Alf Tupper was a true working class hero. He had no money and no family advantages but he was a great long distance runner who trained hard on a diet of fish and chips and defeated his more privileged rivals by shear grit and ability.
Robin was a few years older than me and fanatical about Rugby league, a skilled player he welded a disparate group of us into a makeshift team willing to play rugby whenever and wherever we could. Robin’s commitment his rugby knowledge and skill and his care for us and sense of fair play made him an outstanding leader. He went on to play for the Leeds Team and later to coach them.
Both had a lasting influence on my leadership style.. Drawing on my forty years experience gained in prison and corrections work the key lessons are remarkably consistent with what I admired in my childhood heroes.
- Leadership and management skills must be combined and never regarded as separable.
- Each decision counts. Decisions must fit within the overall strategic direction even when dealing with emergencies which may offer real opportunities to move forward. Occasional adjustments in the face of difficulties are sensible but turning tail for a short term advantage is a huge mistake.
- Leaders need to know their business well and be seen to demonstrate that knowledge rather than rely only on a stream of data or what their immediate subordinates tell them.
- Decisions, even when made under pressure must be operationally right. Implementation of change needs to be thorough and effective. No one will follow an unsuccessful leader who gets things wrong.
- The long term direction and purpose of the organisation must be made clear and consistently and effectively communicated. Humane corrections must have a moral purpose recognising the humanity of offenders and their potential to improve.
- Good leaders use their skills to manage and influence the wider environment so that the organisation is able to be more successful. Communication with external stakeholders must be consistent with internal messaging.
- Determination and resilience are key leadership qualities as is a willingness to listen to uncomfortable messages. and an understanding of front line staff and their work.
- Above all leaders must have absolute personal integrity. Leaders who cannot be trusted will never really succeed.
The prize for good leadership the field of prisons (where I work), is that reoffending can be reduced and the public made safer. This requires an integrated delivery by skilled staff who are genuinely interested in offenders and understand them but who set clear boundaries while offering the practical support and encouragement that inspires offenders to break free of crime.