3 Lessons on Leading with Integrity from Seattle Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole

Guest post from Emerging Leader Committee member, Vanessa Ronquillo.


Last week, Emerging Leaders had the opportunity to meet with United Way board member and Seattle Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole in an intimate setting to learn about leadership, social justice, and community.

United Way President and CEO Jon Fine kicked off the evening introducing the Chief who spoke to the group about the importance of connecting to the community, having leadership integrity, and her passion for serving the public. Chief O’Toole’s leadership strategy emphasizes the truth and reflects on the needs of the community she serves. Her experiences and accomplishments throughout her career in Boston, New Jersey and Ireland have led her to Seattle with the mission to improve a once overly forceful Seattle Police Department.

Here are my three key takeaways from her talk:

  1. Tell the truth – Transparency is critical for a leader – especially when you’re in the public eye. Chief O’Toole touched on about her first time delivering hard news to the public. At the time, she was convinced she wasn’t trained or prepped to handle this task but her boss and mentor simply told her to just go out and tell the truth. There many times where we as leaders we find ourselves in a position to deliver tough news but it is important to “stand up, tell the truth, and deal with issues head on.”
  2. Go where the truth takes us – In social justice, it is important to have hard evidence, quantitative and qualitative data, and listen to the collective community you serve. In her career, the Chief has focused on the people being served and needs of the community to guide the work of the police departments she has led.
  3. Principles trumps politics everyday – Chief O’Toole emphasized leading in a non-bipartisan way, which provides a great framework for democratic policing. There were many flawed practices in police departments across the nation that have violated civil rights and targeted vulnerable communities. In Seattle, we protect the vulnerable communities like immigrants who may or may not be documented by not asking about immigration status. Understanding there will always be constant cultural changes it is important to stick with moral principles.

Join us at our next Speaker Series event on March 7, our Women in Leadership panel where we’ll hear from top women executives from Amazon, Expedia and Costco discussing community involvement, gender wage gap and other timely issues.

Emerging Leaders is United Way’s young professionals group for people in their 20s and 30s looking to get engaged with their community. Find out more and sign up at http://www.uwkc.org/emerging-leaders.

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