Adaptability and Split Second Decisions

Adaptability and Flexibilty as similar concepts

Adaptability, Flexibility & Resilience

Adaptability and Split-Second Decision Making

The purpose of my Sunday roast is to provide “Relevant, Objective Analyses of Strategic and Tactical Leadership Challenges“. I initially intended to explain more about my ‘Roasts’ and follow my theme of adaptability, which was the foundation of my inaugural Friday “early doors“ newsletter on Friday. However, the morning of Saturday, the 23rd of September 2023, and today (Sunday 24th) provided a series of topics to persuade me to focus on these as my first post within my new Sunday Roast newsletter. I will say more about my purpose in the next few series of Sunday Roasts

A first unique aspect of leaders’ roles in the public domain is often to preserve life, particularly first responders and specialists in Security and Emergency Services.

Second, many public leaders will often start the working day not knowing what they will deal with. They lead in the world now commonly called ‘VUCA’ - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Third, decisions will not always benefit from the luxury of reflection or reflexivity time, where adaptability and flexibility can be practised. Split-second decisions will be required in life-threatening situations. The best that leaders can do is to make a reasoned decision based on the presenting facts or circumstances.

What are the topics that have persuaded me to change my Sunday Roast focus?

First, the 23rd of September is the National Day of Saudi Arabia. I was privileged to spend a day with a group of senior Saudi Police Officers last week, hosting a session with the City of London Police on Leadership of Crises, Emergencies and Natura Disasters. I made the point that policing is one of the only public service leadership roles which can involve life-and-death decisions. We discussed and compared examples of many of these instances.

Two further news items were featured in LinkedIn posts on Saturday morning with a common, similar, and sombre theme: deaths due to split-second decisions.

The first is a memorial to constables Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, who were tragically murdered 11 years ago to the day, on duty whilst attending a burglary. The second relates to posts/comments regarding the split-second decision made by a London police officer who killed Chris Kaba. Both instances resulted in charges of murder.

Today, Sunday, the Home Office published National Police Memorial Day,

Not knowing what will be faced:

One of the most challenging adaptive leadership challenges which can be faced by police officers going about their duty is to face the unexpected. Just as some criminals whom police officers face make split-second decisions to use lethal force to resist arrest, officers face situations in which a risk to the life of others and the officers themselves also require split-second decisions. The motivations (or mens rea, to use the correct legal term) will differ. Just as the decision is made in a split second, public opinion will be made not long after this, often within seconds of the occurrence.

Referring to the tragic death of Chris Kaba, the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service to charge the officer with Murder has received widely divergent views. These range simply (and understandably) from the those who support the family whose lives have irrevocably changed in applauding the decision to those who are directly opposed to the decision, with the Metropolitan Commissioner having to meet with large numbers of Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) who are considering returning their firearms authorities.

Both positions are completely understandable. However, there is a case that CPS has considered, but until this issue is listed for public trial, the details will remain unknown other than to those directly affected.

The thinking and actions of the officer are not in the public consciousness at this moment. We should feel for Kaba’s family and the officer and his family and await the evidence.

Adaptability is acknowledging that leadership standards also rely on the rule of law. Accountability is a central feature of both institutional and individual leadership decisions. No one should make a judgment without hearing the evidence.

I was not an AFO in my 30 years of policing, but I routinely led the Silver Command in control room situations, supported by Bronze Tactical Advisors. My role was to weigh up the evidence and facts in coming to strategic decisions in achieving our triple objective of protecting the public (including those in the immediate vicinity), protecting the officer and preserving the protagonist’s life. The evidence will emerge in court. Meanwhile, the most critical part of flexibility is providing the best support possible to the family of Chris Kaba, the officer who has been charged, and his family.

In terms of the leadership skill of adaptability, we know the

    WHO and the WHAT (one person has been tragically killed, and a public servant, who was in a public protection role ( an AFO), has been charged with murder following using a lethal weapon).

    We do NOT know the WHY (or the HOW that preceded it) – Why the deceased was driving a vehicle of interest and why the officer chose to make a decision to fatally injure the driver of the car in question.

    Everything else is pure speculation. We should never judge based on heuristics (our intuition). Both direct parties in a firearms situation will often have to fall back on their ‘best’ intuition, but we must fully understand the circumstances in making those judgements and the degree of reasonableness that existed. Hindsight is often described as “a wonderful thing”, but in crises such as these, it is often not immediately available, although it rightly becomes part and parcel of subsequent accountability reviews.

    Resilience will emerge from the outcome of the trial, and only then can rebuilding (of people’s lives) begin.

    What are the critical aspects of Adaptive Leadership for Responding to Immediate Crisis with Threats to Life?

    Look out for further posts which will highlight some of the strategies and tactics that we can take to help us be better prepared when we face such a crisis. This will also be supported by more detailed resources within the Selfless Leader Knowledge and Practice Hub.

    Further detail will be provided in the first Sunday Roast Newsletter which builds on this initial post.

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