For all practical purposes, my first job out of college was to head the Trivandrum City Police as its Commissioner.
Prior to that, I had only undergone the IPS training and done a piddly 7 months in a field assignment. But compared to me, my ACPs were battle-hardened guys with 20 plus years of field experience – naturally, they were somewhat skeptical that a newbie still in the twenties could lead them effectively.
And their skepticism showed. Whenever I shared new ideas, usually their tone was – “Yeah, that is good in theory but policing doesn’t work that way.”
I figured that the solution was not talking, but action.
So I told them, “If you ever face a tough law and order problem, just let me know – I will come and handle it.” In fact, I started facing most rioting situations personally – what would I do sitting in the Police Control Room anyway?
That changed their behavior but one of my ACPs still remained skeptical. However, one day, he had to face a mob that blocked the National Highway to Kanyakumari. Senior politicians saw an opportunity to provoke and heavy violence was expected.
That day, my ACP called me and said, “Sir, the situation is too volatile. Can you come to the spot?” After that day, I noticed that his behavior also thawed a little.
I realized that the top management can only give you a leadership role but respect and acceptance have to be earned – they can’t be mandated.
And the only way to earn respect is to be willing to dirty your hands and do the hard things, when that is what it takes.
Leadership is not a ticket to comfort and luxury – it is an obligation to face the first bullet.