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Developing police leaders: Does experience in isolated areas build leadership capacity and what role does mentoring play?
The scant scholarly attention to how police leaders develop is surprising, given the critical importance of a cadre of capable police leaders to maintain public confidence and deal with challenges in an increasingly complex policing environment. There is some consensus amongst scholars that police acquire most key skills in the field, as opposed to the classroom. Establishing relationships, including mentoring, particularly from superiors, also plays an important role in learning. However, this paper questions how this can occur when leaders are removed to rural and remote postings. Policing in Queensland produces its own diverse set of challenges, none the least being a state so geographically dispersed. Physical isolation, from resources and support, brings with it its own set of policing challenges, which can, in theory, make or break an officer’s leadership. The literature remains largely silent on how experiences in isolated areas can build good police leaders. Mentoring, as the other important piece in the leadership development puzzle, has similarly escape scholarly interest – in terms of how it mediates the process. The current research, situated in the Queensland Police Service (QPS), presents a case study to address this focus. In-depth interviews were conducted with a highly representative group of 20 commissioned officers, who, when faced with a step pyramid organisation, had managed to successfully navigate a slow and at times arduous climb into senior leadership positions. Officers describe commanding major incidents and natural disasters in isolated areas and how their leadership blossomed, or was hindered, as a result. The role mentoring played in their development, against the backdrop of isolated outposts, where support and resources could be hours away, were also highlighted in officers’ narratives.