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Inspiration from Local Leaders

What defines a community? It's not always what you'd think.

You Want To Make A Difference?

Erika Olson

By Kathy Coffey, LSC Executive Director


More than five million women marched across the world in solidarity on January 21st. From all the signs I read, there were nearly as many reasons for taking part as there were people.

Regardless of your gender, political affiliation, race, cultural background, or socio-economic status, chances are that YOU want to make a difference. You want your kids to grow up in a world that is safe and accepting. You want access to education. You want to be able to speak freely, find reliable news sources, and practice the religion or spiritual practice of your choice.

In Snohomish County, of course, we want all of these things – and within that landscape, we want to grow community leadership. We want to foster strong, diverse, informed leaders who can take on the issues effectively. So last year, we asked the community this question:

Are the barriers to leadership in Snohomish County different for women and men?

LSC collected data from more than 300 individuals – black, white, native, Latina, male, female, straight, gay – through a survey and focus groups. The information yielded mirrored that of our state and county.

Without intentional practices and strategies in place, many organizations unconsciously fail to support up and coming talent, simply because those professionals are female. When decision makers look to promote, proximity and familiarity can play a role.

When asked what the most helpful thing would be to develop as a leader, 57% stated that good coaching, mentoring, support (including peer support); and having an advocate were the keys to overcoming barriers.

So, relationships are key.

Relationships were also the top consideration of both the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition report and the Statewide Capacity Plan’s Leadership report.

At LSC, I have found an outlet in the work of empowering individuals to find their voices. Learning about where they live. Working in an act of Civic Leadership. Serving those of different means with community impact projects. [Our classes this year have partnered with 25 non-profits, government agencies, and businesses!]

What will you do next? I have a few ideas to share.

Here are three actions you can take to engage locally and make a difference.


Since relationships matter so much: don’t just share on Facebook. Share your time, your passion, your expertise, in real life. Mentor someone. Mentor a peer. Mentor a student. A favorite quote from Mother Teresa reminds us how fundamental this is. “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other’” she said.


Take time to become informed. Allow knowledge to empower your voice. Wherever your passion and interests lie – be it immigrants rights, equal pay, peace and security, reducing violence against women  – do your research. What organizations or networks are active in these spheres? Learn about related legislative issues on a state and national level. Know who your representatives are and contact them. Use your voice and time by volunteering, sharing what you’ve learned, or fundraising.


Here’s one that Leadership Snohomish County is bringing to Snohomish County on April 28th.

STEP UP: Understanding and Implementing Racial Equity
Save the Date for an all-day community event convened to build understanding and context and create tools to use in your life and work to foster an equitable environ. It starts with you.

Stay Engaged. Reach Out. Build Community.

What Defines A Community?

Erika Olson

Psst… Leadership Snohomish County is now accepting applications for its signature and young adult program for 2016-2017. Know a great leader? Nominate that person today for this amazing program!

By Sara Haner, Signature Class Member

Leaders wear so many hats. Visionary. Therapist. Cleaner-upper of messes. Community builder. (Sometimes, all of these hats are worn before 9:00 a.m. on a Monday. Yikes.) This month, I’d like to take off the hats and take a closer look.

Before we can talk about building a community, we need to know exactly what defines a community. It’s not always what you’d think. The Positive Leadership curriculum explains that a community is a group of people who are connected through certain attributes that work together over time to meet common needs and solve common problems. Attributes can be defined by living in close physical proximity, common interests, or working towards a common cause, among other things. But, as we discussed in class, having a group that is defined by some of these attributes isn’t enough to make a community.

Think of a group you’re affiliated with that might meet this criteria. Maybe it’s an extended family, a workplace, a volunteer opportunity, or a social circle? It’s possible this group is a community, but it’s also quite possible that this is merely a place of association.

Places of association aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re a leader looking to make a big impact and real change, you should be striving towards community building instead.


Building a Community

Communities can’t just happen overnight. To build a community, a leader needs to focus on three key stages: galvanize, organize, and mobilize.

Galvanize This stage is all about rounding up your squad. It’s identifying and bringing together individuals and calling them to something greater. Of course, this something greater must speak to each of them as a whole, so the galvanization stage must include shared values and a common purpose.

Organize After you’ve identified your crew and agreed on your purpose, the leader must provide the tools for the community to move forward cohesively to accomplish its purpose. In this stage, rules and norms should be established, giving your community members clarity and a sharper focus on why they became a community in the first place. In my personal experience, I’ve seen leaders skip over this stage, or get stuck in it without moving forward. Organization is so important to a community, but is also a fine line. Too little organization creates confusion. (Been there). Too much organization feels stifling and confining. (Been there). The right amount of organization equips your community with the tools it needs to remain focused on its mission, and move together as one unit. (Luckily, been there, too!).

Mobilize To me, this is the fun part! In this stage, you’ve assembled and identified your community, you’ve equipped community members with the tools they need to succeed, and now, you point them in the right direction and cut them lose! In this stage, your community gets to act on its purpose, and it feels so fulfilling! This is such an important stage, because in the words of the Positive Leadership Curriculum, communities need to move, or they will stagnate.

In some communities, each of these stages can happen organically, but an effective community builder understands the importance of building a community deliberately, and making sure each stage is complete before moving on to the next.

As I’ve been working through the concept of community building, I’m reflecting quite a bit on one of my favorite communities right now – my Leadership Snohomish County cohort. In this community, members are encouraged to be themselves (authenticity). When times are tough, people pitch in to help each other (resiliency). People feel developed because the organization wants them to grow (advocacy). These and other qualities make this a positive, healthy community. If you’re interested in being part of a community like this, it’s the perfect time to join us! Leadership Snohomish County is now accepting applications for its 2016-2017 classes!

Frogs? Anyone?

Erika Olson

By Sara Haner, LSC Signature Class Member

We’ve been on this blog journey for a few months now, so I feel that I can be real with you. (Or, be authentic, rather.) This was a hard post for me to write. Honestly, truly difficult. This post is about resilience, and how important this trait is for a leader. Let’s keep going, and see if this is a tough topic for you, too.

First, let’s do a quick level-setting on resilience. According to Dr. Al Siebert, resilience is the ability to:

  • Cope well with high levels of ongoing disruptive change;
  • Sustain good health and energy when under constant pressure;
  • Overcome adversities;
  • Change to a new way of working and living when an old way is no longer possible; and
  • Do all this without acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways.

Have you heard that old parable about boiling a frog? You can place a live frog in cold water on the stove, and slowly turn up the heat. The water begins to boil so gradually that the frog adapts to the changing temperature, not noticing the change, and is eventually boiled. Yes, this is a pretty grim story, but it illustrates an important point. Isn’t this what happens so often in life and in our careers? We take on a stressful job, and become accustomed to the pressure, but then more work and responsibilities get piled on. The water begins to boil, slowly, and we barely notice it. Until we get sick, get fired, or...have a spectacular mental breakdown. (Cue bald Britney Spears circa 2007.)

Positive Leadership, the curriculum that Leadership Snohomish County works through, explains that resilience can be developed and managed, and everyone has a certain measure of resilience already. Resilience can be increased, but with it, so should boundaries and an awareness of our limits. And aha! This is where my difficulty with this topic comes in. Boundaries feels like such a dirty word to me. For some reason, I’m programmed to think that if I’m saying “yes” to myself, I’m saying ”no” to somebody else, and is it really acceptable for a leader to say no? Does this resonate with you?

I’m learning that it’s not only acceptable for a leader to have boundaries, but absolutely necessary.

We all have boundaries, but when you’re facing the realities of life, it’s hard to honor your boundaries, and usually only think about them once they’ve been exceeded. If we’re constantly in a state of overload, we’re prone to fatigue. How many times have you had a huge deadline, only to get terribly sick right afterwards? Cognitive and physical fatigue is also common when your limits are exceeded, and you can feel mentally fuzzy, or physically exhausted after a typical workweek.

When we regularly exceed our limits, we experience stress, fear, disappointment, frustration and guilt. These strong feelings only serve to make us feel worse, turning this into a vicious cycle.

So, what can be done? If you feel that you could be more resilient, or have better boundaries, what can you do?

Don’t exceed your limits.

Yes, you’re super! Yes, you’re a hero! But you’re not a superhero. You are a real, authentic, fallible human, and it’s important to know your limits. This takes courage, and means speaking up at work and in your personal obligations. You’re not being an infective leader when you’re honoring your boundaries. If anything, exceeding your limits reduces your resiliency, making you a less effective leader.

Be mindful of your battery.

Does the idea of giving a presentation, or making a spreadsheet, or interacting with clients make you feel especially drained? Or, do any of these activities fill you up? Pay special attention to this, as the tasks that drain your energy compromise your resilience. Of course, you might not be able to avoid all of these tasks all of the time, but understanding your strengths and preferences is incredibly powerful, and can help steer you towards greater balance and increased resilience. Like a battery, leaders have a fixed capacity, and exceeding it leaves you literally drained.

Increase your capacity for resiliency.

Finding balance is half of the resiliency battle. The other half is increasing your capacity for resiliency. To do this, we’ve discussed the following strategies in Leadership Snohomish County:

  • Creating traction
  •  Overcoming distraction
  • Capitalizing on action
  • Self monitoring, both your capacity and demand
  • Knowing when to say yes and when to say no
  • Taking preventative measures to preserve your resilience.

Looking for more specifics on each of these strategies? Consider participating in Leadership Snohomish County next year! The signature and young professional programs will start accepting applications in a few weeks for the 2016-2017 class {LINK to apply page}, and you’ll learn so much about resilience and how it relates to leadership. I can’t recommend this program enough!

To wrap this up, there’s a quote I love by Stephen Covey. He says:

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.

To me, this speaks to the heart of resilience and boundaries in leadership. Leaders know the big picture, and align their priorities and commitments accordingly. Leaders feel the water starting to boil, and know how to survive, thrive, and honor their boundaries.

How do you feel about your own resilience as a leader? How do you assert your boundaries and keep an eye on your limits? Share in the comments below, I’d love to know!

Shouting From The Rooftops?

Erika Olson

By Sara Haner, LSC Signature Class Member

I was stuck behind that car in traffic. You know the one. It’s a staple on Pacific Northwest roads, and it always seems to be a Subaru Outback. Its back bumper is plastered with stickers espousing the drivers’ religion, favorite breed of dog, and what college they’ve proudly graduated from. This particular car was touting Save the Whales! Coexist! UC Santa Cruz Alumni! (This might even be your car?

While I was behind this car, it dawned on me; this is advocacy. I’ve always thought of advocacy as a stiff, formal affair; something involving lobbying in Olympia or using a megaphone. But looking at the car in front of me, I realized anyone can be an advocate. By voicing support for a person, product, or idea, you’re advocating. When exploring advocacy through the lens of leadership, it’s clear that an effective leader understands advocacy, and knows exactly how and when to use it to usher in waves of change.

In Leadership Snohomish County this month, advocacy is the name of the game. Through the Positive Leadership curriculum, we explored advocacy, and how it’s a critical piece of effective leadership.

As with all leadership competencies, advocacy is a muscle you have to flex. The more you flex it, the easier it becomes, and the stronger your skill will be. The greater our ability to advocate, the greater our potential to change the world. It’s my firm belief that advocacy is a powerful change agent, more so than any other leadership tactic we’ll study this year.

I realize that there’s so much more to effective advocacy than just shouting from the rooftops (or from the Subaru Outback). According to Positive Leadership, effective leaders know that to advocate successfully, they have to:

Have clarity. They know what they are trying to accomplish. They have a goal, and can articulate it clearly to others.

Have conviction. They truly believe in what they’re advocating for. They don’t let doubts or fears get in the way of their cause.

Provide compelling rationale. They know how to present their case. They’re able to advocate thoughtfully and convincingly.

Have a specific focus. The attention they command is directed toward the most important things, not distractions.

Inspire other advocates. Their passion and intensity are contagious, and inspire others to take action.

Anticipate sources of resistance. They know that some won’t agree with them, and they don’t shy away from dialogue and discussion. They address resistance, rather than avoid it.

Be the right person for the message. If they are not, they gladly allow the right person to deliver the message. Their ego doesn’t get in the way of the right delivery of the message.

As a sidebar, something I’m really enjoying about the Positive Leadership curriculum this year is how each competency builds upon the last. Advocacy is no different. It requires authenticity and purpose to be successful.

Finally, just like the traffic jam I was stuck in this week, advocacy takes patience. Major culture changes can be a slow process that occurs in stages. We’ve all seen a new leader fall into the trap of thinking that they’ll be able to change a culture, fix a big problem, or create community impact overnight. They can be doing everything right, but without enough time, their efforts fall flat. Has this happened to you? (This has definitely happened to me!)

I encourage you to think about advocacy this month, and how you advocate. I’ll certainly be taking inventory of my own advocacy skill, and examining if I’m advocating with clarity, conviction and focus.

And, the next time I’m caught behind you in traffic, I’ll be sure to wave hello.

Purpose: Direction Comes From Within

Erika Olson

By Sara Haner, LSC Signature Class Member


It’s time for a relaxing meditation exercise! Are you ready? Great!

Close your eyes. Imagine you’re someplace relaxing, like the beach, or a meadow filled with wildflowers, or in line at the DMV.

(How are you still reading this if your eyes are closed? That’s irrelevant. Let’s continue…)

Take a deep breath in, and let it out.

Think back to the best job you’ve ever had, and visualize the happiest moment in your career so far.

Maybe you’re winning an award? Crushing a presentation? Working hard on a project you love?

Excellent. Now take another deep breath in, and let it out.

Now imagine the worst job you’ve ever had.

Maybe you’re filled with Monday morning dread? Battling impossible stress? Eating lunch alone in your car?

Are you still breathing deeply? What do you mean this isn’t that relaxing? Oops… I’m sorry about that.

This is a bold argument, but I’m going to make it. I think there’s only one thing that makes a job wonderful or awful. Purpose. Of course, we’ve all had terrible bosses, ineffective colleagues, and crazy work-life-balance that can all lead to burnout. But at the heart of all of these things, to me, is purpose.

Leadership Snohomish County loves purpose. It’s even in their tagline! (People. Passion. Purpose.) When I think about my career, I realize that my very best and very worst jobs have all been determined by purpose or lack thereof. When I say purpose, I mean not only my own inner purpose that guides me, but also the purpose that is communicated and exemplified by my leaders.

We dove into the topic of purpose in Leadership Snohomish County recently, and studied it in the Positive Leadership curriculum that we love. The curriculum explains that purpose comes in three flavors: original, personal and situational. Each dimension of purpose is important, and like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, each level builds upon the last.

Original purpose, our curriculum explains, is the most basic expression of purpose. This is your survival-mode purpose. You’re working to pay your bills. Your CEO comes to work to make sure the company stays afloat. Original purpose is so important, but can feel quite reactive. It’s not the big-picture values that drive an individual or organization. That’s where personal purpose comes in.

Personal purpose is a very individual expression of purpose. Once you know you’re able to pay your bills, or your startup will survive, you can start focusing on what’s really important. Personal purpose is like your thumbprint – it’s different for every leader. An effective leader understands his or her own personal purpose, and can communicate it clearly to the team.

But, yikes! Discovering your personal purpose can be challenging, especially if you’re starting out in your career, or seem to always be stuck in original purpose mode. If you’re struggling with finding your personal purpose, pay close attention to the tasks or topics that recharge your batteries. Is there something you do when you’re procrastinating? Something that makes you lose track of time? Psychologists call this “flow,” and when you’re in it, there’s a good chance you’re working close to your personal purpose. (My personal purpose has nothing to do with spreadsheets or budgeting, just FYI.) Personal purpose—and this is important—can’t be something that exists to only make others happy. Positive Leadership says that if satisfying others is your scorecard for success, it may prove challenging to remain purposeful. Boom!

Situational purpose is the third type that Positive Leadership outlines. This is the most practical and frequent expression of purpose and it changes from circumstance to circumstance. When I’m working on a project that I love, those dreaded budgets and spreadsheets are inevitable. In this situation, reframing the task in my mind to align with my personal purpose makes it tolerable, and dare I say, enjoyable. As an employee, finding this alignment between the mundane and your personal purpose is important. As a leader, this is critical. Being able to communicate the purpose in each mundane task helps keep your team motivated and inspired. Have you ever tried this with meetings? Defining for your team why you’re having the meeting, and what the goal for the meeting is? If not, give this type of situational purpose a shot, and see how the tenor of the meeting changes. (Leadership magic tricks!)

It’s important to interject here that purpose and authenticity go hand in hand. You can’t pretend to have purpose; you have to have an authentic, legitimate purpose in mind before you can inspire others to get on board.

I have a feeling that at this point, you’ve repressed that horrible meditation exercise I made you go through at the start. Unfortunately, I’d like to revisit it for a moment. (Don’t be afraid – think of this as free therapy. We’ll get through this together!)

When you think back to the worst job you’ve ever had, I have a sneaking suspicion that a lack of purpose is the culprit. It can be a lack of your own purpose, or a lack of purpose communicated by your leaders.

Positive Leadership explains that situations and people that do not allow you to access your personal purpose are painful. When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel like you don’t belong, something key to your purpose is missing or constrained. When reflecting on that terrible job, does this resonate? Maybe the job didn’t align with your basic or personal Purpose? Maybe your leader did a lousy job of communicating his or her own personal purpose, or translating that to a situational purpose?

As a leader, keep this in mind. Are you clearly communicating your own personal purpose to your team? Are you applying that to help show situational purpose and mobilize your tribe when things get difficult? Are you communicating your purpose authentically? Positive Leadership says that the leader’s job is to recognize purpose, make it clear to others, and remind them when they lose sight of it. But before purpose can be revealed to others, a leader must first recognize it. Only then can a leader enable people to connect what they do to something meaningful.

To sum up, I’d like to take you back to your happy place, that beach or meadow filled with wildflowers, and reflect on this quote by Carl Jung, shared in the Positive Leadership curriculum:

“When goals go, meaning goes. When meaning goes, purpose goes. When purpose goes, life goes dead in our hands."

It is our job as leaders to keep that purpose alive for ourselves, and our teams.

Have a purpose-filled day!