Scott Heinze, Policy Wonk and Servant Leader
by Lynda Foster
When Scott Heinze says, “It’s not differences that drive us apart, it’s really commonality and appreciation of differences that bring us together,” there is a passion to his words that forbid them from being cheesy.
As a child he played a lot of sports: basketball, baseball, football. When he talks about his leadership style now he compares it to how sports teams work together. “Having been on a lot of sports teams, that idea of organizationally building teams, community building teams, you don’t want everyone who has the same skill set or thinks the same way. That’s not the most effective team. If you can bring together people who have different thoughts and experiences you’re going to be really well rounded.”
Now Heinze strives to be a team builder in his role as a servant leader – something he is focusing on both in his graduate studies and in life – and explained to me that, “as a servant leader I was being involved in my community, trying to encourage others to have a vested interest In their community.” He sets an example for his children by always thinking about “How do you give back, how do you get involved, how do you make a difference?”
I had never heard of Gonzaga’s leadership program, or it’s jargony terms like “operators,” “conceptualizers,” or “servant leadership” before I met with Scott Heinze. To be completely unfair, I had never bothered putting much stalk in leadership programs, and did not expect to care about any of these terms when Heinze first described them to me.
Then again, I had met Heinze on his campaign trail before, and there was plenty to this interview that was not what I expected.
Heinze showed up to the meeting wearing running shorts, a hoodie and a baseball cap, and when he sat down he relaxed back into his seat, completely casual. I had only seen him before at speaking engagements—strictly business casual apparel with that stuffy networking vibe. This was different. The Scott Heinze before me was a guy taking time out of his (busy) Saturday schedule to have a chat about how he lives his life.
The fact is, Heinze lives his life like a policy wonk. This translates to a person who simply knows a lot of things and feels compelled to give incredibly thorough, well thought out, and oftentimes long answers. So, during particularly long answers to questions his voice can create that soft lull we’re all familiar with from lectures of history or science.
But don’t be fooled into boredom or nod off while he speaks! There is more behind this man than policy! I mean, sometimes you have to wade through several levels of policy, but eventually you break through.
For example, in his initial efforts to explain himself, his doctoral program’s jargon comes in. Heinze explained that there are operators and conceptualizers, he being the latter. “Conceptualizers often times will get in as a change agent and say and do things that feel very radical to the establishment.” I actually find this to be interesting stuff, but this excerpt is also a bit text booky:
“In a typical organizational chart you would have this person at the top, this very hierarchical, linear system, and the person at the top has all of the authority to make all of the decisions, and they push that down. Servant leadership really flattens the organization chart. It invites everyone to be in part of the decision making process and they feel empowered with what’s going on.”
Again, this is interesting to me, after all, leaders aren’t well-known for giving their power away; much less give it away to achieve results. However, when Heinze speaks he often starts by explaining definitions and situations (this is a very policy thing to do), and I feel a little detached by the whole thing. It is only after he has explained all the details that he tells you a story that shows you what they mean. For example:
During his time as an Assistant Director of Outreach at Kent Youth and Family Services, where the residents were primarily immigrant and political refugees, Heinze was the daily operations guy who oversaw a diverse group of staff members. His goal was to empower his staff, and he told them, “you know your residents and participants the best, because you see them on a daily basis.” He gave his staff the opportunity to have impact on services and programs. “And it really, in the staff, inspired them to come up with new and innovative ways to deliver programs, and so it became meaningful to them. If they had to work longer hours to do that they were included to because they’d become so invested in it.”
“That’s how you get meaningful results – you include all of the stake holders and you give them authentic voice and you listen to what they have to say and you assign them responsibility.” (I make this bold because of the great amounts of conviction this line was spoken with, and also because I believe this one sentence was more powerful then his entire, original definition of what it meant to be a servant leader).
Heinze sees servant leadership as the way to empower people to do more and to become invested in their community. It is entirely possible that his commitment to servant leadership comes from the servant leaders who have empowered him.
As mentioned earlier, Heinze played sports. When asked what his favorite was he swiftly and decisively stated “Baseball.” He played baseball up until college, when he got injured. “I was no longer able to play and complete, but still had that inner desire to compete but was no longer certain how to channel it.”
It was at this point where his high school coach invited him back onto the team as an assistant coach. His old coach, and good friend, allowed him to take ownership of part of the program. “Certain parts of the program that were just mine, that I could just take and run and do what I wanted.”
“I didn’t understand it at the time, but in retrospect now I understand what an incredible act of servant leadership it was for him to give up control and authority of a part of his program that he worked hard to build. And it’s interesting too, I find myself as I get older, I turned 39 in June, of kind of bench marking the people who have been influential in my life, and going back to where they were at my age. So he was about 39 when he gave me that opportunity. So it’s just interesting to go back and think about it… and I use that to inform how I try to be.”
While Heinze provided many examples of how he lives his life now as a servant leader, his coach was one of the first people to empower him the way he seeks to empower others.
“It was such a selfish act [from my coach]. It didn’t require a whole lot of him other than a fundamental decision that he saw in me something he could trust and nature and mentor, and it did wonders for me in that I in turn create that relationship with the players I was coaching.”
As Heinze said about training activists during his work with the American Diabetes Association, “It was incredibly empowering because we did a lot around training… that transfer of knowledge and of experience and skill set was great… It was humbling and empowering to be able to create this multiplying effect and now 300 people have gone to the hill (in Washington DC), and will go back to their individual communities across the country to continue to do what they had just done.”
Heinze’s coach had empowered him to take on more responsibility, and helped him become a leader. In turn, Heinze is now able to take his skills and confidence, and train other people to be leaders in their own communities. This is what he is talking about when he speaks about servant leadership, and what he wants to bring to the Tacoma School Board.
All of Heinze’s experience within policy (he has worked for Congressman Adam Smith and Governor Gregiore) did not show him what it was like to be a politician, “I just assumed having been on the policy side that if I ever ran I would, you know, just instinctively know what to do on the campaign side – and that wasn’t the case.” Policy workers are, for the most part, behind the scenes providing support. As a politician you are the one in the open whose ideas are being judged. “For me there was this incredible feeling of vulnerability, of being exposed.”
How does he deal with that pressure?
“I’ve tried to run my campaign how I try to live my life – it’s open and transparent… This is who I am, this is how I live my life, this is how I envision serving as an elected official. And If that resonates with people, if they feel like they can trust me and they want me in that position then they can vote for me. And if they don’t then they won’t. But I’m going to be authentic to myself… It’s just me on the phone. It’s just me when someone walks up and asks me a question.”
“It’s so time intensive, but those most time intensive parts are probably the piece I like best about the campaign… those opportunities to doorbell, to sit and listen to people and hear their concerns, to answer questions they might have. That’s been the most rewarding part.”
Ten fun facts about Scott Heinze:
1. For the meeting he drank a short Americano with cream.
2. He is left handed.
3. His first job was at “The Dog’s Ear,” a T-shirt printing company in Spokane.
4. His favorite sport is baseball.
5. His favorite subject in school was current world affairs.
6. He lives in the Proctor District.
7. At the time of the interview, when asked if he had pets, he responded, “What, did my kids plant this question?” His children have been bothering him for pets. Since then, his son got a hamster for his 8th birthday.
8. The most exciting place he has ever been was at President Obama’s inauguration.
9. His parents were very protective and did not let him watch scary movies.
10. If he could give to just one charity it would be the one he is most active in: the American Diabetes Association.