Comment: In our community, leadership matters more than ever

Leadership Snohomish County is looking for a new class of leaders to engage, train and build right here.

By Kathy Coffey / For The Herald

It seems a bold supposition, looking back on times of unrest and turmoil in the past decades, but could a focus today on leadership development possibly be more critical than ever?

As Leadership Snohomish County enters its 25th year of graduating individuals from its programs and approaches the milestone mark of 1,000 LSC alumni, this year, we’re asking this question.

We’ve delivered content and built community in a completely virtual environment because of the pandemic. Now, we are left to take what we have learned and not return to normal.

We’re challenged to see things clearly and use our systems to lead in a way that welcomes and serves each of us better. Be it education, health care, human services, government or economic development, returning to the way things were is not an option.

To navigate our now, we need leadership. And if you’ve never seen yourself as a leader, we invite you to reconsider. Your unique talents, connections and insights might be just what’s needed now in Snohomish County to make sure we do not return to normal.

Each year the dynamics of our LSC classes change, but the overarching themes are consistent:

• The importance of trust and connection among leaders;

• That regional issues cut across all sectors;

• That we could all use some support in facing the unknown or stepping into discomfort;

• That our community, Snohomish County, has a unique history that is understood and experienced differently by many of us.

The challenges we face are complex. We need motivated, educated, connected local leaders, so that we’re not wasting time working in isolation or at cross purposes or in artificial competition.

That means business leaders: government leaders, nonprofit leaders, grass-roots community leaders, entrepreneurial leaders. Because we are truly in this together.

Joey Thompson, who graduated from LSC’s Young Professionals program this spring, said:

The thing I’ll take away most from this course is the experience of meeting so many people, in such different industries and walks of life, but feeling like we’re all facing so many of the same issues, and learning from each other and about ourselves, just by sharing those experiences.

To highlight just one area: Joey, along with his project partners Christian Williams and Gracelynn Shibayama, tackled the question of digital equity and digital literacy during their time in LSC’s 2021 Young Professionals program. As we all know, the covid-19 pandemic has highlighted digital equity issues, particularly with access to education and remote work opportunities. But a lack of access and literacy preceded the switch to remote learning and work.

Joey, Christian and Gracelynn learned that while digital equity discussions have been ongoing locally since the mid-1990s, 8.2 percent of Snohomish County households have no internet service at all. That’s 26,162 homes. And since disconnection affects residents financially and socially, including less access to public resources and to health care, this is a problem that can’t be left unaddressed. How might federal programs, private business offerings, and new state-level and county-level initiatives can mesh to meet our community’s needs?

These are questions yet unanswered, and many entities must work in concert to truly improve digital equity and digital literacy in our state and in Snohomish County.

It will take leadership; connected, informed, collaborative leadership.

Of course, part of the leadership equation is self-awareness: discovering and embracing our own strengths and weaknesses. But it’s equally important to understand the systems we operate within (or without). Snohomish County has a rich history. Some stories and voices have been woven into that history while others have been excluded, overlooked or deemed less important.

Our ongoing challenge is for fresh, diverse perspectives, voices and expertise to be constantly informing the conversations happening in Snohomish County. Because we don’t know what we don’t know. When we stay in our silos, we stunt our collective understanding. And we miss out on real opportunities.

LSC’s 2021 Signature Class had uncomfortable discussions and learned more about those around them. One project team, including Donnell Austin, Anthony Fletcher, Trish Grace, Liz Stenning, and Corrie Wilder, engaged in a “problem-posing” approach to civic challenges. Their examination links knowledge to action, with a goal to improve our community at a local level and beyond.

They stated that breaking down barriers is a must to ensure people feel safe and a part of the Snohomish County community. That the correlation of people and community begins with equal access to services, education, and housing. That the role of the existing LSC community is itself significant as a source of fellowship, inspiration, and collaboration. But the alumni community lacks the diversity to truly represent Snohomish County.

That’s an urgent issue that we, and all Snohomish County organizations, must continue to grapple with and correct.

“I have been in awe of the way our community has come together to face the challenges this pandemic has created,” Donnell said. “It has been a truly beautiful thing to watch. There were many parts of LSC I valued, but the most impactful was the equity inclusion day. It opened my eyes and more importantly, my heart, in a couple of areas where I was blind. I have gained new friends and a better understanding of Snohomish county as a whole.”

The LSC mindset helps us stop saying things like, “Someone should do something!” and instead ask, “What can I do?” It manifests in workplaces, community groups, boardrooms and government offices. LSC leaders know that leadership is not a position, but a verb.

Civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks said, “If you think you are leading and turn around to see no one following, then you are just taking a walk.”

At LSC, we say, let’s walk together. Sometimes leading, sometimes following, sometimes supporting one another. Are you asking, what can I do? LSC can help you, your employees, and your colleagues, explore those questions. We support the creation of thriving individuals who lead thriving teams that contribute to thriving companies and organizations.

LSC alumni have completed more than 280 Community Impact projects, volunteering more than 38,000 hours in Snohomish County. Many of our alumni are involved in civic engagement by advocating for issues they care about, becoming board members, changing policy and helping non-profit organizations better serve their clients.

You could be, too.

We are still interviewing for our 25th class. Perhaps all that is missing is you or your company. Consider applying to be a part of Leadership Snohomish County’s 2021-22 program year. Gain new community-focused perspectives, resources and connections through an open and transformative forum centered on Snohomish County. Our selection process is competitive, and the landscape of candidates is vibrant. Take a look at leadershipsc.org/apply. Take that step. Increase your impact.

Kathy Coffey is the executive director of Leadership Snohomish County, which connects and develops leaders to strengthen our communities. To learn more about Leadership Snohomish County, go to www.leadershipsc.org.

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