Leadership Spotlight

Values-Driven Leadership in Law Enforcement Organizations 

By Irene Barath 
Stock image of multiple hanging light bulbs, including one that is lit.

“In all messages they are able to connect the dots between vision, mission, values, and actions…we refer here to the leader able to use mission connectedness, a common energetic vision, and an appreciation for the contribution of others to build passion.”1

When determining the priorities of their organizations, modern law enforcement leaders weigh many competing interests. These may include navigating tough economic challenges, investigating resource-intensive crimes against persons, managing risk to avoid civil litigation costs, and maintaining the skill sets of police professionals. Addressing these interests, meeting the expectations of the public, and effectively and efficiently using personnel constitute a critical balance. 

To this end, leaders can turn to an underused tool—their agency’s values statement—to assist with these challenges. Although the overarching vision and mission statements of police organizations provide goals, the values of the agency and individual law enforcement professionals drive daily service to the community and other police personnel. It may seem inaccurate to suggest that the values of officers do not line up with those of the organization they choose to work for, but it is important to remember that police professionals are human. Certainly, officers hold the values of their organization close to their hearts so they can serve with integrity, courage, and equality. However, they also value time off with their families and friends, as well as ideal health, financial security, personal development, and job satisfaction.

When the values of a law enforcement agency are congruent with the personal values of its officers, organizational leaders more easily can direct performance toward operational goals, such as reducing speed-related deaths or impaired driving offences. Otherwise, for instance, young officers assigned to a traffic enforcement unit and instructed to undertake targeted enforcement may perceive a disconnect between their values and those of the organization. They may feel that their work focuses more on generating revenue from citizens than providing a public service.

Leaders should explain to their personnel how their efforts save lives. Doing so highlights the connection between what officers and their agencies value and what the public requires. In turn, this association can provide a force for action. By creating a nexus between the values of the organization and those of the individual officer, work becomes meaningful, purposeful, and operationally effective. 

Author Daniel Goleman identified 1 of the 6 ways organizations can negatively impact employees’ performance as values conflict: “A mismatch between persons’ principles and the demands of their job…. Jobs at odds with their values demoralize workers, leading them to question the worth of the work they do. So do lofty mission statements when belied by the day-to-day reality of operations.”2 Some people may say that the police officers, as paid professionals, should do as instructed and find meaning in their work by themselves. Many do every day, but others struggle with organizational processes that distract from the meaningfulness of their service. Police leaders at every level of the organization—from the chief to frontline supervisors and experienced patrol officers—can use the agency’s values to create an environment where officers connect with their citizens and serve them. It is because of their values that most police personnel choose to serve, and these values can focus that service on maintaining the professional law enforcement commitment so integral to the safety and security of all communities.

Ms. Irene Barath, an instructor with the Ontario, Canada, Police College in Aylmer and currently assigned to the FBI’s Leadership Fellows program, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.


1 Les Wallace and James Trinka, A Legacy of 21st Century Leadership (Lincoln, NW: iUniverse, 2007), 8.

2 Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1998), 290.