Accelerating leadership development for senior police: The power of mentorship and the pivotal role played by superiors

Dr Shane Doyle1, Associate Professor  Olav Muulink1, Associate Professor  Linda  Colley1

1Central Queensland University, Brisbane , Australia

The population of commissioned officers in Australia is highly homogeneous in ways that have significant implications for leadership development within those ranks. Commissioned officers can be broadly characterised as older, white males, who joined policing early and who have steadfastly remained with one agency.


To provide insight into their development as leaders, stratified random sampling involving face-to-face interviews were undertaken with 20 Queensland Police Service (QPS) commissioned officers. Officers described their varied and rich ‘lived experiences’ which detailed factors that promoted, and hindered, their development as leaders. This research showed that the way officers learnt leadership broadly reflected the 70:20:10 learning model—but the ‘reflection’ comes with a certain degree of irony.


Rather than mirroring a deliberate policy that guides officers in mapping out their leadership development strategy, the 70:20:10 breakdown reflects the fact that the majority of leadership development is done, in the field (70%) instead of the classroom (10%), in a ‘sink or swim’ action learning.  Mentorship (the remaining 20%) is valued, and at times, highly effective, but is not being handled in any systematic or effective way.  Negative mentorship (learning about what NOT to do, as much as what to do) is not uncommon.


This research has implications for how police agencies go about developing their leaders. In particular, the research highlights the pivotal role played by superiors in accelerating, or potentially derailing, an officers’ development as a leader. Put simply, superiors (as good mentors) paired with suitable challenges and adequate support, create good leaders.


About 6 years ago, and after a policing career spanning  three  decades, Shane plucked up enough courage to plunge head-first into the world of academia. Shane is now a full-time lecturer at CQ University and holds a PhD (CQU), a Master of Business (HRM) (QUT), a Graduate Certificate in Applied Management (AIPM) and a Bachelor of Business (Management) (QUT),

Shane’s sworn experience in the Queensland Police Service (QPS) included 15 years at the rank of Inspector. His operational postings included stints as a criminal investigator, general duties officer, regional duty Inspector and district Inspector, in country and city areas.

Shane also possesses significant experience in police education and training, project management and policy roles. His corporate experience includes senior leadership positions in Drug and Alcohol, State Traffic Support, Education and Training, Counter Terrorism and Information & Communications Technology (ICT).

Shane’s research interest lie in the area of police leadership, including his recently completed PhD thesis titled: “How senior police leaders learn the art of leadership”.

Australia & New Zealand Society of Evidence Based Policing

The Australia & New Zealand Society of Evidence Based Policing (ANZSEBP) was formed in April 2013 in Brisbane, Australia. The ANZSEBP is a police practitioner-led Society. The mission of the ANZSEBP is to develop, disseminate and advocate for police to use scientific research (“the evidence”) to guide best practice in all aspects of policing. The ANZSEBP Chairperson serves on the Executive Board of the British Society of Evidence Based Policing, ensuring that the ANZSEBP works cooperatively with an international group of police to advance evidence based policing.

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