Developing a future pipeline of leaders is critical for most organisations. But in the police service, where leaders are required to display a level of organisational commitment not usually expected of most other professions, it takes on a new significance.

In policing, leaders must possess a wide variety of skills, such as the ability to gather and process knowledge required to make informed decisions, communicate clearly with different stakeholders, use authority properly and understand when to command and when to delegate. They must have the skills to motivate and help their subordinates shape the future direction of their careers, while adding value to the organisation.

Sharjah Police and its commander in chief, Brigadier Saif Mohd Al Zari Al Shamsi, faced the same challenges as other forces when it came to choosing and developing leaders. But it opted to address the issue by implementing a comprehensive, and unusual, programme that combines psychometric assessments with training and development.

“The UAE government has a ‘people first’ ethos. Investing in people is an important component of the country’s development strategy,” Al Shamsi tells People Management in his office at police headquarters in the third largest Emirate, around 40 kilometres north of Dubai.

Building a leadership pipeline is also a critical element of this nationwide strategy, he adds. And when it comes to identifying leadership potential in cadets and young officers, Al Shamsi strongly believes that guesswork should be taken out of the equation as much as possible. “It requires a scientific approach, and this is why we decided to work with a consultant to help us assess our officers’ skills and personalities, so we can match them to the right tasks,” he says.

Dr Antoine Eid, CEO of Beirut-based Leapership Consultants Group, was brought in to introduce Sharjah Police to Emergenetics, a brain-based psychometric assessment that highlights thinking and behaviour, giving a clear understanding of how people live, work, communicate and interact.

The nature-versus-nurture debate is as old as psychology itself but, according to the thinking behind the programme, a combination of genetic tendencies and behaviours that have been “modified through socialisation” contribute to who we are at work and what sort of potential we have.

The idea of psychometric testing may not be new, but it is unusual for an Emirati police force to use it (Sharjah is believed to be the first), and certainly to entrust key promotion decisions to its results.

The process measures four thinking attributes – analytical, structural, social and conceptual – and three behavioural attributes: expressiveness, assertiveness and flexibility. “It is important for us to look at thinking and behaviour separately,” says Eid. “Based on 30 years of neuroscience research, people have certain aspects of their personality that are more difficult to change, and then there are aspects of human behaviour that are easier to change.

“By understanding these elements, an organisation’s management can focus training and development initiatives to address specific goals, and assign people to the right positions.”

Al Shamsi says around 80 officers, including graduates of the Sharjah Police Academy and lieutenants being considered for promotion, have undertaken the assessment and training. He hopes it will also be adopted more widely in the academy: “Our plan is to eventually incorporate this into the curriculum, so we can identify potential leaders as early as possible. This will complement other existing programmes to help us further develop future leaders.”

The programme is carried out through a series of assessments, followed by group training and development workshops that promote experiential learning by incorporating interactive activities, games and simulations of real-world situations. Some of the officers considered to have high leadership potential are also selected to join a brain-based leadership development programme at Cambridge University in the UK.

“Police officers are not new to assessments. Throughout their life in the academy and during their career they undergo a series of assessments, such as IQ testing and abstract reasoning, which, according to them, are extremely boring,” Al Shamsi says.

The other downside of traditional assessment tools, according to him, is that they fail to provide the kind of indicators managers need to get a clearer picture of their officers’ aptitude and ability. “The training and development workshops are customised based on the results of the assessment. They are designed around the participants having fun, but learning at the same time. So far, the feedback has been positive,” he says.

At the end of every workshop, a report is prepared detailing the strengths and weaknesses of each participant. It also makes recommendations about which roles officers will be best suited for. “Through the report, we’re able to identify who is a better fit for administrative work, for example, and who will do better in the field,” says Al Shamsi.

“Aside from giving us data to predict who can assume leadership roles, we have also noticed the programme has benefited our officers on both a professional and personal level. Two of them told us how they are able to interact better with superiors, subordinates and people outside the workplace because they now understand how nature and nurture influence human development.

“In a law enforcement institution, where there is a fixed structure in hierarchy and the order of command is very clear, there is a tendency to spend a lot of time and energy trying to change behaviour. But I believe harnessing people’s strengths and passions can lead to better performance.”

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