Leadership Eastside is committed to change

March 29, 2011

By Melanie Coleman

Leadership Eastside’s mission is to create fundamental changes — within the community and within the individuals who participate in the organization.

“One of our alumni recently said that the real project is you,” said James Whitfield, president of Leadership Eastside.

The nonprofit, officially launched March 16, 2005, “partners with the community’s greatest assets, its leaders, to meet the community’s greatest needs,” Whitfield said.

Indeed, the combination of community involvement and personal enrichment has seen much success during its past six years, largely due to what Whitfield refers to as LE’s primary product, a three-year leadership-development program, which accepts 40 to 45 applicants per year.

Issaquah Highlands resident Stuart Linscott, who was drawn to the program in 2006, said he believed the training would give him a “toolkit of skills” which could then be applied to many aspects in life, including furthering his community leadership, as well as personal and business relations.

Additionally, the people you encounter in the process, who share your values and goals of moving the community in a positive direction, often become lifelong friends, Linscott said.

“I think the neatest thing about the organization is that the people are all passionate about community involvement, and that really struck a chord with me,” he added.

The program attracts a broad mix of participants from various walks of life, including those from nonprofits, municipalities and businesses.

“You’re bringing all these people together and able to understand more about what they’re up to and their different roles, and also you’re picking their brain to hopefully become a better person and a better leader,” Linscott said.

Whitfield said he believes that the development program is probably the best in the country because “it’s focused on a thing called adaptive leadership.”

Adaptive leadership, as explained by Whitfield, is a type of leadership that isn’t only focused on one thing like servant leadership. It’s about learning how to be the kind of leaders who can adapt to different issues that exist in the community, addressing not just the surface problems but also the roots, he said. Such leadership doesn’t ask the leader to know all of the answers all of the time, but to be able to bring the right people together in such a way to come to a new and better answer than there has been.

Throughout the program, members are led with that approach in mind, which helps them not only solve a community’s technical problems, but ultimately get to the root of deep-seated issues, promoting lasting change.

During the second year in LE, after members are trained in the adaptive leadership approach and are exposed to the most critical challenges that the Eastside region faces, often from the perspective of guest speakers, participants form teams to work on projects that they feel need to be dealt with.

Linscott and his group chose to partner with LuAnn Johnson, a disaster expert from the state Emergency Management Division.

“We ended up presenting our initiative that we were going to team up with LuAnn and help roll out Map Your Neighborhood throughout all the Eastside communities,” Linscott said.

The process involves defining safe destinations in the event of an earthquake or other disasters, and creating a list of neighbors who can provide resources needed in the event of an emergency.

Linscott, who allied with the city of Issaquah and the Issaquah Citizen Corps, said he is proud of what his team accomplished.

“We ended up coming up with a real sustainable program for the city of Issaquah,” he said.

According to LE’s website, past projects have included registering voters, especially non or limited English speakers; encouraging individuals and organizations to donate fresh produce from community gardens to local food banks; and addressing needs for gathering spaces in Eastside communities where people of all ages and cultures can comfortably mingle.

The third year of the program is a culmination of using the skills one has accumulated over the course of the first two years, with an emphasis on a personal development plan.

Though the program costs time and money (tuition for three years is $3,350), Linscott said he believes the benefits outweigh any negatives.

“I know when I got interested in 2006 it was because you’re with a bunch of people that are all passionate about the same thing,” he said.

Board Chairman Earl Bell agrees.

“Getting involved in Leadership Eastside is great for connections — in other words, building a strong network of individuals,” he said.

Whitfield said he feels that people are drawn to the program for two main reasons, “one being a passion for the community and a desire to make a bigger difference, and the second being that they’ve experienced some sort of change in their personal leadership profile,” he said.

While the leadership-development program is a key part of what comprises Leadership Eastside, it is not the only way in which the organization spreads awareness about issues that require attention. It often hosts informational luncheons, speakers and seminars.

On Feb. 10, LE hosted a luncheon, during which Whitfield gave a State of the Eastside Address where he hoped to dispel some rumors, one being that the Eastside is 100 percent affluent.

According to Whitfield, the most diverse ZIP codes in the state are actually on the Eastside, and he hoped to convey the message that a variety of community projects are crucial in order to improve the living standards of many in the area.

Whether for personal gain or due to a desire to improve the community, becoming associated with Leadership Eastside can be beneficial for a variety of reasons.

“At the end of the day, involvement in Leadership Eastside helps build a vibrant region in many ways,” Bell said.

On the Web

Learn more about Leadership Eastside, and find application information, at www.leadershipeastside. com.

Melanie Coleman is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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