Four Peaks with Eric Liu: Inspiring Leadership in the Pacific Northwest

MCDM Director and Media Space TV host Hanson Hosein interviewing guest Eric Liu

MCDM Director & Media Space TV host Hanson Hosein interviewing guest Eric Liu

In a time when technology can facilitate such collective action as the Egyptian protests, do we still need leaders? Yes, says Eric Liu. Such amazing groundswells, he says, can be effective at working against something or at funneling tremendous energy toward a particular purpose, such as the election of President Obama, but they’re not as good at creating structures, planning and execution. “A different form of leadership is required to harness that force,” he says

Liu is an author, educator and civic entrepreneur, in addition to a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton. Liu is also founder of the Guiding Lights Network, a mentoring advocacy organization, and is preparing to hold the Guiding Lights Weekend, a conference that trains 21st century citizen-leaders, on March 25 and 26.

Liu shared his views on leadership and community-building as the guest at the March 6 Media Space TV show and Four Peaks salon, which posed the question “Do we need another Space Needle?” In anticipation of Seattle Center’s 50th anniversary, the salon focused on the topic of inspiring leadership in the Pacific Northwest for the next 50 years. “It’s not about the big iconic physical things we create anymore,” Liu says. “It’s about activating every single person who is in the community.”

In addition to the need to cross-pollinate among leaders, Liu explained the need to foster listening skills. “Listening is 80 percent of great leadership,” Liu says. “Understanding what people are feeling about a topic, not just what they’re saying.” Leadership is driven by your beliefs and your core purpose. And leadership isn’t about grand public actions; it’s the aggregation of a lot of tiny private moments, he says.

Liu is passionate about the factors that come together to create what he calls Seattle’s civic secret sauce. That sauce is due, in part, to Seattle’s “garden” brain. In other cities, the machine – political machines, marketing machines and so on – is the dominant metaphor. But Seattle’s mindset is that of a garden – a wild uncontrollable organic ecosystem that requires gardeners. We are all connected, and we are all in it together. In Seattle, there isn’t a focus on rugged individualism, but rather the belief that “society becomes how you behave,” he says.

Throughout the thoughtful salon discussion, the word “bridge” came up repeatedly, prompting Liu to talk about the importance of bridging social capital. Bonding social capital occurs when birds of a feather flock together; bridging social capital is when people across communities and generational divides can find something to work on together.

One participant pointed out that the “Seattle process” can often involve a lot of discussion and not much action. So, how do we actually get something done? “This is in a lot of ways about growing up,” Liu says. “We need to get past the phase of asking, ‘Are we a global city?’ We are what we are. It’s time to grow up and settle into our body.”

Watch the Media Space TV interview:

Together with MCDM, Four Peaks seeks to bring together thought leaders from what are considered the “four peaks”: Innovation, Community, Entrepreneurship and Entertainment. At its heart, Four Peaks is a Pacific Northwest network of content creators, technologists, entrepreneurs and community leaders who collaborate on ideas, projects and platforms that support innovation, storytelling, sustainable economies and strong social capital.

Four Peaks will holds its next salon, which will focus on innovation and community in emerging markets, on April 14. Four Peaks network will convene through a series of monthly salons that lead up to the signature full-day Four Peaks Summit, in October 2011. Follow Four Peaks on Facebook and Twitter or visit for more details.

Amy Rainey (@amyrainey) is a social media strategist, a multimedia storyteller and a recent graduate of UW’s Master of Communication in Digital Media program.


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