Former Police Chief On How To Inspire Employees

Throwing around encouraging quips and pats on backs isn’t enough to keep your team motivated. Invest in their inspiration with these tips from a police chief who motivated a whole force.

Former Police Chief On How To Inspire Employees
[Image: Flickr user Christopher Carfi]

The ability to motivate and inspire people is a big part of leadership. A recent survey of 1,270 business leaders by IIC Partners found that these were the most desired traits in senior executives, far outpacing other seemingly important traits such as “innovative thinking” or a consistently strong performance.


But while motivating and inspiring sounds important, these are also pretty vague concepts. What does it mean to motivate and inspire on your average Tuesday? How can you put “motivate and inspire” into your schedule?

To answer this question, I talked to Val Demings, the former chief of the Orlando Police Department, who led the force from 2007 to 2011. During that time, Demings reports, Orlando experienced a 40% reduction in violent crime, a stat that is at least partly attributable to smart policing by motivated and inspired officers.

When it comes to inspirational leadership, “I think it’s about helping people within the organization understand their value and importance, and the critical role they play in accomplishing the goals of the organization,” she says. Here are her practical suggestions for building that into your daily life:

1. Make a lot of birthday calls.

The people in the Orlando Police Department who reported directly to Demings knew that “I wanted to know about it if significant events were going on in employees’ lives–from weddings to funerals to births of babies, illnesses,” she says. Get in the habit of building in a block of time each day to reach out to people to congratulate or console them, because “those things matter.” Team members who know you care about them are more likely to reciprocate that feeling.


2. Be accessible.

“Great leaders always find a way to have face-to-face time with their employees,” says Demings, but an open-door policy isn’t enough. Face time is more valuable if you can meet with employees on their turf, not yours.

Demings spent a lot of time with officers on their beats because “you learn so much in a patrol car.” An officer might tell her that a piece of equipment was broken. Undone repairs have a large impact on morale. Or she might learn that an officer worried that a community felt neglected by the police–likewise something that could boil up over time.

3. Share good work broadly.

When people do something well, “they want to hear thank you, and they want to hear good job, and they want to hear that publicly,” says Demings. So create opportunities to sing people’s praises each day.

If you’re speaking at an event, mention several employees by name. Even a regular staff meeting can begin with a short litany of specific thanks. Demings would show up at roll call to acknowledge officers who’d done a good job, and thank officers working on the neighborhood beat when she attended community meetings.

4. Value people’s expertise.

One of the best ways to motivate people is to include them in decisions. When Orlando would host major events, which required extra police presence, Demings would ask for suggestions from the officers who’d be involved, or who worked the same event the previous year. What would be the busiest time? How many people would be needed?

“You always have an idea in your head what the picture looks like,” she says, but asking line personnel can sharpen your focus, and remind people that you care what they think. As a bonus, when people on the front line buy into the plan, you can be pretty sure that “the plan in place will be executed perfectly.”


About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at