Values-Based Decisions


Post By: Richard Lewis, Chief Constable, Cleveland Police and National Ethics Leads, UK Police

I have found in my conversations with colleagues that values-based decisions are actually easy to make; pretty much without exception we all know what the right thing to do is in any given set of circumstances. Note the emphasis on values-based decisions. I accept that in a technical working environment, we often seek the views of others to arrive at the correct answer (which form we need to fill out for which process, for example). However, in decisions involving values, we infrequently need the assistance of colleagues.

In values-based decision making, the skill lays in separating out the decision from its likely consequences. Don’t get me wrong, it is always important to think through the impact of decisions so that the next few steps can be properly planned but allowing the probable impact on a colleague of a decision to cloud our thinking, is counterproductive.

Thinking about the negative impact a values-based decision you make has on a person can often lead to a matter being fudged. Examples of these include seeing Mary bully a colleague, break a company policy or even a law. We know we are under an obligation to report many of these instances. The decision to report is easy (we know we should) until we consider the impact on Mary (or, dare I say us, personally). It is at that point that things become difficult; decisions are easy – it is the impact of decisions that are hard.

This is why the above letter I hand to each candidate at the conclusion of a promotion process relies heavily on the importance of values and ethics in decision-making. Leadership is hard which is why I begin the letter with an acknowledgement of the support provided by others. Good support makes us better leaders and we rely on those networks when the going gets tough.

Further on in the letter (seen below) I highlight the custodial nature of leadership; we simply occupy leadership positions for a period of time – our public do not see the person behind our uniforms – they simply see the uniform. It therefore becomes more important for leaders to realise that they represent the whole of the organisation. In an organisation such as Cleveland Police that has seen more than its fair share of controversies in our past, this point is a particularly an important one. We share a leadership responsibility which again, is a point made in the letter.

Leadership is not all heavy-duty responsibility however! Leadership is fun and rewarding but focusing on our values in our promotion process helps select the best candidates.

In his bestselling book ‘Legacy’ which details the success of the New Zealand ‘All Blacks’ Rugby Team, James Kerr references a discussion with the team’s coach, Graham Henry on team selection. Henry responded by saying that:

“Better people make better All Blacks”

This borders on profound. Values and ethics are not secondary to technical skills. This sit alongside those abilities.

As you will note at the conclusion of the letter I send, applicants are required to physically sign a response letter accepting the terms of the promotion and adherence to ethical standards. The act of signing may seem old fashioned but it’s a moment that causes reflection and commitment that cannot be ignored.

The reaction from leaders in their letters of response has been truly humbling. Most mention people that have helped them to be the person they are such as parents, siblings and friends creating a sense of responsibility beyond the working environment.

Better people do indeed, make better leaders.


  1. The real values of a leader are illustrated by the proven values of people they promote and attract. Not by words on paper.

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