Article written by Erwin Van Waeleghem - commissioner of Local Police Leuven (Belgium) who is going to present at Integral European Conference 2016 via Integral European Conference 2016
As social innovator within the Belgian police force I would like to share the start of an evolutionary route, currently occurring in this hierarchical organization.
As you might know, Belgium, including its political institutions and police force, are currently going through some tough times, and are receiving a lot of criticism from abroad, as a consequence of the terrorist attacks in Paris (November 13th, 2015) and Brussels (March 22nd, 2016).
This criticism is not all unfair and yes, as in any other free country, a number of issues are raising valid questions. The governmental structure of Belgium is quite complex, which has a lot to do with our historical background since our independence. We have 1 federal government and 4 regional governments (Flanders, Wallonia, German speaking community and Brussels capital region), 11 provincial governments and 589 mayors and municipal councils. Historically there is a wide diversity of political parties. Governing our country, on every level, is constant very hard work in finding workable -not always the most logical- compromises, consequently resulting in high bureaucracy and status importance.
Our police organization also has its history. In 2000, following the known Dutroux case, government chose to ‘unify’ the three main police forces of that time (gendarmerie, local police forces and judicial police). The new police organization is based on one federal police force, and 196 local police forces, spread in co-working municipalities.
This re-structuring has brought several good things, finding their fundaments in a new ‘Excellent Policing’-model. Yet, the part that wasn’t tackled from the start, and which is quite important in any re-structuring, was integrating the 3 organizational cultures.
16 years later, we have a professional, uniform working police landscape, where most people do their utmost best, where the large majority is still well engaged towards the main purpose and clients, however not always working under optimal circumstances, with constant budget cuts. Unfortunately, we are also still working under 3 different very ego, title, status and procedure driven cultures.
Although there are naturally lots of ‘green’ dots, in working with and for the public, we are still a very hierarchical, top down managed institute, where co-workers are still talked about as ‘subordinates’. They are still conditioned to listen to and do what higher ranked ‘leaders’ are telling them to do, or else...
I have been working in this environment for 35 years. Having been part of this blue/orange organization hasn’t always been easy for someone with a more liberating mindset.
When I first started as beat copper, aged 20, I, once in a while, actively rebelled against the very directive, autocratic leadership-style. I always wondered why higher ranks acted disrespectful and never listened to those who had real contact with the public on a day to day bases. We became used to being ordered around, and mostly out of fear for disciplinary sanctions, we never disputed that. Of course, a lot of senior officers in those days really had the best intentions too.
I decided to join the senior officer’s level, with the intention of doing things differently if I ever got the chance.
After a 5 year training period, university included, I became a senior officer myself, in a local police force, one year before the unification was implemented. Where I thought I could finally start making a difference, I was soon told to create more distance and distrust people. So I too got drawn into a we/them culture, although I tried to ‘lead’ in my own liberating way within the teams that I was responsible for.
Five years ago, it really started to dawn on me that I needed to try and bring back my true Self and break free from that ego/title/status-chain. However, when I started to share my insights on raising engagement by trusting, respecting and appreciating our co-workers, I found a lot of resentment, fear for loss of control and Ego’s on my path.
I didn’t reach any of my co-senior officers then, so I started to share my ideas with other, more likeminded people outside my job. I soon felt that I was not alone, and had positive hopes for an evolution in that direction, even in the police force.
Last year I started a new role in the local police force of Leuven. Although still leading a very hierarchical institute, with several layers of control, the Chief of police in Leuven showed true interest in the teal self-leadership ideas I talked about during my interview.
On my first day with the team, I told everyone from the start I would put 200% trust in them, since I had no reason to distrust them.
This was the start of my quest to try and inspire the team-members. During the following nine months I, unconsciously, would keep planting seeds. This resulted in my team having the right mindset when we started our evolutionary teal oriented project.
With the support of likeminded seniors, we started this project in October last year. My team’s middle management took up a more advisory coaching role and all co-workers, including a number of sceptics, willingly participated. This team of 20, mostly civilian administrators, are constantly making a real go of this and meet with each other daily.
Up to October this team in reality consisted of 4 silo’s, where people didn’t feel very much connected with people from other 3 silo’s. Together we turned this around in a very short time, and now all of them, even the sceptics, have taken up a new positive mindset, have found their own leadership qualities and are constantly supporting each other in finding the right solutions. To them, I am no longer the department head but their spokesperson, coach and advisor. We never look for consensus and consent is the bases for our group decisions. Does it work? Yes! For sure!