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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sue Lani Madsen: Christmas is a time to celebrate the leaders among us

It’s not only sports programs that seek recruits. At Leadership Spokane and the Washington AgForestry Foundation, the next few months will focus on recruiting. So will a new startup called LeaderBuild. All seek to make a difference by strengthening individuals as servant leaders.

A century ago, leader was a title and leadership merely described a leader’s activities. In his book “Leading People From The Middle,” Whitworth University’s President Emeritus William P. Robinson writes that under new definitions of leadership, “it doesn’t matter whether you serve as the mayor or the village idiot, you can still provide leadership … influencing from among, rather than above, below or in front of one’s group.”

Washington AgForestry is one of the oldest leadership development programs in the state, established in 1977. Each competitively selected class of up to 24 is balanced by region, commodity sector, culture and background. They’re not all wheat farmers and foresters. Participants represent a variety of crops, livestock, shellfish, timber products and the state agencies, processors and businesses that regulate and serve them. Recent classes have included recruits from conservation-minded but sometimes adversarial nonprofits. Seminars provide opportunities to learn to communicate and collaborate.

It’s a major time commitment – 12 three-day seminars across the state over an 18-month period. There’s also one week in Washington, D.C., and two weeks of international travel, acknowledging our dependence on foreign trade. Sheryl McGrath, president of the AgForestry Foundation, points to the combination of building skills and issues-oriented seminars as a program strength. The program’s literature states: “We stay in front of upcoming issues and challenges, focus on staying relevant, and can switch out seminar sessions to address what is pressing today.”

Alumni have gone on to serve in national and statewide organizations, be elected to state and local government and become active in local communities. In Spokane County, KayDee Gilkey serves as mayor of Fairfield. Former Washington Secretary of Agriculture Dan Newhouse represents the 4th Congressional District, and four alumni are currently serving in Olympia, including Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax.

AgForestry provided a template for Leadership Spokane in 1982. Like many good things, it grew out of Expo ’74. The civic leaders who pulled off a successful world exposition realized they needed a next generation to maintain momentum.

Leadership Spokane’s roots in the Spokane Chamber of Commerce still show in recruiting. Brian Newberry, executive director of the now independent nonprofit, described the average class of 50 as about 60-65 percent from business, 20 percent government and 15-20 percent from the nonprofit sector. A parallel program started in 1996 trains high school youth. Each class meets once a month for 10 months covering skill building and issues awareness.

“A community that relies on itself, takes care of itself, serves those who are underserved, that’s a community we want to be part of,” said Newberry.

Leadership Spokane alumni lead on the job and provide a pool of skilled community servants to answer the call for local boards and service projects.

LeaderBuild Northwest is a startup encouraged by the success of Leadership Spokane. A survey of pastors and other local leaders by the Greater Spokane Evangelical Association found a desire for a Christ-based leadership development program. LeaderBuild organizers have been working on program design, curriculum, sponsors and faculty recruitment since 2015, with a goal of launching the first class in late 2018. Recruits are being drawn from a 100-mile radius from Spokane, specifically seeking to draw in participants from frequently marginalized and minority populations in the larger metropolitan area. Jan Stuart is leading the startup as chief program designer, using her experience as a corporate trainer and business leader.

All three organizations are committed to servant leadership, to leading from the middle.

Robinson writes, “Using a term from Christian theology, leading from the middle refers to leadership that ‘incarnates’ the mission.” To incarnate literally means “in the flesh,” God with us and among us. Leading from the middle.

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, ‘God with us’).”

Matthew 1:22-23

Two millennia ago, a leader was born. Merry Christmas!

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