Mutiny of the Mounty

This is originally a post on Psychē, but since it is a little more ‘op-ed‘ than my usual pieces there, I thought I would cross-post. Also note, this is a longer version of the letter to the editor I submitted to the Ottawa Citizen.

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I have been watching with interest the tenure of William Elliott, the first Commissioner of our Royal Canadian Mounted Police who was not a RCMP officer. I am not surprised at this recent mutiny (that is what it is) but not because of anything to do with Mr. Elliott’s management style.

The Allegations

First, some perspective on the allegations against him: One of the biggest complaints is that Mr. Elliott is a petulant –some say passionate– boss, prone to outbursts and paper-throwing (unsubstantiated). It seems to me that the typical beat cop is subjected to more petulance from the public, or even risk of physical harm on a daily basis, than anyone sitting in a board room. You’d hope that the veteran officers reporting to Mr. Elliott were made of sterner stuff, and able to deal with petulance!  This is why I think this is an excuse, not the real reason they want Mr. Elliott out.

The second allegation suggests –more subtly– that Mr. Elliott isn’t capable to lead the force. Much has been made of him being a career bureaucrat, not a police officer. If we extend this logic, we would argue that iTunes dominance of the music business now means Steve Jobs shouldn’t lead Apple because he doesn’t have the requisite experience in the music business. Closer to home, do we suggest a veteran officer can’t lead the RCMP if they haven’t had experience in special weapons and tactics (SWAT), counter-fraud and forgery, musical ride, or any other one of the specialized functions in the RCMP? Top executives need to have the skill to learn what is important, and fast! A career RCMP officer may be good for morale, but the person that leads the RCMP needs to be a skilled bureaucrat first and foremost. Supporting this observation is the fact that the RCMP hasn’t fallen apart with Mr. Elliott in the top seat, and seems to be doing a better job keeping out of trouble (if you really are stuck on credentials, it is also worth pointing out that the RCMP enforces the laws of the country, and Mr. Elliott IS a lawyer).

Is the real reason  for the mutiny that someone is tired of waiting for their shot at the top job? This seems to me the most plausible explanation.

Mutinies Don’t End Well

Leadership change via mutiny doesn’t lead to desired results for anyone involved. Mr. Elliott’s job either becomes more challenging if he stays, or he loses it entirely. However this plays out, the RCMP further establishes its reputation as an organization that is stuck in its ways.

And then there is what happens to the new person if they succeed in their coup d’état: you still have all the same problems, but now you have nowhere to hide. After a 2-3 month grace period, employees will start wondering why nothing has improved with the change in command. While Mr. Elliott provided a convenient scapegoat for all the new requirements placed upon the force, the new Commissioner will see that the pressures that motivated Mr. Elliott are still present and now the buck stops with them. They will also have helped foster a new culture where mutiny is a valid means to affect change at the top, and even more organizational energy will be spent on politicking that before.

What To Do?

It is no surprise that Mr. Elliott has faces opposition from the start. He came in as a ‘fixer’ in 2007 when past commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli left the force rocked by scandal and in crisis, and nobody likes to be ‘fixed’. The RCMP has a strong identity, much of it deservedly positive, but this also gives it a strong immune system when it comes to change. I’ve seen a new ‘outside’ CEO come in to a large organization in crisis (Nortel), and the strong reaction that it will illicit from those that want to protect the status quo.

Mutineers have to recognize this, and decide where their true motives lie. Are they really trying to make the RCMP a more effective organization, or are they trying to promote themselves? Those that can see the latter motivating their behaviour should remember the oath they took, and realize that their job is to help protect citizens, not promote their careers (maybe consider a job in the private sector).

Those that truly believe that changes Mr. Elliott is directing are going to harm the RCMP’s ability to protect citizens and enforce the laws of the land, need to make this very clear. The timing is perfect for them to give Mr. Elliott their support and explain where they see lines being crossed. By doing so, they can avoid a mutiny that will hurt the RCMP, and help create a more effective organization.

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