Forward thinking: Lynnwood moving forward

Loren Simmonds

I remember the date well . . .

It was Jan.26, 2009. After multiple weeks of work session discussions and no less than two public hearings at business meetings, the time had come for a formal council vote. And vote we did.

The City Council formally adopted a Community Vision. In brief, the Vision states that the City of Lynnwood will be . . .  A regional model for a sustainable, vibrant community with engaged citizens and an accountable government.

The document goes on to read as follows. Our vision is …

  • To be a welcoming city that builds a healthy and sustainable environment.
  • To encourage a broad business base in sector, size and related employment and promote high quality development.
  • To invest in preserving and expanding parks, recreation and community programs.
  • To be a cohesive community that respects all citizens.
  • To invest in efficient, integrated, local and regional transportation systems.
  • To ensure a safe environment through rigorous criminal and property law enforcement.
  • To be a city that is responsive to the wants and needs of our citizens.

And as you might anticipate, each section of the vision has anywhere from four to seven subsections to implement the vision.  The vision statement is now 10 years old.

Such an undertaking takes years to fulfill and no small amount of financial resources. In fact, the Lynnwood City Council ultimately determines the fulfillment or failure of the vision. In other words, effective leadership is an imperative component if success is to be realized and enjoyed – even if the leadership groups changes players as it has and will continue to do so with each election.

Having spent 16 years on the Lynnwood Council and being one who continues to follow the council proceedings very closely, I have concluded that there is an inventory of qualities that the Lynnwood City Council must maintain if they have any hope of completing the vision or at least making significant strides while each is still in office. Let me begin with the last first.

6) Be proactive: Individuals who assume leadership must be forward thinking and action oriented. It is not enough to talk about good ideas. Leaders must know how to formulate action and follow through.

5) Expect conflict: An effective leader views conflict as an opportunity to bring differences to the table. Learning to manage conflict in a productive manner is an essential leadership trait.

4)  Tell the truth but with compassion: This is where leadership becomes a huge challenge. Many people are able to tell the truth but do so with vengeance or anger. Once conflict begins, a leader must be able to differentiate between the conflict and their personal investment in a given situation. When we do this, we are able to tell the truth without blame and move toward action that serves the council.

3) Listen: I have learned that listening is the foundation of leadership more than any other quality. Until recently, leaders interpreted good communication skills as their ability to communicate their vision and give clear direction. That’s only half the challenge.

Deeply listening to others lets them know they are valued, encourages creativity and innovation, and the leader actually learns something! As a result of listening, personal relationships are nurtured and members of the council feel more valued and confident of their role.

2) Love people: Loving in this context means that we acknowledge the value of our fellow council members and respect them with the dignity they deserve. We let them know we care for them whether we like them or not. The bottom line is we must value each council member and our relationships with them.

1) Check your attitude:  Leadership begins with a correct mindset which is founded in a willingness to lead others and serve others. An effective leader desires the opportunity to step-up to influencing not only one’s actions but that of those being led. They feel compelled to lead no matter the personal costs. The council is in service to others and it must seek to influence rather than dominate. Our mindset is constant learning and enlarging our understanding rather than a fixed attitude that says we’ve always done it this way.

In summary, the basic idea behind serving on the city council is we are part of a group and organization and must first understand our role as a follower. By adhering to the council’s boundaries, we build our credibility. As we build the platform of credibility and accountability, we build influence to question authority and take risks. As we take risks and continue forward motion, we will inevitability discover conflict. As the conflict comes to the surface, we see it as an opportunity to leverage diversity and leap to the next level of performance.

It is interesting to me that the top four qualities are about telling the truth, listening, loving and keeping our minds open to learn.  The top qualities are not about knowing the most about the history of the city, or the budget or being the expert in some area of operation. In fact, the city’s experts many never rise to the highest level of leadership without understanding compassion, listening, keeping an open mind and fully respecting others.

Until next time . . .

— By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.

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