.Stream three, Engaging Leadership, targets sergeants, detectives and civilian police professionals who are in supervisory roles. Members enhance their knowledge on the topics covered in the previous stream, as well as learn how to better engage employees and manage their teams inclusively and sustainably.Aimed at staff sergeants and managers, the fourth stream – Visionary Leadership – builds on past topics and discusses strategic planning, constructing and enhancing relationships and how to best approach critical or difficult conversations.The fifth and final stream, called Executive Leadership, is available to sworn and civilian senior leaders. Rounding off their leadership training, participants learn how to better innovate, increase employee engagement and employ strategic foresight, data analysis, political acuity and problem solving to ensure their teams are performing at the highest level possible.Given the drive for leadership development at YRP, it was no surprise that members were hungry for this unique opportunity to advance their skills and become effective leaders. Members submitted written applications and 30 members per stream were carefully selected by a group of YRP professionals to participate in the first two streams of the program, each class reflecting the diversity of the organization and York Region’s community.The four shifts in thinking, mindset and commitment demonstrated to members that the organization values their development and was willing to create a platform for them to showcase their leadership skills. This program provides all members with the opportunity to meet academic and professional requirements to succeed at the executive level before being promoted to it. This also showed that dedication to leadership development is not the work of one, but the work of many.The program officially launched in May of 2023, and the first cohorts graduated with their Schulich Executive Education, York University Certificates in November of 2023.Inspector Chirag Bhatt works with the Professionalism, Leadership & Inclusion Office of York Regional Police. He is also the co-chair of the leadership development working group and Chair of the Education, Training and Professional Development Committee. Inspector Bhatt can be reached at 1692@YRP.CA.
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