Lessons in leadership from Seattle's two Norms
Special to The Times
But, like it or not, in a few short months we will vote for president, members of Congress, governor, attorney general and various other offices. We will choose women and men to lead us, to guard our safety, to protect our liberties, to bring us together for the common good.
But once elected, who will these leaders turn out to be? Will they be leaders of integrity and conviction who are willing to actually step forward and lead? Or will they be politicians of the poll, more interested in measuring public opinion than forming it?
I remember our last truly great governor, Dan Evans. He was a leader of conviction. For example, he believed our state's tax system was inequitable and tried his best to persuade the rest of us. He didn't prevail, but no one can deny that he led from positions of certitude and core belief. Today, we have a shadow governor in Tim Eyman. I'd trade up for the likes of Evans any day.
I sat with a group of friends recently who were brainstorming the attributes of strong leaders. The marker board was packed full of words — ethical, compassionate, humble, decisive, knowledgeable, risk-taker, independent, broad-minded, visionary, sacrificial, honest, secure, passionate, empowering, courageous, aware of own weaknesses, inclusive, and on and on.
And then someone suggested that there were some natural pairings that when combined would indicate the type of leader we wanted — humble yet visionary; decisive while being collaborative; independent and inclusive; secure and empowering of others. Are there leaders like this? Individuals we can put forward as role models worthy of emulation?
Two such leaders come quickly to mind. They have helped make Seattle a great city — Norm Maleng, King County's prosecuting attorney, and Norm Rice, Seattle's former mayor and city councilman. We can learn a lot from these two Norms.
Maleng, a Republican, was first elected prosecuting attorney in 1978. He has been re-elected six times, sometimes without opposition. In 26 years as the county's chief prosecutor, Maleng has built a reputation for fairness, toughness and consistency. Most important, however, is his reasoned approach to the often intriguing and difficult prosecution decisions he faces.
His decision to forgo the death penalty for serial killer Gary Ridgway is a recent example of Maleng's ability to sort through an issue, balance competing interests, and arrive at a decision steeped in wisdom and reflecting Maleng's courage as a leader.
Norm Rice, a Democrat, won his first full term to the Seattle City Council in 1979. He was elected mayor in 1989 and re-elected in 1993. When Rice first ran for mayor, he jumped in at the last minute in order to speak against an anti-school-busing ballot measure. He believed the measure was wrong, albeit popular. It passed by a whisker, but Rice was overwhelmingly elected mayor. He used his election to begin a new education initiative for city government.
Throughout his career in elective politics, Rice brought people together. He formed constituencies around common goals. He was values-driven. His instincts were usually right.
He demonstrated courageous leadership, like when he chose to support city police officers when some in the community were sharply critical of police practices. He led the revitalization of the downtown retail district, even in the face of frequent criticism that he was growing insensitive to neighborhoods. He was a consistent and reliable supporter of the city's Ethics and Elections Commission.
These two political leaders — Norm Maleng and Norm Rice — serve as guiding examples of true leaders. They consistently rose above partisan politics to serve the common good. They practiced truth-telling. Their humility didn't interfere with their ability to cast vision. They never shied away from tough decisions, even in the face of strong opposition. Often, they made decisions just because it was the right thing to do, and then worked to bring others along.
It's easy during the political-campaign season to grow weary; to just wish it would all go away. To our detriment, we have come to devalue public service. Instead, we should acknowledge and reward courageous leaders, those men and women who embody the best attributes of leadership and service.
Maleng and Rice are two who deserve our recognition and our gratitude.
Timothy Burgess is co-founder of a Seattle-based international advertising agency serving nonprofit organizations. He served as a commissioner on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission for 12 years. He was a Seattle police detective in the 1970s and a former chair of the Queen Anne Community Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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