"I've cared about these issues for as long as I can remember."
Dr. Bill Grace founded the Center for Ethical Leadership in 1991 to be a “catalyst for creating a just society.” Feeling the call at age 8, Bill’s first social justice action was to pass out fliers for a mayoral candidate who wanted to be of service to the poor. At the age of 13, he organized a campaign to pick up litter. He was not just talking about it but was doing something. At age 15, he helped organize a project to clean up a river. At age 17, he was involved in Earth Day.
He entered the field of higher education thinking he would work with college students in order to shape a generation of leaders. This led to pursuing a doctorate to learn about how people put their passion for social justice into action. His doctoral research focused on ethical leadership leading to a study and men and women in the Puget Sound region identified as ethical leaders. How do they become ethical leaders? How do they act as ethical leaders? What sustains them?
These rich ethnographies revealed powerful influences that help people form as ethical leaders. One theme was having an eye opening experience at a young age. One person in the study recalled visiting Europe at the age of twelve. She visited the site of the battle of Verdun. The fields were covered with crosses of soldiers who had fallen in the battle. Allied crosses were white and enemy crosses were black. This contrast was jarring, and on the flight home she wrote a poem in which she imagined it began to snow and all the crosses turned white. What would a world look like where we didn’t have enemies? This young girl went on to lead school desegregation in Puget Sound schools.
From these stories, Bill created the 4-V model of ethical leadership used to found the center. The Vs include values, vision (sense that something could be different), voice (finding your own voice), and virtue. After completing his PhD, Bill shifted his classroom from the academic to the community by founding the Center. From the beginning, the Center prepared leaders who “used values, vision, and courage to critique what needed to be critiqued and imagine what needed to be imagined.”
The Center quickly grew from serving the Puget Sound to working nationally particularly though strong partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. We developed additional concepts of Gracious Space, collective leadership, frameworks for community change, and creative ways to convene highly diverse groups of people. The Center continues to practice the founding themes of honoring community stories as sacred, seeking justice knowing that something could be different, and engaging the community in making changes they choose. Bill stepped down from the Executive Director role in 2005 and continues to teach and spread ethical leadership in the community.
BUILDING TOWARD THE FUTURE
In the early 1990s, most leadership organizations in the country, led by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, advocated a leadership development model that focused on individuals. The belief was that by training individuals about the critical issues facing society, honing their leadership skills, and putting both the knowledge and skills to use through a project or initiative, these individuals would be better prepared to lead organizations and communities, thus serving the common good. The Center for Ethical Leadership was part of this effort by offering leadership programs for neighborhood, business, government, religious and youth leaders throughout the 1990's. See our Past Programs page.
After a decade of investing in individual leaders, the Center and other organizations realized that this effort, while helping to launch some significant change efforts, was only part of the solution. Leadership is not solely a capacity that an individual possesses; it is a relational process that occurs in groups, communities and networks. Addressing the complexity of our increasingly diverse organizations and communities requires a new, collective approach to leadership. In recent years, the pendulum of leadership development has shifted toward programs that emphasize an investment in teams and whole communities. Cutting-edge programs, including the Kellogg Leadership for Community Change (KLCC) program and Gracious Space, are rooted in a shared leadership model.
The Center for Ethical Leadership is again at the forefront of this movement, having served as the program coordinator for the KLCC program and now convening the Community Learning Exchange, a national program that gathers and trains groups of leaders from communities across the country.
The new leadership model invites us to lead from our core values to advance positive change. It invites us build trust, embrace the contributions of all of members, and connect across race, gender and age boundaries.
We live in a time of great opportunity and peril, a time that calls for courageous, ethical and collaborative leadership. The Center is a pioneer in the leadership field, with a long and successful history of catalyzing leaders toward positive social change. We invite you to become part of the extended network.