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Seattle University

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Putting leaders on the radar

Written by Mike Thee
May 3, 2010

Seattle University’s hosting of the 2008 Opus Prize was a magical moment that had an indelible impact on many faculty and staff. For Jennifer Marrone, assistant professor of management in the Albers School, the experience was particularly moving. 

“I was so inspired by the Opus Prize,” she says, “and I thought, why not do this at the local level? Then I thought, wait a minute, you could do this as a class!”

Marrone challenged the students in her yearlong Graduate Leadership Formation Certificate (GLFC) cohort to come up with something similar to honor leaders in the Puget Sound area. “They took it and made it their own,” she says. On May 13 their efforts will culminate with the presentation of the Red Winged Leadership Award. (The event begins with a reception at 6 p.m. in Paccar Atrium; the presentation takes place 6:30-8 p.m. in Pigott Auditorium.)

Marrone’s students took the lead in all facets of the selection process and the planning of the event. She says it was an exercise not just in leadership and self-discovery, but also utilized their skills and interest in event planning, branding, marketing, budgeting and fundraising. 

They also had to develop criteria for the types of leaders they were looking for and put a selection process in place. The students decided to recognize local men and women who combine leadership, business acumen and social impact. As for the name, they created the concept of a Red Winged Leader because they wanted to recognize people who are under the radar, much like birds with wings that are red underneath: difficult to see at first, but easy to identify once you know what to look for. 

When it was time find real people who fit that profile, they used a “spotter” system similar to what the Opus Foundation employs to discover unsung heroes. One group of Marrone’s students searched high and low for potential Red Winged Leaders. They came up with a list of 13 candidates. Then a second group of students, serving as a selection committee, generated a shorter list.  

A panel of jurors was formed (again, á la Opus) to cut the list down to three finalists—and an esteemed group this jury was, consisting of Norm Rice, former Mayor of Seattle and CEO of Seattle Foundation;Phyllis Campbell, CEO of JPMorgan Chase Northwest; Tara Smith, associate director of Seattle Works; John Dienhart, Frank Shrontz Chair of Professional Ethics in the Albers School; and Carly Cannell, a graduate student nominated for her leadership abilities and work with the Center for Service and Community Engagement.

So, what about the finalists for the award? They are: Rahwa Habte, co-owner of the restaurant Hidmo Eritrean Cuisine in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood; Dylan Higgins, CEO and co-founder of SaveTogether.org; and Linda Ruthruff is Executive Director of Street Bean Espresso. (You can learn more about these finalists and the Red Winged Leadership Award at http://bit.ly/Redwing.)

For the winner the public recognition on May 13 will be just the beginning. He or she will also have the opportunity to consult with another team of Albers students next academic year to help further enhance their business. The students will conduct research and providing analyses and recommendations in a written report and an in-person presentation. (Albers is donating these consulting services.)

Marrone couldn’t be happier with the work of her students. “I’m really quite proud of where they’ve taken this. What they came up with is amazing to me.”

Student Elisabeth Kingsley says the experience “has (allowed) me to learn about myself and recognize how my life experiences influence the way I lead and manage people. It's given me a chance to reflect on these experiences and reshape them so that they are productive in the way I lead rather than constraining.”

She has also appreciated the opportunity to learn about three local leaders “who are living and working in the intersection of leadership, business acumen, and social impact. Our three finalists…are doing amazing work. I'm excited for the opportunity our event on May 13th will provide to share their stories with the business community and other aspiring leaders.”