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Lessons from Royalty
Medieval and Renaissance England has captured my imagination, and why not? Who isn’t up for a bit of rapier and dagger in a foggy, dew-covered garden at dawn? Not to mention that the U.K. has consistently led the U.S. in important criminalistic advances throughout the years: DNA, terrorist response, facial recognition and surveillance.
So, for the sake of argument, who was the best king of England? And, what lessons can that monarch possibly have for American law enforcement? Well, you didn’t have to pay too much attention in high school History for some of these names to be familiar.
Alfred the Great. He was the king who united the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, stopped generations of Viking raids and made advances in education and law big enough to pull what would become England out of the Dark Ages.
Henry VIII. Flamboyant, he maintained the fragile peace after a devastating civil war to build England into a world power with an unrivaled army and navy (Yes, he had a spot of bother with wives and church-life).
Elizabeth I. The Virgin Queen ruled for 45 years, a golden age, married only to the people of England, and she ruled that way. When facing down the Spanish Armada, she said, “I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king.” Yes, that was Elizabeth.
What about Henry V? The victor of Agincourt ended the Hundred Years War, uniting the crowns of England and France. When facing the fl ower of French chivalry he said, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother.”
No. Historically-speaking, the best English monarch was actually Queen Anne. Who? Do I really mean the quiet and plain, sickly and chair-bound, completely uninspiring Anne? By all accounts, she was simply an “ordinary woman of average intelligence.” Maybe so, but she did what no other Tudor or Stuart could do—she had unparalleled military successes and widespread peace and prosperity in the Kingdom.
Anne actually did what management experts always recommend, though it’s advice that is always ignored. She surrounded herself with the very best, most able senior staff, and she had a good connection with the people she ruled.
She was no Alfred and no Elizabeth, but neither are you nor I. Those incredible leaders are beyond rare. But it doesn’t take a larger-than-life personality to have a successful police organization.
An ordinary chief or sheriff who fi lls his top posts with great people, people who will be loyal, is half way there to a truly successful police department, no matter what fate has in store.
The other half of this (apparent) secret of success is to give those great people the freedom do their job. Queen Anne picked arguably the most capable ministers to ever serve the royal court. And, she knew how to delegate to them.
While she, too, had a management learning curve, she found out when to “help” her ministers, and when to stay out of their way and above the fray. While she was nowhere near the battlefi eld, Queen Anne can rightly claim the victory in the battle of Blenheim, the fi rst genuine English battle success since Agincourt.
Careful selection of your top staff and delegation of responsibility is a much easier, more reliable, more proven path to success than trying to do it all by yourself. Self-assessment is hard, but it doesn’t take much of a gut-check to decide whether or not we are a clone of George Patton or George Washington.
Okay, accept that we are not the best leaders and then do what anyone with their ego under control can do: get help from the good people around you. You can put literally anyone you want in the top positions of patrol, detectives, administration, corrections, civil division, etc. So do it.
Look for creative problem-solvers, they are the future of policing. Find the best you can and let them do their job. You are still in charge. Learn when to get involved, and just as important, when to not.
Published in Law and Order, Jul 2011
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