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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Steve Cooper: Why do you believe police officers seek promotion coaching?

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Former police officer Steve Cooper is making a positive difference in the niche area of police promotion coaching. Steve supports police officers achieve their aspiration to Sergeant and Inspector ranks in UK police forces.

Since first teaming up with Steve, his promotion blogs, tips and guidance featured on Police Hour have been read by thousands of serving officers. Seeing the great feedback he receives from newly promoted officers across all the Federated ranks, we caught up with him recently on behalf of our readers to find out a little more about what he does.

Here’s how it went…

Why do you believe officers seek promotion coaching?

Two of the hardest things to handle in life are success and failure. Both are intrinsic to police promotion.

I’d say the reasons officers seek coaching support are different. For some, it’s simply an attractive option, an open goal there to be converted. They don’t really think twice about it as a career or personal development resource. Some are curious; they may have researched coaching or heard of colleagues succeeding after receiving support. I’ve noticed word of mouth recommendations increase, as a result of newly promoted officers referring colleagues on their teams.

“I love what I do”

Others who seek support have been unsuccessful in previous promotion processes. For them, coaching is a last resort, a final attempt to realise their potential. I love what I do, so when I hear of individuals succeeding on boards often after years of trying, it’s extra special because they unlocked the potential they had which was there all the time. By asking a few questions, I can usually identify knowledge gaps, confidence issues and recognise blocks that have been holding them back. A plan going forward from there helps to supercharge their preparation. It also ensures that the approach to their next opportunity is a managed one so that they are able to be at their best.

Hard working and effective operational officers are often uncertain about what it takes to perform well in a promotion selection process. In the absence of meaningful support, officers may seek information from supervisors or speak to colleagues who achieved promotion. Responsibility to check the accuracy of any information always sits with candidates; whilst advice from colleagues is provided with the best intent, much may be wide of the mark, out of date, or simply plain wrong.

“In policing, the rumour mill works overtime!”

Unfortunately the ‘rumour mill’ is often all that is available, so it’s not surprising that frustration, confusion and overload are common themes described by candidates. Here’s how some officers felt before being promoted:

  • “Many find promotion frustrating & confusing. After failing a board previously, Steve demystified the process & made clear what you need to do & learn” (Insp.)
  • “I started out totally mystified of what lay ahead” (Sgt)
  • “Cracking that promotion interview was just something I couldn’t seem to do. I decided to try a different approach, Steve quickly managed to unjumble the chaos & confusion in my head” (Insp.)
  • “I had been given a lot of information from many people wanting to help but this just overwhelmed me. I was considering pulling out of the promotion board” (Sgt)

Most people seek coaching as a means of support to facilitate their transition to a new role. Clearly, the step up from Constable to Sergeant and the jump from Sergeant to Inspector are significant role transitions.

As a candidate aiming for top place in your force promotion boards (begin with the end in mind!) you need to articulate awareness of the role responsibilities. Not everyone can do that initially or at the level required. The good news is that ‘gap’ can be filled very quickly.

How can coaching help?

“A coach is someone who can give correction, without causing resentment.” – John Wooden

Most people are familiar with the concept of coaching from their favourite sports, be it tennis, swimming, cycling or team sports. This is because top athletes know they cannot achieve success at the highest level without a dedicated coach to help them excel.

In the context of police promotion, fear of failure, low confidence, self-doubt and lack of self-belief are often barriers to performance. Sharing worries, fears or uncertainties around these blockers with someone else is personal. Internal obstacles are often more daunting than external ones and competitive selection processes can seem overwhelming for the unprepared.

A trained coach listens and offers guidance in a safe environment. Who wouldn’t want that? Confidentiality is a principle, which underpins coaching. I find that it offers reassurance, helps build trust and opens up conversations. In my experience, once aspiring officers realise that coaching is a confidential means of support; it becomes more about a leap of faith in trying something new.

I’d say the best credential of coaching is: It works.

How would you describe coaching?

I like the simple description of coaching as ‘a conversation with a purpose’.

Coaching complements other types of leadership development. It generally occurs over a short duration and is structured to achieve set goals. In the policing context, it’s about achieving promotion to the next rank. With this in mind, I believe Tim Gallwey’s description of coaching lends itself well:

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potentialto maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

Others have described coaching as ‘like having your own sounding board’ or ‘thinking partner’. I like those descriptions too. It’s how I see myself supporting individuals through a structured conversation.

Police Coaching

Building awareness and responsibility is the essence of coaching. This increased self-awareness, along with improved knowledge and enhanced performance provides a competitive edge.

In terms of describing what I do, I ask questions to challenge and provoke thinking. I listen. I’ll also offer practical guidance. This helps examine issues from different perspectives and to generate options for action. With the precious little time officers have, coaching encourages smart work through targeted action.

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry D. Thoreau

Without you taking action, coaching is just talking. What will you do?

If I were a fly on the wall watching a coaching session, what would I see?

You would see two people having a confidential and focused conversation, which helps learning to occur. Here’s some example subjects you would hear being discussed, as shown in my bespoke ‘Coaching Success Wheel’ for policing:

Police Coaching Wheel

I ask questions to identify knowledge gaps and offer practical guidance from extensive police promotion experience to help fill these gaps. I might also provide examples of promotion board questions with suggested content for high scoring responses.

Individuals who choose to download a digital promotion toolkit to trigger and support their thinking are beginning the process of coaching themselves ahead of a promotion opportunity.

What is it like to be coached by you?

That’s a really good question! Coaches think of people in terms of their potential not their performance. The focus is on future possibilities not past mistakes. I believe the following insight supports a meaningful answer using newly promoted Inspector’s own words:

“I will admit I was a bit sceptical about coaching/mentoring, I was not sure what to expect but compared to a previous unsuccessful interview, I felt completely different, more relaxed. Let’s just say the ‘light bulb’ came on when you started giving examples. You should not underestimate how important that was to me. Talking/discussing as we did, made me feel I was not alone in the process. Though I had attempted the Inspector promotion board twice before, you still come into the process on your own & scratching your head. To have someone wanting me to succeed & to discuss issues/topics was a huge benefit & made me feel you were keeping me on track. I have already recommended you to people who have approached me wanting to know the golden secret to my success.”

This insight is similar to feedback many other officers have been kind enough to provide. I learn a lot from this kind of feedback and reflect on it to be the best coach I can be.

I believe coaching works because laser beam focus is brought to bear on the important things for you, your potential, your opportunities and your goals. The underlying intent of every coaching interaction is to build self-belief and give you the tools you need to be successful. Scepticism about coaching is still common, but my job is to provide support to enhance the skills and strengths individuals already hold.

So, what’s the difference between coaching and mentoring?

Coaching and mentoring are both conversations. The purpose is to improve skills or performance, realise individual potential or personal ambitions for the future, or a combination of these. The term coach/mentor is now widely accepted because skills required to ensure good practice in each discipline are similar and do overlap in many respects.


I prefer the term ‘coach/mentor’ because it incorporates some wider aspects of how I support promotion candidates.

Thanks Steve, any last comments?

Emotional Intelligence, particularly self-awareness, is a desirable behaviour for police leaders (as identified in the CVF!). For those taking a promotion opportunity seriously, coaching as part of wider CPD is a great way to develop this competency.

I’d also encourage you to allow yourself time to become ‘match fit’ for a promotion process. That message feels like a bit of a scratched record, but I do meet and speak with lots of good operational cops who didn’t do that first time around! Life and other commitments tend to dilute your focus away from your goal, so prioritising time pays dividends. The good news is that massive gains in awareness and confidence can be achieved quite quickly. The rest is polishing and refining.

Last but not least, I consider myself very fortunate to have had some outstanding supervisors, managers and leaders over the years. People who cared enough to mentor and coach me through challenges and opportunities in my life. My last comment is a quote with those individuals fresh in my thoughts:

“We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.” – George Adams

If you found this article helpful or you’d like more guidance on promotion, why not get started with a FREE downloadable guide? – ‘7 things Promotion Boards Also Look For’. You can also use the code POLICEHOUR20 at checkout, to save 20% on any Rank Success digital promotion guides or bundles.

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Trevor Sherwood
Trevor Sherwood
Trevor Sherwood is the editor and news reporter covering national and international news crime and policing news. Tweet your news and views to @TrevSherwoodPH

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