Ask any three people what constitutes leadership and you will probably get three very different answers.
It turns out the subject of leadership is on the minds of many in Spokane, both on the part of established business people who have lived and done business in the area for many years, as well as young professionals, rising stars if you will, just embarking on careers, most of whom say they want and need guidance as they set a course for success.
The Journal of Business interviewed representatives from a handful of Spokane organizations whose mission—wholly or partly—is to serve, support and sustain young, professional community leaders.
Spokane Young Professionals
Spokane Young Professionals, a Spokane-based volunteer organization founded in 2004, is run by a committed board of young professionals in business, government and education, says Kristen Paul, outgoing SYP president.
Paul is also a marketing and recruiting specialist for the Gonzaga Graduate School of Business. She says the organization’s mission is to connect the next generation of leaders with one another, as well as with community leaders, through networking and education.
“We have about 170 active members, and that fluctuates a little,” says Paul. “Challenges for young leaders can just be getting started in growing a network that provides them with the encouragement and nurturing they need.”
Membership dues are $40 per year, which includes discounted admission to SYP events, including networking, recreation, and social gatherings.
“Really, the hardest part for young professionals is that networking doesn’t necessarily come naturally and can be awkward and uncomfortable,” Paul says. “I tell them to bring a friend or co-worker because that can make it more comfortable.”
She says, “I think employers in Spokane are discovering the value of networking … almost any organization can improve from developing their networks and growing personally and professionally.”
Many Spokane employers encourage young leaders to develop leadership skills by serving on boards and volunteering their time for philanthropic organizations, Paul says.
Jared Webley, an associate with Spokane-based Gallatin Public Affairs, is incoming SYP president.
“It can be hard to break into the ‘good ole boy network’ here,” Webley says. “We hear that a lot.”
“But we tell them to keep coming back to the networking events. It’s about getting out into the community and getting involved as much as you possibly can,” he says.
Webley says the group has an active social media presence and website where people will soon be able to register for events online.
SYP connects young professionals with one another, but also provides an environment where they can connect with some of Spokane’s established leaders. There is a fee to attend networking events, which are open to the public, and costs vary from $5 to $10 for members and $15 to $20 for non-members. The events are held monthly at various Spokane locations.
In 2006, SYP launched a series of members-only speaker events called “Beer with…” events where members can meet and network with established Spokane business and community leaders in a relaxed question-and-answer session, which encourages dialogue. During recent events, members have had beer with Eric Bandholz, the founder of Spokane’s Beardbrand, an ecommerce website that sells items for the bearded lifestyle, and Melissa Murphy, owner of Spokane-based Prime Real Estate Group.
Paul says it not only enables the young leaders to learn, but also offers an opportunity for business leaders to hear from some of Spokane’s young professionals.
SYP typically hosts 20 to 60 members at the events, Paul says.
“It’s an opportunity for people to talk one on one, and we see a lot of new people at every event,” Paul says. “It’s exciting that it’s not just the same group of 30, but there are always new people.”
Paul says she sees more startup companies coming to the Spokane area.
“Etailz (a Spokane-based ecom-merce site) is an example of that, where the average age of employees is about 25 years old,” she says. “And there are more smaller companies led by entrepreneurs, where young people are taking leadership responsibilities.”
Gonzaga University, well-known for its leadership programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level, also runs an Emerging Leaders Program through its School of Professional Studies to support leadership development within Spokane’s private sector.
Created by Joe Albert, acting dean of the School of Professional Studies, the Emerging Leaders Program is designed to combine professional development education with practical experience, says Rachelle Strawther, program coordinator. Total cost for the program is about $6,000.
Strawther says the nine-month program gives rising talent and high-potential corporate employees a chance to stretch the skills they already possess, making them even more valuable assets to their companies. Participants collaborate with their company to create or continue to work on a company project. After students complete an in-depth survey revealing how they see themselves and how others see them, as well as thorough leadership assessments, students attend six full-day courses on relevant topics presented by local CEOs.
Strawther says students are presented with real-world scenarios in which company leaders share information about a past challenge and then ask the class to respond with ideas on how to resolve the problem or issue. “There are some very candid discussions that take place and afterwards the CEO will explain what actually happened,” she says.
Since 2008, the program has graduated about 50 people. Strawther says only about 10 students per year are accepted into the program, chosen from a list of professionals nominated by their employers.
“We keep it small intentionally,” Strawther says, “It’s important to keep the intimacy of each cohort to about 10 people, and we have closed-door classes where people learn about themselves, how others see them and how they see themselves.”
Students in the program are paired with seasoned mentors, many of whom hold high-level positions in their professions, for the duration of the program. “And most of those relationships continue after the program ends,” Strawther adds.
There are potential challenges for emerging leaders in just about any community, she contends, adding that one of the keys to nurturing leadership is the ability to connect with someone who has experience dealing with issues in the workplace.
“Having a mentor is key,” she says. “And a lot of young leaders don’t have those mentors. And a lot of them will not necessarily go out and look for them in the community.”
Spokane Young Lawyers
Attorneys who are current members of the Spokane County Bar Association and who are 36 years of age or less, or are in the first five years of practice, are qualified to become members of the SCBA Young Lawyers Division, an organization that offers benefits for young attorneys or those new to practicing law.
SCYLD membership offers several benefits, including networking and referral opportunities among other young lawyers, and continuing education on topics of special interest to those who are new to practicing law, says Jacob Brennan, president of the Young Lawyers Division and an attorney with Etter, McMahon, Lamberson, Clary & Oreskovich PC in Spokane.
“We focus on developing new practitioners, providing education and opportunities to network … we’re a conduit between younger professionals and the community,” says Brennan. “If you are a member of the Washington State Bar and the Spokane County Bar, there is no fee for the first year. Then there is a progressive fee schedule.”
Brennan says the organization’s mission is to promote education and development of young lawyers, and provide community service opportunities that support the public.
Brennan says about 300 young lawyers currently participate in the Spokane County group, which has been in existence since 1982.
Members attend monthly business meetings, networking and social events with other professional groups like the Spokane Young Professionals group, and networking events hosted by Gonzaga Law School. Brennan says this year, the group has started a new mentoring program to help guide new practitioners. Through community service organized by the group, young lawyers have an opportunity to gain experience in various legal areas as well.
Brennan, who has a 10-week-old daughter, says a lot of young professionals starting out with young families would agree that work-life balance is important. He says more employers are becoming sensitive to employees having a happy, productive work life.
“I’ve been told it’s becoming a lot bigger issue,” he says. “We’re seeing a change in that direction and there has been more ability to work remotely regardless of whether people are in the workplace or not, because of technology.”
New graduates are more appreciative of employers who give them the opportunity to have a home life as well as a work life, he adds.
United Way program
The Emerging Leaders Society at the Spokane County United Way organization was established about a year ago to give early- to mid-career professionals in Spokane an opportunity to develop leadership skills, network with one another and to bring about change in the community, says Tim Henkel, Spokane County United Way president and CEO.
Henkel says a core group of about 30 people, current community leaders, with knowledge of similar groups in other United Way organizations, wanted to help upcoming leaders and give them ample opportunities to take ownership of initiatives that will help create lasting change in Spokane.
After one year in existence, Emerging Leaders Society is comprised of about 100 people who attend networking and professional development events, and participate in volunteer opportunities with various Spokane agencies.
Volunteers aren’t matched with specific mentors, Henkel says, but participants have the opportunity to meet and interact with top Spokane leaders and CEOs as they volunteer for various projects. Individuals can participate in a two-tier system in which they are asked to contribute $1,000 and at least 10 hours of volunteer time or $500 and at least 25 hours of volunteer time.
“These young leaders want to be involved, acting on their passion, and we frame their efforts with our support,” Henkel says. “They are looking for a way to become more engaged.”
Henkel says interest in the idea has caught fire with local CEOs and individuals who want to invest time and money and demonstrate what they are passionate about.
Emerging Leaders participants have the opportunity to work on philanthropic events such as serving meals for Catholic Charities, and to work on neighborhood cleanups and other projects that benefit the larger community, Henkel says.
The program, he says, is an opportunity for members to do something big, gain experience, expand their networks and make an impact.
Henkel says young leaders want to get involved and can’t always find easy ways to do so.
“Young leaders are looking for meaningful opportunities. The three fundamental pillars of the Emerging Leaders Society are networking, purposeful volunteerism, and professional development, which are what young leaders are looking for,” he says.
“We’re excited for the individuals involved,” he adds. “This group of folks is charged up and we want to do everything we possibly can to help them.”
Linda Finney, outgoing executive director of Leadership Spokane, says she sees a lot of young professionals with enormous energy, champing at the bit, ready to push forward and get involved. Still, she says, they expect a little more from their employers as well as balance in their work and personal lives.
While the organization doesn’t cater exclusively to young professionals, it offers an annual civic leadership training program to a group of about 50 individuals from public entities, private businesses, and nonprofit organizations in the greater Spokane area. The program is comprised of 11 days of full day curriculum, spread over 10 months, on different topics such as leadership, communications, arts and culture, and healthy communities. The cost for the program is about $3,000. Finney says Leadership Spokane also does a lot of networking and mentoring with emerging leaders.
“We do a lot of connecting people with other folks … connecting people formally as well as informally,” Finney says.
One of the challenges Finney sees is the culture in Spokane.
“Spokane is a place where who your great grandparents were is still important,” she says. “To most of the young people that isn’t important. So maybe they have to learn how to play the game and change the rules later.”
Finney, who has served as director of Leadership Spokane for 15 years and was a few days away from retiring when interviewed, says she’s excited to see talent blossoming in Spokane.
“There is so much ability out there and it’s exciting to see them go forward and see what they’ll bring to the Spokane community. We have to be excited and engaged with them and not discourage that talent,” she says. “We need older people to recognize that value and not dismiss them just because they’re young.”
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