Kathy Coffey participates in discussions at Summit 2038 in October, an event at which community leaders shared their visions for the future of Snohomish County. (Carla Fisher photo)

Kathy Coffey participates in discussions at Summit 2038 in October, an event at which community leaders shared their visions for the future of Snohomish County. (Carla Fisher photo)

Leadership style can be as individual as your fingerprints

When we help out, encourage others and try to make a difference, we’re playing a valuable role.

By Kathy Coffey / Special to The Herald

When you see a gap or ongoing issue, you speak up.

People come to you for help with tricky situations.

You’re not always given clear directives; your boss wants you to figure things out.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Does this mean you’re a leader?

No matter your title, you might be leading in the workplace by example — helpfully extending yourself, sharing your input and perspective, and taking initiative. But you might not see it.

Most of us go through our day-to-day roles in life owning some form of leadership. Any time we empower ourselves or others to be their best selves, we’re leading. Any time we look within ourselves and explore different ways to look at a situation to “figure things out,” we’re leading.

It can be pretty scary to open ourselves up to that title of “leader.” Perhaps we think leaders always have to know what to do or that leaders can’t make mistakes. The messages play over and over in our heads.

“I don’t know enough.”

“I’m not forceful enough.”

“No one would follow me.”

“I might do it wrong.”

We see this again and again. Each year, when nominations come in to Leadership Snohomish County for our Signature and Young Professionals programs, we hear a lot of surprised and flattered reactions from the nominees. Many of us just don’t see what we do each day as “leadership.”

I guess it goes back to that question: are leaders born or are they made?

Some people gravitate toward taking charge and taking center stage. Are those the leaders?

Others avoid the spotlight, taking pride in the role they play and the difference they make within their chosen sphere. Are they leaders?

How about the folks who simply show up again and again, to pitch in (whether asked or not), to encourage others to join in, and to just do what needs doing? Are these leaders?

I say yes. And if you talk to some of the more than 700 local people who have graduated from Leadership Snohomish County, you’d find some leaders like these, and others who exemplify many, many different styles.

Leadership is a set of skills that can be learned by training, perception, practice and experience. When individuals are asked what qualities they respect and desire in leadership, qualities like authenticity, vulnerability, willingness to listen or empathy, integrity, humility, passion and vision consistently make the top of the list. (Do you see bravado, ego, micromanagement or narcissism in there? Um, no.)

Your leadership style is as individual as your fingerprint. And I can’t tell you what yours will be — only you can discover that. That’s the beautiful part.

That was the game-changer for Misty Burton Burke, community events and marketing coordinator with the city of Lynnwood who was in the 2017 Signature Class. “I joined LSC understanding that I would increase my leadership skills and gain a better understanding of my community,” she said. “Not only did I accomplish that, I learned about myself as a leader, friend, community member, ally and team member. I now feel I am empowered and emboldened to go out and serve as an advocate and partner with others in my community.”

Kevin McKay, a member of the 2012 Signature Class and a past LSC board president recalls, “I wondered how I could possibly even dare to sit in the same room as so many talented and accomplished leaders from around Snohomish County. Coming out of the program, and especially by the time our team had completed our impact project, I realized leadership is something any of us can do, if we are willing to apply the talents we have and the concepts we learn.”

My own view of leadership continues to expand, evolving a bit more with each individual who has the courage to do this work. Each year, I’m honored to sit in a room with 60 individuals in this county – each of them a leader. Each of them showing up in a different way to make a difference in the world. Each with the intention of taking the time to find their authentic self and the best way to use their skills to have an impact on challenges on every level.

From coaching a child’s sports team to testifying at a council meeting to making the decision to let an employee go, leaders all around us are using their voices, channeling their passions, looking ahead to the future they want to see, and taking steps to create it. As I said earlier, It can be pretty scary to open ourselves up to that title of “leader.”

But it’s worth it.

Kathy Coffey is Executive Director of Leadership Snohomish County, an organization that connects, ignites and develops county-specific sustainable leaders to strengthen our communities. She is a member of Lynnwood’s Human Services Commission, a South Everett–Mukilteo Rotarian and sits on the board of directors for the YMCA of Snohomish County. To learn more about Leadership Snohomish County, visit www.leadershipsc.org.

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