Situations pertaining to leaders #3

In 2008, a new police sergeant arrived in a disadvantaged suburb of a major Australian city. He had been groomed for the line command with a stint in a neighbouring district, but it didn’t prepare him for what he found in his new patch.

Each Thursday night, hundreds of youths from different local ethnic groups, as well as agitators from more distant suburbs, would congregate in the local shopping centre and engage in violent brawls.

Residents were frightened for their lives and abandoned the shopping centre, while shopkeepers faced each Thursday night with dread. Security guards employed by shopping centre management did what they’d been trained to do: shut down the trouble-makers and move them on, often meeting violence with violence, abuse with abuse.

One or two senior officers, long-timers, counselled acceptance. “It’s been like this for years,” they told the sergeant.

But the sergeant felt otherwise. He set out to have things be different, and soon the slow and steady work of building affiliation began.

First up were the security guards from the shopping centre. The sergeant went to them and made a request. He requested they speak respectfully to the youths when having them leave or move along. If a youth didn’t do what was required, he told the guards they should take whatever actions they were entitled to take. Thus, he made a request and reaffirmed their discretion in one stroke.

This was the beginning of the transformation the sergeant wrought.


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12 thoughts on “Situations pertaining to leaders #3

  1. Now here is another interesting leadership issue. Assuming that the things this sergeant did ultimately solved the Thursday night mall problem, yes it is a leadership success story. But did it solve the root cause problem that led to these Thursday night altercations? Of course not because that is such a bigger issue. So the question might be how often would be (or could be) leaders don’t act because they think it’s their job to solve the (potentially insoluable) big problem and therefore they miss the opportunity to solve a small problem which might have trickle down benefits? How do you identify which problems to solve?


    • He had to deal with what was in front of him, a breakdown in law and order, suffering shopkeepers, an all-round “toxic situation”, as he described it. I don’t see that a person contemplating being a leader is required to analyse or psychologise a situation. If they do, it can be just another way of rationalising or justifying not acting.

      Tom, there’s so much more I want to tell you about this man and what he created which goes to your question. I want to tell you about how the group he built consisting of the leaders of the “rival” ethnic groups, the security guards, the Council rangers, the Deputy School Principals, Rotary members, the Church ministers and youth clubs would, every Thursday night, walk the community together (“together” was the theme word for everything they did, he said). And about how once they’d calmed things down, he had the youth clubs do a survey of thousands of youths about what was missing for them and they responded that they wanted a place to dance and job-seeking assistance. So now, Thursday nights in the shopping centre are about hip-hop classes and a six-weekly dance spectacular, and about job-seeking seminars.

      My problem is that I’m feeling hamstrung because I want his story to be a centrepiece of the book and yet I also want to share it in full colour straightaway. If I jump the gun and tell all the stories on the blog before the book’s even been written, does it matter? I don’t know to handle this. Have you got some ideas?


      • Yes, exactly. Rather than be daunted by the problem, he broke it into solvable pieces and fixed what he could. So no, a person contemplating being a leader doesn’t need to analyse a situation, but needs to somehow assess it to say, I can’t fix that, what can I fix? Maybe a way to approach your disclosure dilemma is to look at it that way. How this sergeant may or may not have approached it and then you could go step by step as one thing led to another? I probably wouldn’t tell all on the blog just now.


      • OK, so do as he did … approach the issues such as disclosure and any others as they emerge and deal with them one by one? That helps. Thanks!

        One of his “secrets” (though they weren’t secrets at all because he was remarkably open and frank) was the word “opportunity”. He used it often, and in varying contexts. I think he didn’t view the situation as a problem to be fixed, so much as an opportunity to be created from.


  2. That simple? I suspect he watched what very one was doing and then took a decision . He would have had topic up with the ‘no can do ‘from his own team. I wonder how long it took ? And for that to be such a success he would have had to step away.
    I am looking at a situation where there is not was it that simple! bet he explored the situtation for a bit his own team against him. Not enough support for court support service, I’ve been letting it drag on and moaning & doing nothing, pretending I can support, so the situation worsens. Yesterday I rang the boss (ceo is acting boss) and said we need to make a decision, it’s not possible to fit court support in on top of everything else His response
    ‘flick me an email & I’ll ph department’ so I did.
    me an email, I’ll ph the department’ unexpected response !!


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