Lou Costin is Chief Inspector with Devon and Cornwall Police. She has been a serving officer for 23 years and has enjoyed making her way through the ranks while also being a mum to two children.
Sergeant Lou Costin had been tasked with delivering a difficult message to her staff. She was feeling anxious. In bringing unwelcome news to her team that their duties were changing, she had tried to soften the blow – and ended up confusing everyone. This was her first realisation of how difficult leadership can be.
A few years later as an Inspector, her Superintendent put her name forward for The Glass Lift ELEVATE programme. Lou felt flattered, pleased and interested to attend. At the time, she didn’t really understand why he’d suggested it. She’d never imagined that she could progress beyond the rank of Inspector – this had always been her highest ambition.
She also had a young family – and strongly believed that any promotion would have to work for the family too. But knowing that her Superintendent believed in her and was a keen champion of both her and the programme, Inspector Lou Costin arrived on day one. Immediately her internal imposter voice kicked in.
I shouldn’t be here. These other women are all so amazing. Other people must believe in me, but I don’t believe in myself’ ‘Surely they’re going to see through me soon’. As Lou now wryly reflects, “Nobody beats me up like I beat myself up’.
A key turning point on the programme for Lou was undertaking an exercise to identify her strengths involving receiving feedback from colleagues. She recognised herself in this feedback. It was authentic, real, and meaningful. She started to see what she stood for as a person more clearly, and how that played out in her role as a creative and caring police inspector.
Previously criticised by some of her colleagues for ‘caring too much’, she was now able to regard her ability to build relationships as one of her many strengths. She understood why earning the respect of her colleagues and building good relationships was important for her.
Lou wanted to lead in a way that sat well with her values and strengths.
As the similarities between her and the other women on the programme became clear, a sense of support and solidarity emerged. An important sense of being ‘normal’ was strengthened – Lou could see her initial insecurities in a different perspective. It turned out they were shared by many of the other ‘amazing women’. Together they quickly challenged their internal critical voices, and grew in confidence. In doing so Lou found her own powerful and authentic voice – and was recently promoted to Chief Inspector.
Has her leadership style changed dramatically? ‘No’, she reports, ‘not really. I think it was in me anyway. People have always seen my passion to try to do the right thing. But what it has done is given me permission to externalise that more. It’s boosted my courage in my convictions by a significant margin.
I’ve seen that it’s not only OK but essential for me as a leader to be authentic and comfortable in my own skin. My values and strengths are key assets, rather than tendencies to be toned down or apologised for.’
That’s been evident recently when Lou, once again was asked to deliver unwelcome news. This time, she was clear beforehand about what she had to get across and the outcome she wanted. She remained empathetic and supportive whilst also maintaining a managerial perspective. Lou received feedback sometime later
you’re the only person that has been truly honest with me”.
She felt pleased that she’d drawn on her own strengthened leadership style and stayed true to her values. As Lou is coming to the end of the ELEVATE programme she continues to thrive and develop her leadership style.
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