Yesterday, Chief Constable Nick Gargan was required to retire or resign by his PCC, under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. http://www.avonandsomerset-pcc.gov.uk/News-and-Events/News-Archive/2015/Aug/PCC-starts-process-for-Chief-Constable-Nick-Gargans-resignation.aspx That he should resign is pretty much universally agreed. That he has not, is unsuprising. Nick Gargan’s rise in Policing was fast and sure. By the time he was heading up the National Police Improvement Agency, his career seemed secure and there was much talk of him being a future Commissioner. So how did it come to this inauspicious juncture in just a few short years? The story I am about to recount features an act of adultery. I think it important, before I go on, to note that none of the allegations originally made about Nick Gargan were found, whilst the investigation did find behaviour that is unacceptable, there was no evidence of any behaviour linked to the events herein. I strongly believe every person is entitled to a private life and the purpose of this blog is not to examine the evidence but to ask why it happened.
Bathsheba syndrome is a relatively new concept, coined by Americans Ludwig and Longenecker in their paper on the ethical failure of successful leaders. Although even the naming of this syndrome displays, to my mind, a lack of understanding of basic power play. The Bathsheba link comes from the Biblical story of King David – a good man, an ethical and unswerving man, who was granted great power because of his deeds. He sends all of his soldiers to war but uncharacteristically, he doesn’t go too. Whilst they are working hard for him, he is wandering at ease through his Palace. He sees Bathsheba, the wife of one of his most trusted employees. Her husband is with the other men, at the war front.
David sleeps with Bathsheba because he wants to and because there is no one around to stop him or check his behaviour. This is perhaps shocking behaviour from a man who has thus far shown himself to be morally and ethically true, but the real issue begins from here on in. David didn’t need power to sleep with Bathsheba (although it often helps!) but he did need power for the decisions he made next. Bathsheba falls pregnant and David creates a ruse to cover his own behaviour. He calls her husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from the battlefield, lavishes praise on him and tells him to take the night off and sleep with his wife. Uriah refuses, as it is the practice of all the people not to sleep with their wives whilst they are at war. He stands by the rules and refuses David’s apparent kindness. This leaves David with a problem. He cannot pass off Bathsheba’s child as Uriah’s and is forced to take further extreme action. He orders Uriah to be posted in a position which is very vulnerable and manipulates the fighting in such a way that Uriah and his accompanying soldiers are killed. Then he takes Bathsheba as one of his wives.
David appears to have become relaxed in his role as King and somehow has behaved in a way he would never have done previously and indeed would not expect of his people. (You may see why I think this should really be called the David Syndrome – as more women reach powerful leadership positions, we will doubtless see such lapses are not confined to men, but in this story the responsibility is all David’s!)
It might be a quote from Spiderman, but Stan Lee really did coin a perfect phrase – with great power comes great responsibility. The Code of Ethics is firmly embedded in Policing now and in fact CC Gargan was the first to announce his Force was adopting the Code, even before the work had finished properly. Such was his keen attitude to bring change to his Force. It is telling that in the IPCC report https://www.ipcc.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Documents/investigation_commissioner_reports/Chief_Constable_Nicholas_Gargan.pdf all witnesses interviewed who worked directly with Nick Gargan spoke positively of him and said they enjoyed his presence in their workplace. It was the people slightly more removed but still in the organisation who appeared to be unhappy. Leaders cannot rely on their personality alone. Especially if they might, intentionally or otherwise, use their personality to smooth the way for behaviours which they would find unacceptable in their colleagues. The Policing landscape has changed hugely in recent years ands there’s a lot more change to come. I don’t imagine there was much ethics input on Nick Gargan’s Senior Command Course though maybe someone from his cohort could enlighten me. Certainly the new Senior Command Course seeks to address such matters with sessions on culture, unconscious bias, ethics and some interesting input via Olivier Mythodrama – for a snippet, see the clip playing here http://www.oliviermythodrama.com/
The College of Policing is clearly aware that more needs to be done, both to encourage individuality in our Police leaders but also to support them to uphold the high ethical standards we must expect of them. Last year, the College commissioned an exploratory study into Chief Officer misconduct in Policing. The study, available here http://whatworks.college.police.uk/Research/Documents/150317_Chief_officer_misconduct_FINAL_%20REPORT.pdf produced some very interesting, if not really suprising, information. If you don’t want to read the whole report – although I highly recommend you do – I would draw your attention to two points in the summary on Page 1. Firstly, that there is a huge appetite for change. Secondly, the finding that absence of challenge led to more unethical behaviour. I think this is key. Let me take you back to David and Bathsheba, because the story didn’t end where I left it.
Bathsheba’s baby died, which David took to be punishment for his behaviour, but this was still not the end of the story. Nathan was a trusted advisor who had the best interests of the nation at heart. He did not shirk from his responsibilities, even when it meant he had to have uncomfortable conversations with David. Nathan told David about a man in the city who was very poor. He had one lamb, which he treated like a child. He loved that lamb and it was his joy. A rich man, who had several lambs of his own, took the poor man’s lamb to feast upon. David was outraged and said they must find this rich man – he must pay the poor man back plus more. Nathan then explained that the rich man was David.
Leadership is not easy and success can lead people to overestimate their ability to manipulate outcomes. It is human nature to err and good people will always be at risk of making bad decisions. What appears to have been missing from the Nick Gargan story is a trusted circle who could positively and confidently challenge. There was plenty of dissent, but it was removed from him and largely appears to have been ignored. Dissent is the grit in the Oyster. If we want a pearl, we must accept the grit. I hope to see the Senior Command Course cover the need to challenge colleagues but also the requirement for leaders to listen to dissent. It is not always a negative element and can almost always be used for some positive. In the case of Nick Gargan, maybe the unfortunate details which came out in the IPCC report could have been entirely avoided and a whole workforce might have been saved the difficult times they’ve had to endure.