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In conversation with Jane

My leadership influences are probably seated in my upbringing. I’ve not followed in family footsteps by taking the career path I have. My father was a car dealer and my mum was a housewife and had a shop. I grew up in the 1980s where the focus was very much ‘don’t worry about A levels - go and get a job’ - but I did do A levels - I had the strength of character to say to my parents that’s what I wanted to do. But they didn’t really go for the whole University thing so I had to think quite quickly ‘what I am I going to do?’ If you were a boy at my school you went into banking or became a stockbroker. And girls - well it was assumed everyone had done the typing exam and became a secretary. But I didn’t want to do that. So I started to sell cars too.

In the 1980’s environment and probably the only female sales person in the car showroom you had to find your own path to what you wanted to achieve. I didn’t experience any inappropriate behaviours but I did feel a difference. I didn’t have any parental pressure regarding my job or career so it was important for me to know myself. I think for anyone to shape their pathway they really have to know themselves. And that’s what my upbringing gave me. Selling cars on a retainer salary of pretty much nothing so having to think about staying at work till 8 o’clock because I had someone in for a test drive , and then if they didn’t buy a car I didn’t earn any money made me have to think about just how I was going to be resilient in a place like that. And if this was really the place I wanted to be.

So it triggered me needing to know myself and what really I can do - and want to do. I spent a long time as a 19/20 year old doing that - not consciously being aware that I was doing that work for myself - but I remember sitting and thinking so hard and looking at books and thinking that I used to visit London and I liked the look of American Express - thinking that it would be really exciting to work for them. All of that was in my head and it helped me know myself a lot more.

Quite quickly I realised that I would like to do something that helped the Country or something along those lines. I looked at what opportunities might be there for me and found an opening working for the Royal Airforce. I completed Officer’s assessment with them after which they offered me an air commission as a Load Master. I’m afraid of heights so to jump out of a plane is not something I could do - and it was at the time that the Gulf War was about to start 1991. They said they would have to come back to me if I wanted a ground commission - something like fighter control.

All of my conversations at Biggin Hill made me think, this is something; the making of me - and I thought what else is there that I can do, because the ground commission might not happen. So I looked at the Metropolitan Police - thinking that the Airforce might give me a chance to protect the country but the Met might have a role I could do in peace time and civically to help.

Thinking about leadership - I think you form a path through; it’s about how you interact with people, how people react to the way you are with them and how you can get what you need out of life, and that’s not a selfish thing but a serving thing.

I remember being so excited by life at the time I was starting my career, thinking how fantastic to have all these opportunities. I was craving looking for things. Even though I didn’t have any money, and it was hard but I still felt that excitement. I gained that personal responsibility for myself.

I think it’s important to be realistic about your skills and I talk about one of my few skills being negotiation! I learned that from being a car dealer. And it’s been really useful for me in the Police. During the time I worked with the Murder Command I was always sent out to speak to the hardest witness because I could talk to them about giving me a statement and sell them the idea of their Civic responsibility without it being an integrity issue - explaining this is why we need this - this is why it’s important. Sometimes people were fearful - and difficult conversations come easy to me so whereas some people might come back without a statement, I never did.

I think that it’s the essence of leadership - the ability to negotiate, influence, understand, be empathetic, draw people into you, be likeable. These are really important along with having a strong sense of yourself. During my times in the Police these things have grown into my values. I live by those every day.

I was in the Met for just over 24 years getting to the Rank of Detective Superintendent. I came here as Detective Chief Superintendent and recently have taken the portfolio of Commander of Operations and Security. So my career path has been through the ranks from Detective Constable.

There are two ways that you can lead within the Police service; one is command and control, be very transactional. The other is to be much more influential just like in business. We used to be much more command and control, but through maturity we’ve realised that you can’t always command and control and take people with you. What’s added to that are all sorts of pressures such as austerity; so when you have a workforce that feels low and you say ‘go and get this done’ they may go and do it but you won’t ever get anything else from them.

Of course there are times when you can’t ignore the need to be in command and give clear and specific direction and you need to know that you are going to get a response. That is something that you know you will get from Police professionals both Police Staff and Police Officers. So for example, if there is a terrorist attack you have to have that chain of command. But I think it’s important to have a flexible way of leading. It’s crucial to take a different view on everyday transactions with people. So for me there are two ways - and it’s almost like I flip a switch. A situation might require me to act as Gold Commander whereby I’m going to give you my strategy, we are going to deliver it and we’ll check back at this point, what are the high priority actions. And then other situations require me to flick the switch off and take a different approach. It’s circumstance that dictate what’s required.

In the Police there are clear distinctions of rank. I really don’t like rank. At Inspector and above the rank is addressed as Ma’am or Sir. I ask that people use my name. I’m here as another person, I’m here to give my decision, to hold the responsibility, hold the risk and that is my job description and what I will deliver for you. I need you to do these things but we can talk. Because you may be sitting in a position where you have more knowledge than me so it’s important that we can have an easy two way conversation about things. That breeds confidence in that leadership style and the ability to have freedom of thought, innovation - it unlocks so many things just by being reachable.

I think the small things are really important when it comes to people engagement. Taking the time, not to just say hello but to find out how they are feeling - and it might only be once in the week but to engage and remember what they say. Otherwise it doesn’t appear that you are human either - so you should show a piece of yourself and not be scared to do it.

I have a set of values which I spell as PARITY. The first is Personal Responsibility and this is around understanding what my responsibility is, making sure that everyone realises that I’m happy to own that responsibility, so even if you do something wrong I’ve got the responsibility. I think it’s quite traditional but I think it’s important people know that. And I’m well aware that there are people who may say ‘ you did it - it’s your fault’ but in my view the responsibility is mine and I carry that. That gives others the ability to work freely in what they do.

The second is Authenticity - so being authentic in all things - not just in the moment but sustaining it. Some of that is how you interact and so you just make it work for you.

Respect is the next one. Again that’s about two way conversations - active listening and demonstrating that on a regular basis.

Integrity - obviously because of everything we do in the Police it has to be a value that we hold dear to our hearts.

And Tenacity - showing that you have the energy and the drive to do your work. It just triggers others to do the same. People mirror you - if you come in and you are slumped then that won’t work. I have a responsibility to be tenacious in my work.

The last one Y is Yeats. There is a poem by him that makes me think of vulnerability of myself and my workforce. Understanding that your wellbeing, your welfare, showing your vulnerability and appreciating others’ vulnerability is really key. It’s very easy to go into ‘have you done that job?’ and not think about the person, how much pressure they have on them, how they feel - so every day I remember those things. It’s the way you can sustain that believability in yourself I think.

These are my values - not a set of organisational values - I believe in these things and this is what you need to know about me and how I feel as opposed to how I think. I think feeling is important. Sometimes in the Police it can be quite a macho culture. As I’m sure it can be in other sectors too. But I think that’s what I bring to my role.

Our organisation’s values are simple; Integrity, Fairness and Professionalism. We ask everyone to live by these. We have a leadership programme within the force because we believe that whatever rank you are you have a leadership responsibility in you. And I have a responsibility to be a role model for that.

I’m the type of person who thrives in times of adversity or stress. It makes me think quite clearly. So if I’m faced with a critical incident I think ‘what do we need to do? who do we need to protect? how do we do it?’. Quite a structured approach but I think if you have the structure in your head you can bolt on the additional things. I’m not the type of person to panic. I have a frame of reference and draw on my experience and my previous learning and find my strength to deal with whatever it is I’m facing. I don’t think you are born with this but it’s something you learn. Take a breath and look at what you have got. My training as a Detective and Police Officer helps with that. Take stock and work through it. And rely on other people. This is a biggy! You can’t think I have to do it myself. You have to trust in another person in times of adversity to deliver for you as well. If you trust others it builds on that relationship.

I look outwards to look inwards - for me it feels very comfortable to do that. I think you get more rewards from working this way; you bring people with you, you get more of a picture of something, you learn more.

If I can interact with others in an influential way to take someone with me then it’s probably 70% of the job done. Having humility is another key aspect for me, not being scared of being wrong and having the ability to say so. I often open a meeting reminding everyone that it’s OK to be wrong sometimes - I often am and my family are happy to remind me! Although I know it myself too! We are all human and that is part of the human condition.

I think that is really important that you don’t lose yourself in a rank or grade leadership position. It’s important to always remember who you are so you don’t lose connections to the people around you and the community and the World about you, whatever leadership role you are in. If you do you will eventually lose yourself. I think you’ll become a character of whatever you think a leader should be with maybe a big ego.

The things I want from a leader are authenticy - because sometimes people say things and they don’t deliver or they say they have certain values but don’t behave that way. Being truthful is key for me - sometimes that can be hard - not to lie but maybe avoid the conversation - as a leader I want someone to take responsibility and speak the truth. Of course think about how you are going to frame it - back to the salesmanship - to say it so you don’t hurt someone’s feelings but speak what needs to be spoken. And have courage in everything you do. There are so many people who aren’t leaders who have courage and so many leaders who don’t have it. Sometimes it is about standing up and being counted. Being that one person who says something different - maybe feeling awkward about it but having that belief in what you are saying. It’s about being true to yourself otherwise it’s a horrible feeling the day afterwards when you think ‘I sold myself short there’. I think it is so important to have respect - so even if you don’t agree with someone else’s view - to have respect.

I have a duty to do - it’s not appropriate to have an off day and do half a job. It may be a public sector thing but I think we should be held to account by the public.

There are people I work with who might not have obvious leadership roles but who we consider leaders. I have seen Police Officers who are so courageous, who make leadership decisions to neutralise threats. Thinking back to a major incident; a terrorist attack, what our Officers did there was beyond brave: just incredible. And they walked away with humility and a view that they ‘were just doing our job’. I am speechless with awe for them.

Commander Jane Gyford


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