Episode 5 of What Leaders Know is Part 1 of a two-part conversation with Assistant Commissioner, Queensland Police Service, Shane Chelepy. Shane is Operations Commander of the COVID-19 Command with QPS. In our two-part conversation, Shane takes us on his journey to becoming an accomplished and successful leader within the Queensland Police Service.
Episode 5 is Part 1 of this conversation. Shane talks about his early journey into the adventures of policing, quickly tempered by significant early learning experiences. Shane discusses his exposure to the courageous leadership of some senior police who led the critical cultural change in the wake of the Fitzgerald Inquiry. He shares that this led him to focus on excelling as he grew a leadership career across a diverse range of the organisation’s operations and Commands.
Shane shares stories, insights and leadership takeaways gained across the roles that became the platform for his later promotions into the executive roles of Assistant Commissioner.
And finally, in his wrap up of Part 1 of a two-part conversation, Shane speaks candidly about some of his failures, and what he learnt about leadership from these experiences.
Across this Episode, Shane shares great takeaways from his own experiences that will resonate for those on their own journeys to leadership.
In season two of what leaders know, I ask each of my guests.
How has leadership changed you given you have been on a journey of leadership for much of your career, I'm interested in learning how leadership has changed you.
Thanks, Penny. Look, I think leadership has been just like a lifelong journey for me. I think I'm forever changing. I've become a lot more comfortable with my leadership role over time.
It's interesting that over time people move from feeling that they are leading people. People are following them to the fact that they're actually facilitating that process, and they're on the journey with people.
So many young people when they're in school, say they want to join the police service. What's your earliest memory of wanting to join the service? And what was the appeal?
I was in the construction industry before joining the police service. I know right through school, I just wanted to do something different every day.
I was walking along the beach at Currumbin and he said, Have you ever thought about joining the police service? If you want to do something different every day and that was it, that was that was what hooked me. The police. Very similar armed services. You seem to be doing things for the community. My whole family has always been community orientated. Um, so it was just a natural fit.
And when you say your whole family was community oriented, can you expand on that?
What can you recall to be your first insight into good leadership? And how did this influence you in your early years in the service?
When you first joined the police service, I don't think you think about leadership. It's too exciting You've got to learn about these new things. You're helping people every day, whether or not you're going to a crime that's been committed.
It's a totally different organization to what it was back then.
So when you look back now as a very accomplished and successful leader. And you think of those people in that time. Can you talk about one specific area where you observed those key people really implementing that cultural change?
Definitely. Look, it was about the same time this was occurring. I was only just starting my academic learnings and leadership at the same time as well. And back then it was very much You're a style of leader.
And I remember as an Acting Sergeant, sitting in a room of very senior people who in that time you really respected and didn't question their leadership in any way.
And I remember this group of senior police came out and spoke to us about what the future could look like.
So is it fair to say that that has informed some of your own leadership style.
Absolutely. That was my first exposure.
Now I want to talk about 2004 when you were appointed as a commissioned officer and you took up the role of state water police coordinator until 2008.
Queensland's such a massive state. What were the challenges of stepping into your first role with statewide responsibilities?
Thanks, Penny. This was this was a really interesting time for me. Up until this point in time, I've been a leader within a single geographic area.
So one of my strengths always, talked about was my ability to get out and speak to everyone every day.
And that included the way we did our business, the type of vessels, the way we maintained our vessels and really bringing a level of professionalism to it and modernizing the water place.
What I found at this point in time, it was really important to have that clear vision of what I wanted to achieve.
It was really interesting to be able to then need to connect that back to where we were going and where the service was going.
You know, up until that, the water police always seemed to be this little was not that little quite large area, but sort of to the side of the organization. And I quickly learned that the staff didn't quite know where they fitted into the broader organization.
I was able to give them that level of comfort and that connection. Now that's not a do it once and forget about it. I can remember my wife regularly reminds me of the I would trip this state every second week. Every third week I've been another town sleeping on a different boat or in a different hotel, and that was really important to is about going out would arrive in town.
When a lay person such as myself, thinks of policing, and particularly in the Queensland Police Service, it's such a complex organization. Can you give an overview of water police?
Definitely. Water police hold a number of roles.
The Queensland Police Service is responsible for search and rescue across this vast state. We have both on water and land and the water police coordinate that. Now we take a coordination role.
It's very technical role of working out the best search areas to find people based on their movements. But on water, the water police also take that role, but they also take a search role. They coordinate with our volunteer fire and rescue organizations and other organizations, both federal and state, to run search and rescue operations and actually recover people alive and and save lives. That's one of our key functions.
Your role shifted from state water police to Counterterrorism Strategic Policy Branch. I don't know if people are generally aware of the breadth of exposure the police service provides across a leadership career. I imagine it makes for an interesting journey. How did you feel when you learned your new promotion came with a pretty significant pivot? And how did you work through the challenges of learning about counterterrorism responses within QPS while building a new team in that initial period?
Thanks, Penny. This was a really interesting time for me.
This is a time where, as a leader, I said about the water police before having served in the water police, I was always able to draw back on some technical knowledge that I held.
I've been a specialist officer most times in my leadership roles when I went across the counter terrorism strategic policy branch as the superintendent, and that was the first superintendent ever to be appointed into that role. Up until that time, it had been inspectors, and it was the first probably time in my leadership career that
I didn't know anyone in that branch when I went there, and I distinctly remember. And I tell this story a bit after the first week with the number of acronyms that were thrown at me, both national acronyms, state acronyms.
Because in that first week, when I got there and people were talking about policy mechanisms and these national acronyms, you started to self doubt about "Well, I'm the dumbest person in the room here."
It's not about being dumb, but I don't understand. And how could I possibly be as knowledgeable as the person sitting across the table over the next few weeks?
So was that policy unit exposure your earliest exposure to governance?
Absolutely. I honestly say today and I was actually having a conversation with one of my team this morning, and
So up until then, I'd very much focused about leading internally and delivering internal priorities. I definitely focused around delivering community priorities in the Water Police
It was around those intergovernmental relationships where you might take a position to a national forum.
But at the same time, you may as a leader, have to make that decision to trade that away and give to get the better outcome.
So what's a learning mindset for any listeners who are on their own journeys to leadership?
Can you talk about some of the leadership insights you gained at this stage of your career?
Thanks, Penny. Again. I think this is a really rewarding piece of leadership and it was different again.
We developed the first ever national countering violent extremism strategy for the country. Countering violent extremism was just starting to appear on the national agenda in Australia. It was very, very challenging. There wasn't a lot known about it, and you really did have different views to take into consideration.
Outside of the states and territories, you had academic views. You had those of non government agencies to take into perspective international views to take into perspective.
We were represented. Ministers across the country were also represented at these committees. So leadership in this space really became about influence.
You know, you have different states and territories had different views on the way things will be to be delivered.
Being able to have a good story again, being able to have that vision and say, You know, that's what we're trying to achieve here and not lose sight of the fact that what we were trying to achieve was at first and say to people we probably won't get this right the first time around.
And would you say that it's less successful as a leadership style?
Yeah, I agree with that. I think these days the big challenge now is I think people are set on agendas or set on parts. And I think if you could come back away from what the personal agenda is and come back to what you're achieving for the community, I think you could walk by a lot of those personal agendas.
You have the many lenses of a very mature leader. Through one of those lenses. you do see the narrative in what's happening, and you can share a narrative a story, and that's a really valuable tool to having leadership.
I think you know, to me when I speak to a lot of my staff, I'm never again speaking about the past either about where the police services come from and your pre Fitzgerald days and and now, particularly the young staff coming through, they don't understand what Fitzgerald was and and how it significantly changed the organization.
It's the same in the national forums. You've got to understand what it is that you're trying to deliver.
And it's probably one of the things that I've recognized going through the organization. A good leader, I think, is comfortable to come in to a new area and say, "You know, the person before me my predecessor has done a fantastic job and my job is to build on their success."
Too often I see in leaders they come into an area and you know they have to build their narrative that everything is broken and I'm here to fix it, and I think that's really dangerous approach to take as a leader because a lot of your team that when there are those same people that you're saying, delivered a broken system.
And I think if that's that's about making the leader feel more comfortable and why they're there without being able to recognize previous success, and I think that's a real challenge these days
I sometimes wonder whether it's because leaders go in and feel that they have to demonstrate that they are capable of cultural change, leading cultural change.
When you're trying to deliver national policy or or state policy, you need to understand the broader environment that's being delivered in.
Shane, We've heard a lot about the successes and the opportunities within policing and within your career in policing. But I think it's important for those people who are on leadership journeys who are listening to learn about how failures have informed your growth as a leader.
One in particular that I will talk about is probably those early stages of being a leader and when particularly an organization like ours, where you come up through the organization.
And that probably struck with me back when I was an inspector and I spoke before about being able to draw my technical knowledge as a water police officer, which was a benefit but one of the failings.
And I think that's a real key thing to look forward.
I'm talking about the broader understanding what has to be done, where you need to have your focus and as a leader.
The best way to avoid risk is to micromanage over top of it, and early on it was really about. This is a risky area. I've got to be in charge of that. I've got a micro manage over top of risk. I want to avoid risk. I don't want that risk to be there anymore. And what that results for me - I was a superintendent at the time actually resulted in a catastrophic outcome in my area because you took your vision away from the big picture and you're focused on a single area.
You satisfy yourself that there's adequate controls and measures in place, but get back up to where a leader should be and make sure that you're looking at the entire system and not just one area.
Shane, thank you for taking us on a journey through the early part of your leadership career in the Queensland Police Service. You're a storyteller, and through the art of narrative, you have shared vignettes that capture you across a range of roles as you build your leadership career in each of the vignettes you provided us with context, experience, challenges, rewards and takeaways for others on leadership journeys, you've been so generous.
And in typical mentoring manner, you have taken the time to demonstrate that a leadership journey is multifaceted, filled with opportunity, risk, challenges and rewards. And above all of that leadership is a lifelong journey of learning about yourself.
I'm really looking forward to part two of our conversation when you're going to take us on a journey through your senior and executive leadership roles and provide deep insights into your current and most rewarding Assistant Commissioner role as Operations, Commander Covid 19 with QPS. Thank you again, Shane.
Thank you, Penny. It's been great to be here, even just talking about this today.
It's been a good reflection back on leadership points That should always take time to reflect on. So thank you.