Civic Leadership Series – Part 1 of 6

The Civic Leadership Minor offered through PSU’s College of Urban and Public Affairs is an interdisciplinary, immersive track that cultivates theoretical and practical understanding of the history and praxis of leadership. Its curriculum is also rich with Community Based Learning (CBL): hands-on experience that develops responsive and informed leadership skills. In its final integrative seminar, students reflect on what they’ve learned throughout the minor, develop a personal portfolio of their leadership work, and are provided the opportunity to pair-up in teams to interview two influential local leaders about their own civic journeys. This year, our interview work was guided by a helpful heuristic developed by Dr. Masami Nishishiba, Associate Director of the Center for Public Service (CPS) in the Hatfield School of Government, and her colleague Dan Vizzini, a Senior Fellow also at CPS.

Series 1 of 6 student blog post

The diagram (above) reflects their keen observations of civic engagement in action over the years. While it’s laid out in a planar fashion visually, conceptually the quadrants are meant to be multidimensional, telling the story of leaders at the most commonly-shared stages of their development and practice. Dr. Nishishiba explained to our class that, while every leader experiences their development differently, most of the leaders that they observed began their journeys as a reaction to a singular interest, with low-level skillsets in and a less-than-nuanced understanding of the interdependent issues that related to their cause. As they grew and developed as leaders, though, most that could have been plotted in sections A or D originally, were observed to acquire the skill sets and knowledge to traverse towards the other ends of the spectrum, not only in terms of interests and understanding, but also in cultivating the leadership skills that are required to organize across a diverse spectrum.

Equipped with this guiding instrument as a reference point, we set out on our interviews in the hopes that we might glean insight enough to contribute to this developing leadership model. We were both more than eager to sit down with our interviewees, but neither of us anticipated how much they have in common.

Charles McGee is a Liberian immigrant

Charles McGee is a Liberian immigrant in his early thirties, affable, boisterous, with socks as loud and endearing as his laugh and the kind of charisma that attracts attention immediately. His leadership story started early, with strong examples of civic engagement modeled by his family in Liberia before they fled the civil war in 1989, and again later, in the Northeast neighborhoods in which he was raised. Charles did not let immigrating to a new country deter his civic development, rather, he drew upon his experiences and accelerated it. At 19 he ran for the Portland school board and although he didn’t win he drew quite a bit from the experience. In speaking about his experience in running for office Charles stated “When I went through it I learned so much about myself, I learned that I was tough, I learned that I care what people think, I learned that I ultimately do believe in what I do, I learned that I love this community and over the last couple of years I’ve also learned that I can do and get things done without being elected…there are multiple ways to lead and to change the world.” It was those experiences that Charles drew on, in creating the Black Parent Initiative and through it Charles executes the work that matters most to him: educating, uplifting, supporting and enriching black families.

Sue Hildick

At a glance, you might not think that his work, (or even his life story), has much to do with Sue Hildick – but you’d be wrong. Sue is a fourth-generation education advocate and native Oregonian. While her presentation is more modest and her demeanor subdued, Sue immediately commands every bit as much attention with her thoughtful communication, gracious and inquisitive nature that shines through her attentive and welcoming stare. Sitting with Sue you get a sense that she is taking the experience in, without judgement, and truly listening – attributes that have served her well in her leadership journey. Like Charles, Sue wasted no time in her youth, quickly ascending the political ranks to be a legislative to former U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield, director of government relations at Oregon Health Sciences University, and CEO of the Oregon Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross – all before she was 40 years old. For the past thirteen years, Sue has served as the President of The Chalkboard Project. Calling upon her lessons in leadership and her connections as a Board Chair of the Women’s Foundation of Oregon, Sue has managed to build a thriving coalition of Oregon’s largest foundations to focus and streamline efforts to improve public education throughout the state. Sue summed up her main goal as “My vision is about how does the quality of life in this state get better? It only gets better, to me, if the education system is far better and that is why I do the work that I do and that’s what motivates me is a sense of place that is really, really deep.”

So, what do these two leaders have in common, besides their enthusiasm for education advocacy? While they may have different demeanors, both leaders have thrived in their journeys despite arbitrary obstacles like gender and race. Each has created their own nonprofits and have prioritized their work therein above the opportunity to run for public office, and each has received great accolades for their work. Charles has been recognized as one of the most influential African American leaders in Oregon, and with ten additional years of accomplishments under her belt, Sue has been recognized with distinction more often than not in the last several years, including titles of: New Leadership Oregon’s 2009 Woman Leader of the Year, Nonprofit CEO of the Year by the Portland Business Journal, twice as one of Oregon’s Fifty Great Leaders by Oregon Business Magazine, Oregon’s top 40 under 40 and most recently Sue was selected as a Presidio Institute Fellow in 2016. Given his drive and all that he’s accomplished thus far, we’re sure Charles will follow suit. Most importantly to our project, though, is that each of our interviewees named the same missing components from the model we asked them to engage with, namely: relationships.

Since both Sue and Charles were raised in families in which leadership was modeled, they each adapted leadership styles earlier-on in their trajectory than most leaders. As such, neither felt that they fit squarely into the most common starting points delineated on the Leadership Model that we used. What they related to us was the importance of the relationships that propelled them ever onward and upward. In Charles’ case, hard lessons learned about being a shining star early on and the type of fickle supporters that can be attracted to malleable new leadership talent has helped inform his process of choosing the relationships he relies on more judiciously. In Sue’s case, it was the opportunity to work with Mark O. Hatfield and to learn about relationship building from his unique, inclusive and equitable team-building style that helped shape her into the leader that she is today. In order for the leadership model to be complete, both Charles McGee and Sue Hildick agree that it should reflect the trajectory of leaders that build their legacy through the relationship they make, and the interdependence of all of the work that has yet to be done. In reference to these ideas Sue mentioned that “Now, the whole conversation is about equity and that’s about empathy and really listening and understanding many more perspectives that are frankly very hard to find in Oregon sometimes, and make sure the table is set right and we are learning that now, as a 52 year old leader I am deeply engaged and learning that now.”

CPS Blog written by Shane Jaqua & Adriane Ackerman

Edited by Peter Chaille,Ph.D., Masami Nishishiba, Ph.D., and Jennifer Martinez, Public Affairs and Policy Doctoral Student.

Civic Leadership Model

By: Masami Nishishiba, Ph.D. Associate Director, CPS

Dan Vizzini, Senior Fellow, CPS

During the last 14 years, CPS has been providing a leadership training program for the Japanese local government managers. The theme of this training program is “citizen-centered governance.” Using case studies, site visits, and interviews, the program provides opportunities for the participants to explore their role in local governance while making cross-cultural comparison between Oregon and their respective local jurisdiction in Japan.

One of the most frequent comments we hear from the Japanese participants ¾ typically midway through the program ¾ sounds like this: “It appears that there are many civic leaders in Oregon, which we don’t have in Japan. How can I help develop more civic leaders in my city?”

To facilitate the discussion in response to this question on developing civic leaders, we developed a heuristic tool that assists the participants to think about the typology and pathways of civic leaders. Here’s a brief explanation of this tool we call “Civic Leadership Model” (See figure).


In this model, we use two key dimensions to identify different typologies of civic leaders. The two dimensions are: (1) knowledge, skill and experience, represented on the vertical axes, and (2) focus of interest, represented on the horizontal axes.

Knowledge, skill and experience: While some people may have innate propensities to take the leadership role in their civic engagement, they are usually not fully equipped with the necessary knowledge, skill and experience when they first take the role/become the leaders. People acquire knowledge and develop skills to be civic leaders as they gain more experience being in the leadership role. If we were to plot the typical civic leader’s pathway, therefore, they typically start from the lower end of the vertical axes (ill-informed, unskilled, and inexperience), and move upward alongside the vertical axes towards the upper end of the axes (knowledgeable, skilled and experienced) as they mature as the civic leader.

Focus of interest: People engage in public affairs because of their interests. Some people’s interests can be focused around a single issue that matters to them at the personal level. They get motivated to make a difference in some focused issue and start taking actions. The left end of the horizontal axes represents those who are attached to a fixed position on a single issue based on individual interest. For example, a parent whose child is in the K-12 school system may become active in advocating for improving funding for a particular elementary school. In this case, the focus of the interest is specific and singular (i.e. K-12 public school funding), and the motivation to engage originates from the personal interest (i.e. provide better education to the person’s own child). With a very narrow focus on the interest, the approach taken by those represented on this end of the axes can be in competition with others who are focused on another specific issue. For example, when the funding is limited, those who are advocating to increase funding for K-12 public schools may end up competing for the financial resources with those who are advocating for other causes, such as public safety and human services.

Some people take interest in broader public good. The right end of the horizontal axes represents those who are more inclined to compromise in order to resolve multiple issues in a collaborative manner and advance a consensus solution so the larger public can get the benefit. For example, a person may decide to engage in the citizen budget committee to contribute to the deliberation of public service funding in general. As a member of the budget committee, this person needs to be mindful of funding needs for multiple public services (e.g. public school systems, public safety, human services), and take a comprehensive view in allocating funding so different public needs are met.

Typology of civic leaders

As the model in the figure shows, the two dimensions with vertical and horizontal axes create four quadrants which represent different types of civic leadership style, i.e. : (A) advocate, (B) leader, (C) participant/volunteer, and (D) reactionary.

Advocates are knowledgeable, skilled and experienced individuals who advocate for a singular focused issue or a set of aligned interests. Leaders are those who are knowledgeable, skilled and experienced individuals who take actions for the broader public good. Participants/volunteers are not so knowledgeable, skilled nor experienced. They take actions for broader public good or become willing and supportive followers, interested in the betterment of their community. Reactionaries are not so knowledgeable, skilled nor experienced. They generally react to events or policies that impact them personally or run counter to their personal values and political perspectives. Reactionaries may start out with limited knowledge, skills or experience, motivated by a passionate defense of their self interest as it relates to a singular focused issue.

In our Japanese local government managers training program, we ask the participants to use this model to analyze the civic leaders they meet in Portland, and also the civic leaders in Japan. We ask them to plot the civic leaders on the model, and explain why they categorize them as such. We also ask them to think about the pathways the leaders followed to get to where they are at today. This exercise usually stimulates active discussion among the participants, and sometimes provides some hints on how they can work with and help develop/cultivate the civic leaders back in Japan.

This year, we asked PSU undergraduate students who are in the Civic Leadership Minor program to apply this model to analyze the civic leaders they interviewed for the class assignment. Following this blog post: for the next six weeks, we will post the analysis conducted by the students.