Thursday 18th April 2024

The Great Resignation: the ex-police chief who wants to make workers happier

The Great Resignation is here. Workers are jumping out of their old careers and choosing surprising new career paths.

Despite high number of vacancies in the UK jobs market, people are still quitting their jobs to start their own businesses or change careers.

In our new series, we speak to every-day people about why they decided to quit their jobs and whether they’re now happy or regret their decision.

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In part three, we speak to someone who quit his career long before the pandemic though.

Kul Mahay quit his job as a police chief in 2014 after spending over 30 years on high-profile murder cases for Derbyshire Constabulary.

He chose to dive into a completely different career after trying to change the diversity systems of the police, while also developing different passions on the side.

Since leaving the police, he’s set up his own leaders’ company called Ignite Your Inner Potential to work with NHS Trusts, universities and SMEs on improving leadership and increasing their knowledge of emotional intelligence.

Why did you quit your job?

I think 10 years before I left, I’d already decided that my life with the police service would terminate at some point. I joined the police service at the tender age of 16, all my entire adult life was spent in the police service.

I would have been in a safe environment had I stayed in the police service, but I knew there was something bigger for me out there. I was a bit frustrated as well in the police service, that change was not happening soon enough and quick enough.

At that time, I don’t think the police was very innovative in terms of accepting new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking, we tend to go around in five- and 10-year cycles.

I was a big driver for diversity when I was in the police service. I was a founding member of the Black Police Association movement, and the vice National Vice President of the National Black Police Association on top of my day job.

I worked with senior government ministers and senior police chiefs from around the country to reshape how policing should be and how we can embrace diversity, particularly in terms of race.

What I was finding was that the language would stay the same. We would be talking about it in the 1980s and saying that we need to change this and that; some initiatives would be brought out and then 10 years later in the 1990s, we’d have the same conversation. When the Steven Lawrence report was released, we were still having exactly the same conversations.

Only last year, we were talking about the same issues when it came to George Floyd. So, my thinking has always been, we’re not actually sorting anything out. We’re not resolving a problem. We’re just talking about the problem.

Tell us more about your company.

Kul Mahay in his time as a police officer

I left the police service in 2014. I was a senior police officer for 32 years, and I became impassioned by leadership and what makes it work and what doesn’t make it work, what are the do’s and don’ts of leadership as I saw it.

One lesson that I learned in all my time of leadership, you know, managing major investigations and high profile high, highly dangerous scenarios was that if you treat your staff right, they will want to go to the next level in terms of delivering for you.

When I left the police service, I wanted to go deeper into the whole concept of leadership. So, Igniting Your Potential was born. We started doing leadership development with the police, but it wasn’t enough for me. I went away because I wanted to learn more about emotional intelligence.

All my leadership work is based around emotional intelligence. We take it down to a much, much more granular level with organisations. We’ve helped all sorts of organizations transform their cultures, or reshape their leadership thinking. It makes for happier and much more productive workplaces, with higher performance.

I’ve worked with universities for their staff, or with minority groups within organisations, where members from protected characteristics or minority groups weren’t reaching the senior levels of their organisations.

Did you ever experience burnout when you were a police officer?

Oh, absolutely. I mean, burnout can result in so many ways, burnout can result in people becoming ill. I’ve certainly been ill. Burnout results in mental health issues.

I’ve certainly experienced things in the police service where, before I stopped drinking 20 years ago, I would come home from a night shift, and because of an experience I’ve had on that night shift, I would have to drink three pints of beer from a can to just help me sleep.

But burnout also results in things like mental breakdowns, I’ve been through divorce. I spent more time at work than I did at home. There were times when I would spend up to 16 hours a day at work, because I loved the job so much, and I thought the job was everything.

As a result, another thing that I help people to do now is create that work life balance, because it’s so so critically important for organisations to understand that we shouldn’t drive employees to work more hours than they actually need to.

Sometimes you can drive more performance in less hours, if people feel happy or healthy, and they are feeling content within themselves. They feel appreciated, not micromanaged.

I’ve seen burnout in myself, I’ve seen burnout in lots of other people, both inside the police service and outside the police service, I still see burnout in some of the organisations I work for.

I’m working with one right now, where there’s a huge breakdown of communication and culture within a department and people are blaming each other people and have got to the point where they are making accusations against each other.

The more I look into it, what is actually happening is people are burnt out because there’s a higher expectation on them to do more. When actually, the truth of it is there’s not enough people to do the work that needs to be done, or some of the work that needs to be done isn’t as important as people give it credit for.

So, there’s no time management going on. And there’s no real gelling of the team. The team haven’t met as a collective, even online for a long, long time. Everyone ends up working in little bubbles, because they are protecting themselves. They’re in that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Again, they go into self-protection mode.

So yes, burnout shows up in so many different ways and it’s not a healthy thing. But there’s so much that we can do about burnout.

I learned a lot from the police service. I was a gold commander so I would be in charge of any major incident or critical incident.

I’d been a senior detective or what they call a senior investigation officer. I’d be investigating major crime like murders and serious crimes. Plus, I’ve managed thousands of people across many departments. So, I’ve seen leadership in different ways from different perspectives.

In some instances, it was very fast paced where things needed to be done in the here and now or somebody’s life would be in danger. Or it was longer-term when I’m managing a department and I’ve got maybe 500 or 600 people underneath me.

I looked across what was typical in the police service. It’s not so much autocratic, but it’s a very ‘command and control’ style of leadership. And my feeling was there’s a better way of doing this.

So, whichever department I ever went into, I always used to practice connecting with my staff. I used to take an hour out of my day in the morning, an hour out of my day in the afternoon just to walk around, talk to my staff, and get to know them on a human level.

I found that when I did this, when I built these relationships, what I was also doing was building trust, and letting them see me as a human, then let them see themselves as human too.

And collectively, whenever when there was a goal, if I asked them to do something, they would go further than other departments, they would want to do it. If you order somebody to do something, they will do it to the minimum standard.

But if you inspire someone to do something, they will go way beyond that minimum standard, and they will do it to the very best of their ability. And that’s the subtle difference around emotional intelligence. For me, it’s a connection with other people.

Would you say you are happy with your decision, or do you regret quitting?

I will always say that I made the right decision. It was the right decision at the right time for the right reasons.

Running your own business is hard. It’s not easy. It’s not for the faint hearted, you’re constantly looking at how it grows. You’ve got other pressures every day, more and more elements being added into the business all the time.

You don’t have the support network or the team around you. I used to have PhDs and admin staff and now, I don’t have any of that.

Kul now runs a successful leadership consultancy

In so many ways it’s much harder. But when you are just following your passion, and you can see that you’re bringing change, that you are literally helping people and organizations, it makes a huge difference.

My dream was to help organisations change their cultures and create, you know, incredible workspaces where people thrived, and organisations thrived. I’m doing that right now. I feel energised all the time to be honest.

Have you reached that work life balance that you talked about previously?

I’m constantly looking at my work life balance. I think my work life balance is brilliant. I’m working from home right now.

As a business owner, I can work as many hours or as little hours as I want, I get to spend quality time with my family. I have two beautiful cats that we adopted two years ago, watch them grow up, and they’re spoiled. I have a great time. I’ve never been more at peace with myself than I am right now.

What’s next?

I’m just writing a book called Human Centered Leadership at the moment, which we’re going to be releasing next year. And that’s all about this.

It’s all about how we become more human as leaders and connect with more humans as leaders. We’ve got a program that we’re going to be launching next year too, both for adults and for children, plus we’ve got a podcast that we’re launching, called Human Centered Leadership. I’m absolutely passionate and energised in this subject.

Photo by King’s Church International on Unsplash

Dana Raer


Dana is a former reporter at Mouthy Money, having previously worked for Times Money Mentor and the BBC.

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