Timothy Sivarajah

timothy sivarajah

Tom has known Tim longer than anyone else in his life (other than his family of course). He has been in the Police force for 18 years, where he has risen to the rank of Detective Inspector with ambitions to go further. It was great to hear his perspective on leadership and how it features in a very different organisation to one that most of us experience. In some ways unsurprising to hear that the challenges are much the same, that great personal and external leadership is as necessary there as it is everywhere else and inspiring to hear him talk about the great people he has worked with. He is a driven, passionate and principled person, it was a pleasure to hear about his career, his challenges and his successes. 


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

I am a big reader of fiction, but the books I give out the most are travel books.

We live in a huge playing field full of mysteries, history and wonder.  Why stay in the same place all your life?  We need adventure and we need to engage with other people.  There’s lots to learn from different cultures and meeting new people. Some of the best experiences in my life happened whilst travelling and I continue to travel as much as I can.

A book definitely worth reading is the one you want to read and the one you want to enjoy!


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?) 

I have a tendency of just buying things I really want and that are useful to me and my best purchase is a silver ballpoint parker pen, which I use when taking notes and recording conversations at work, which in my policing role is crucial for auditing and transparency purposes. 


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours? 

In 2008, I took my sergeant exam and failed by 1%. If I’m being honest, my studying technique was not great (which I later changed.).

If I had passed that exam, my career would have been very different since everyone who passed that year went on to become a custody sergeant for two years.   Instead I was selected to be part of a team that was focused on reducing criminality in a district where on street sex workers, drug dealing and violence were prominent.  This was the best two years of my career so far.

We disrupted criminal networks and got the majority of the sex workers off the streets through rehabilitation, reduced drug related harm and used enforcement to safeguard the community. Our team ended up winning a National Police Award in Diversity

My sergeant at the time was an unofficial mentor to me. He really led by example and inspired me. I learnt so much from him and he propelled me to where I am today.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

“Eat at a local restaurant tonight. Get the cream sauce. Have a cold pint at 4 o’clock in a mostly empty bar. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Listen to someone you think may have nothing in common with you. Order the steak rare. Eat an oyster. Have a negroni. Have two. Be open to a world where you may not understand or agree with the person next to you but have a drink with them anyways. Eat slowly. Tip your server. Check in on your friends. Check in on yourself. Enjoy the ride.” – Anthony Bourdain


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.) 

The most worthwhile investment in time for me is setting aside an actual lunch break. I have it in my calendar every day. 

My job feels like it moves at a thousand miles an hour and I always have to be available, so for this break each day, I’m not (unless I am on call.). I get away from my desk, I sit down, have lunch, relax and reflect. 

No one really takes a break at work, we just seem to work through and eat at our desks, but I think it makes a massive difference, and I encourage everyone in my team to take a break. 

This is also true if I run a meeting. I’ll get everyone to take a 5 min break in the middle and they all come back ready to engage again. It is far more productive.


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I love playing musical scales on my guitar. Most people find it unnecessary or old ground that isn’t inspiring enough.  But going back to basics has improved my dexterity, my ears have become more intune with the music, and I can hear songs and recognise them better.  It is a valuable lesson to be humble, be without ego and master the basics.


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life? 

It’s acting on the knowledge that unless it’s life or death, nothing is that urgent. There is a huge risk in my job of constantly being interrupted and my attention being constantly demanded and that can mean not being able to get done the important things I can be working on.

So, for example, I batch my emails and prioritise them and only look at them a few times a day, rather than constantly dipping in and out.  I am more productive this way.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?” 

If someone asks you to do something, ask them specific questions to understand what their expectation is, particularly around the depths of the request, the time scales and what it is they really want and why.

I’ve seen too many people spending hours producing something that people only wanted a short answer to, or rushing to complete something that isn’t urgent, or in the extreme cases, doing something that isn’t even necessary in the first place.


What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise? 

This isn’t a recommendation as such, it’s more of a cultural problem that I rail against. It’s the tendency for people to say that it is “somebody else’s job.” I don’t like to cut corners and when I see it happening I call people on it. I explain why it matters that we all take responsibility and the huge difference it makes if we all do that together. 

Change the attitude,  change the culture, be proud of your work and deliver a better service.


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

We have a large number of strategists, performance indicators and processes that perhaps the public are not aware of.  It restricts us from being able to act.  Often I think the strategy doesn’t need to be changed, but we simply don’t have the manpower to follow through on what we know needs to be done.  It is frustrating, but without the resources, we are often unable to meet demand and have to prioritise more than we have done in the last 10-12 years.


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

Learning to say “No.”  It is one word with so much power.  But you need to explain why you are saying “No.”  People won’t be hurt or annoyed if you help them to understand why you are saying “No.”  I have also learnt not to cram too much into my day, in order to improve my effectiveness in my role and also as a leader.. 


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has a work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life? 

Taking time for myself, I try to find time to relax. You have to respect your own and other people’s boundaries. Working smartly is the key.


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I exercise, I listen to music, I eat good food. Simple things help me switch off and get my focus back.  I reflect on the happy times and what my best achievements are and have been.


What does leadership mean to you?

Deliver on your promises. Support and care for your team at all levels, even upwards.  Set expectations clearly, build trust, honesty and support.

Importantly, although leadership requires the right character, it also requires the right knowledge and understanding.  Experience is essential in leadership roles, and you must respect all types of experience being just as valuable as your experience.


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

This doesn’t make me think of individuals. It’s people who battle through adversity, whether battling disease, disability, psychological trauma, and whilst doing so don’t complain about it, they just keep moving forward.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

It’s the foundation of my job. You have to get it right, first time, every time.


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders? 

I want to just say, this question, as I think it’s a great one.  But…”Why are you a leader?”


What one thing could you do that you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results? 

Personally, being a better father and being able to spend more time with my son.

Professionally, better delegation. I sometimes take on too much as I want things to be done to my standard, in my way..


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

I’ve had official mentors in the Police, but actually I’ve learnt the most from working alongside really good people throughout my career. That’s where I’ve learnt and grown the most.

Topic: 50 in 50