Leadership Spokane: Where Leaders Make Magic for the Good of the Community

by Amy McGarry

What comes to mind when you think of the word “leadership?” What does a leader do?

If the words “service” and “serve” were in your answer, you are spot-on for the education programs provided by Leadership Spokane. If the word “magic” came to mind, you are even closer. For that is the word Jaxon Riley, Executive Director of Leadership Spokane finds most fitting to describe what happens when leaders come together in their education and networking programs.

I had the great honor of speaking with Jaxon, who was kind enough to share the details about Leadership Spokane’s education and networking programs and how they are contributing to a vibrant Spokane. And yes, more specifically, how these programs make magic.

The Spokane Chamber of Commerce and business leaders founded Leadership Spokane in 1982, making it one of 44 now 800 similar organizations in the nation.

“Spokane was ahead of its time!” Jaxon notes.

Jaxon Riley

Jaxon Riley, Executive Director, Leadership Spokane


According to the website, the “program is an intensive, 10-month commitment to personal growth, professional development and community service. Participants gain an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a citizen-leader and explore the tenets of servant leadership. At the same time, they develop a broad knowledge of the Spokane community and key issues facing the region. This knowledge is put into practice throughout the program through tours and community service activities. Finally, participants build a strong local network while also learning to create a personal leadership vision and a plan to achieve it.”

Jaxon stressed that leaders must know the community well in order for their ability to serve it to be exponentially increased.

In the servant leadership model, the word “servant” comes first for a reason. Service comes first and foremost in one’s leadership. The leader is a servant first. Servant leaders strive to make a positive impact in their community. For Leadership Spokane, the goal is to better Spokane. This is specifically stated in Leadership Spokane’s mission statement: “We are a catalyst– educating and uniting diverse, collaborative leaders to ensure a vibrant Spokane.”

Jaxon continually emphasized these themes, especially the collaboration across diverse sectors, are how the magic happens. Jaxon stressed commitment to diversity and inclusion are at the heart of everything Leadership Spokane endeavors to do.

How does it work? Jaxon shared the specifics with me:

Every January, Leadership Spokane accepts applications to the flagship education and networking program. Applicants come from all organizational sectors of the community, from small businesses, to colleges, to banks and credit unions, to nonprofits. Every year, they receive more applicants than the 50 to 60 adults they can accommodate.

All applicants are then interviewed by Jaxon and two alumni of the program. A committee then selects the class participants with the goal of diversity and inclusivity. The goal is a class with the greatest representation across community sectors. Final acceptance to the program occurs in May each year.

The program starts in September with a two-day retreat. Participants then attend a whole-day session every month to follow through June. Each session is held at a different location and focuses on a different topic. Topics covered range from the economy, government, communications, art, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Jaxon is quick to note that although one session is dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion, these themes are integrated into every session.

In its commitment to educating participants about as much of the community as possible, the program provides the opportunity for the class to tour 40 to 45 organizations. Tours include businesses such as Kaiser Aluminum, the Union Gospel Mission, and everything in-between. Participants tour Riverfront Park, Transitions, and construction projects.

The course culminates with a community service project presentation. Six project teams are formed with the intention of participants meeting every other participant in the program. Groups choose a community service project from 20 to 30 applications from nonprofit organizations. In addition to community service, the teams learn project management skills and collaboration.
According to Jaxon, this is where much of the magic is created.

“It’s so amazing to watch (participants) making connections and working together to do great things.”

The projects and presentations are evaluated by outside judges including one from the Avista Foundation, whose sponsorship includes a $1500 prize donation to the winning group’s nonprofit selection.

Jaxon shared several anecdotes of how these community service projects spiraled into incredible benefits to the nonprofits. One project this year snowballed into raising $10,180 from 100 individual donors to sponsor two rooms at the Ronald McDonald House. Another project led to donating a truck to Cleone’s Closet Food Pantry just in time to get food delivered after their truck had been stolen.

“These things happen all the time. It’s quite magical, frankly,” Jaxon explains.

Jaxon was clear to express the magic happens as a result of the connections and networking across sectors which continues to serve leaders infinitely. When leaders have a question, need a partner, or help with a problem, they have a network of support above and beyond their former, immediate sphere of contacts.

In addition to the flagship program for adults, a youth leadership program was started in 1996 “to promote the leaders of tomorrow. Today, there are 650 graduates of the youth program representing high schools throughout Spokane County.”

While Leadership Spokane is an independent, non-profit organization, it relies on a partnership with Greater Spokane, Inc. to help with “nuts and bolts and infrastructure, such as providing office space for them to rent and processing payroll.” To meet its funding needs, Leadership Spokane relies on private and corporate sponsorship as well as fundraising to keep their tuition low and provide scholarships to encourage accessibility. Their big fundraising event is a gala held every February at the Northern Quest Resort & Casino.

To experience the magic yourself or to bring the magic to your own organization, visit the Leadership Spokane website at https://leadershipspokane.org/.

Let the magic multiply!

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