A Personal Journey


Stephen Brookes briefly describes his early experience of understanding leadership contexts.

I often reflect on what I now know was my first experience of leadership challenges in December 1971. As a young (boy) sailor (Morse code operator) in the Persian Gulf, I communicated with a Trucial Oman Scouts operator. I struggled to understand why his morse code was so erratic. As my Lieutenant told me – he was probably in the back of a landrover in a conflict situation whilst I was onboard ship in an airconditioned communication centre. At the time, I did not understand the relevance of his context.

Looking back many years later, I have often reflected on this experience. We sailed out of the Gulf (flying the flag of the Commander British Forces Gulf (CBFG)) as British presence in the region ceased. This was at the time that the United Arab Emirates was created. The Trucial Oman Scouts were the precursor to the UAE Armed Forces. Over 50 years later, it was an honour to have been able to be present in the Emirates during and beyond their half-centenary celebrations and to host leadership development and negotiation workshops with senior Emirati leaders. My passion for collective and selfless leadership has been nurtured and grown throughout the intervening years.

My career has taken a number of interesting routes along the way:

    • I joined the police service in 1976 and spent 30 years in both uniformed and CID roles, serving in ranks through to and including Chief Superintendent, in three police forces.
    • I was seconded to the Home Office in 1996 and worked as the lead staff officer to Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary. My role was to support HMI in ensuring that Police Constabularies were efficient and effective in achieving national priorities.
    • In 2000, I was proud to have been appointed as one of ten Founding Regional Home Office Directors, based in the East Midlands of England, with the role of ensuring that five chief constables and forty local authorities (Municipalities) were delivering their national priorities in relation to community safety and collaborative working.

During this latter two roles (from 1997 to 2004), I undertook PhD research in relation to the leadership challenges for Community Leadership.

After my 10 years of working as a Senior Civil Servant in the Home Office, I was appointed as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester (Manchester Business School) and later Reader (Associate Professor) specialising in Public Leadership. I have now been undertaking this role for almost twenty years, more latterly as an Honorary Reader (Associate Professor), with wide international experience of academic teaching, research, publishing and designing and facilitating Masters and Executive Education programmes in area of leadership and negotiation.

I now describe some of the ways in which my experience has influenced my practice and thinking on why we need to reimagine leadership.

Why do I argue that we need to Reimagine Leadership after these 50 years?

‘Reimagining Leadership’ drives us to ambitiously tackle the difficult question of “how to lead collectively and selflessly”.

From me need to move from a reliance on the traditional pyramid of leadership dominated by a top-down approach and flip the pyramid. Leadership takes place at all levels and the role of the collective leader is to support the front line leaders in delivery. The role of senior leaders is to create the conditions in which all can lead and engage in honest debate about solutions to leadership challenges. Senior leaders start the debate by setting the intelligent leadership questions but then let collective others add to the questions and generate solutions.

I have found that the best answers often come from those who are closest to the leadership challenge. In reimagining leadership, we should create a space in which all can take part in rethinking, reimagining and redesigning responsible and empowered leadership. This is what I describe as the “Leadership Quomodo” (abbreviated as LQ). Quomodo represents the latin for “how?” within our broad strapline of:

“Cur quomodoque ducere possumus, quo fine?®
Why and how can we lead, to what end?

I hope that you have found this resource useful so far and that you will find the final section of this leadership e-portal helpful in looking at how to apply the learning to practice. Enjoy the remainder of the journey. The Collective Leadership Model (CLM) has been developed over a number of years alongside the development of my personal thinking on collective leadership. This is described in some detail in chapter three of my book when I outline my chosen research approach of realist evaluation, briefly described earlier in this section.

In providing a link between this section of the website to the following section which explores the how? of collective leadership, I want to briefly comment on the implementation challenges. I have discussed these challenges with many hundreds of leadership development participants from across the world during my fifteen years as a ‘pracademic’ (as an academic, drawing upon extensive experience also as an active practitioner in my subject area). Whilst receptive and responding positively to my question “Is (selfless leadership) an impossible ideal?” we often engage in debate about the current culture of leadership – particularly in the public sector – which is more to do with leading-through-the-line and ‘do as I say’ rather than leading-in-the-round and asking the intelligent questions. If this is challenged – akin to what is described as ‘constructive dissent’ by those leaders who are open to challenge – some leaders will not respond, and participants fear that to pursue this constructive dissent will be career limiting. This is why leadership needs a change of mindset.

I have been a passionate exponent of collective leadership for well over twenty-five years. As a police divisional commander in one of the most diverse policing areas in the United Kingdom in the mid 1990s, my prime change programme was to introduce a community-based model of policing against a background of rising crime, declining community confidence and inter racial tensions. The aim of this ambitious change programme was to work with the community rather than deliver policing to the community.



I argued for a coactive (as opposed to a reactive but also incorporating a proactive) approach, a term that I first used during my PhD studies in the 1990s which I adapted to the leadership of community policing. I defined a strategy based on the police working cooperatively with other agencies to identify and address the conditions needed for improved community safety. People who lived and worked in the community will often have the best ideas to tackle crime, anti-social behaviour and other community tensions. In addressing the wider social determinants that come together in creating a metaphorical pressure cooker in which the impact of these social problems boil over, authentic and participative problem solving can play a critical role. Significant reductions in crime and an increase in community confidence resulted after two years of implementing a problem-oriented approach to policing. The model won an international award at the Herman Goldstein Problem-Oriented Policing Awards in San Diego. The model was also influential in encouraging a neighbourhood policing style focused on collective leadership and problem-solving. This is a style of policing that is still favoured today but remains equally challenging to implement.

I have had my experiences of asking challenging questions as a form of constructive dissent and received the wroth of those who did not like to be challenged. Constructive dissent is so important (as Professor Keith Grint has argued) but is not practised by senior leaders anywhere near as much as it ought to be. I was fortunate that my innovative change programme as a divisional commander of policing a challenging area was not only supported by my Chief Constable but actively embraced. We all have watershed points in our career when we have been inspired by those who have led us. Unfortunately, the corollary of this also happens! My Chief Constable at that time was an inspiration to me. He led a constabulary of almost 3,000 people. He learnt everyone’s name and would ensure that he was aware of who was present at his regular meetings across the policing area and would explore any issues that may have been faced by attendees. He created a mindset of innovation and relational leadership. He was strong-minded and decisive but authentic and caring. You knew where you stood with him. He suffered no fools but he encouraged innovation and improvement. After he left, that mindset disappeared. I was then working in a central department to oversee the approach to community-based policing. My replacement persevered with my community-based model of policing but it then withered on the vine. A key leadership lesson for me (reflecting on the past) is that the institutional mindset and shared values are so important. You can champion a Cause Célèbre but you alone cannot succeed without the support of a collective vision and shared values that will stand the test of time (outlasting you and others). It has also reinforced an important point that I make at the beginning of all of my leadership development engagements in which I argue that “you are part of your own leadership journey and you will be shaped by your experiences – both good and bad and sometimes, downright ugly!”

For three years from 1997 to 2000, I left the police constabulary and worked for Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary at the Home Office. It is no a coincidence that he was my former chief constable! On his behalf, I led inspections of police forces with a particular focus on community safety. In my final year, this involved a national inspection of Community Safety Partnerships which were a statutory partnership created by the Crime and Disorder Act 1997. Significant challenges were identified and recommendations were made including the need to develop a collective style of community-based leadership. This experience informed my PhD research with the full support of HM Chief Inspector alongside my inspectorial role.

In 2000, I was then appointed as a founding Home Office Regional Director (HORD) in one of ten Government Offices for the Regions, with responsibility for working with the five chief constables, forty local authority chief executives and a range of other public, private and voluntary organisations in relation to crime and community safety specifically. In the final eighteen months, I had additional responsibility for overseeing cross-cutting government policy ranging from crime and community safety to education and economic enterprise in one of the counties within the region. These responsibilities gave me a unique insight as a key participant in relation to the strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats of collective leadership across widely diverse organisations and institutions, including the for-profit sector.

The overall reflection on my senior civil service experience was the importance of aligning individual values with those of institutions and, beyond that, networks. Having led two national projects on behalf of the Home Office which both focused on the importance of multi-agency partnership working, this sensitised me to the importance of collective leadership. It was at this point that I left policing/Home Office and took up my career at the University of Manchester (Manchester Business School) being appointed to the Centre for Public Policy and Management. I brought with me my passion for public and collective leadership and almost immediately secured funding from the Economic and Social Research Council to run a two year series of Seminars on the Public Leadership Challenge. This ultimately led to the publications included in my biography. Of note, the New Public Leadership Challenge which I co-edited with Keith Grint and the Selfless Leader published in 2016, drawing on further research in creating the Collective Leadership Model that underpins this online resource and forum. Through the last fifteen years, my work extended beyond policing and included research, teaching and consultancy in local government and other aspects of public leadership and principally in healthcare leadership, including the creation of a masters programme in international healthcare leadership. For a number of years, I have also co-led a very practical Negotiations Skills module on the University of Manchester (Alliance Manchester Business School) Global MBA programme with very experienced colleagues from the UK retail industry and the Spanish Legal system. The module, which included practically-based three-day workshops was delivered virtually in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The module has consistently evaluated as the most successful module on the Global MBA programme.

I look forward to continuing to support the development of leadership and negotiation skills with institutions and individuals who are just as passionate as I am about making a difference in reimagining leadership and in influencing a new mindset and set of skills for leading collectively.

Dr Stephen Brookes QPM FCMI FRSA
Founder and CEO Compass Leadership Limited
Honorary Associate Professor (Reader) of Public Leadership, University of Manchester (Alliance Manchester Business School)

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