Executive Development Institute’s Portland-based Leadership Navigation Program, Class of 2013. Photo credit: Fred Calma Photography.

By Christina Twu
IE Editor in Chief

At a retreat center in Sea Tac, well-pressed suits, slacks and skirts betray the boisterous activity within conference room walls, where laughter and movement abounds and jokes about cultural stereotypes are readily exchanged.

Welcome to Executive Development Institute (EDI) — a place where Asian Pacific Islander and Latino American professionals in Seattle and now Portland, Ore. can not only discover their untapped power and hidden strengths, but learn to leverage them to advance their careers and serve their communities.

On a Friday afternoon in March, EDI’s new 2013 Seattle class meets for the first time to kick off EDI’s Discovery leadership program. EDI Executive Director Al Sugiyama says he’s proud of the fact that each busy professional has chosen to take time off work to develop themselves.

“It’s so exciting for me to see the energy, the enthusiasm, to see the intelligence and the sincerity of each and every one of these individuals,” he says.

EDI believes that leaders aren’t born, they’re made, and in a quickly shifting global economy, diverse leaders in the business and corporate sectors need to be nurtured for tomorrow’s changing demands.

That’s why EDI’s committed to developing culturally diverse leaders who are steady, confident, and can lead with grace and compassion during times of turmoil, take risks and stretch beyond their comfort zones. And now that the nation’s workforce is 70 percent women and people of color, being culturally adaptable is an absolute necessity to lead competently.

The first part, of course, is discovering the leader. “Everyone has great potential in them, they just need to find their voice,” says EDI alumni Kashi Yoshikawa, a Wells Fargo vice president and investment strategist. “It’s really important to let that voice out and speak and be proud. I think EDI has helped me be more confident in that voice.”

Yoshikawa speaks literally. As a number cruncher who never believed public speaking was his strength, he’s come a long way since his time at EDI, where he got opportunities to speak in front of his peers and garner feedback from seasoned public speakers of national repute.

“So recently, just probably a few months ago, my investment [colleagues] — based on a few talks I’ve given — asked me to be one of the key speakers as a top client at Wells Fargo,” he says. “Usually that’s reserved for someone that has national recognition.”

For 2013 program participant Bea Querido, a seasoned supplier manager with the Boeing 787 program who has worked for Lockheed Martin and the White House, “learning leadership” was not necessarily the draw. She applied at the recommendation of Boeing’s vice president of supplier management after discovering EDI’s unique program qualities and emphasis on identity and culture.

On the first day of program, Querido particularly enjoyed a group activity where program participants broke up into small groups and were asked what the top two things their parents told them were when they were young.

“It was fun to see everyone [in my group] had at least two things in common: ‘Family is number one’ and ‘respect your elders,’” she remembers. “I really valued the time that we spent uncovering the values that we all share as an Asian Pacific Islander community.”

Cultural identity is the glue that bonds many participants together, but in a Western-dominated culture, might prohibit some from speaking up at work.

“I grew up third-generation. We were taught that if we ever questioned our elders, we get slapped,” says Sugiyama. “So translate that to a work situation when you see something wrong going on and you don’t want to ask because at home, you get slapped. We know we never get slapped at work, but it’s been so much in our whole life that you don’t question your manager, just like how at home, you don’t question your elder.”

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EDI alumni Kashi Yoshikawa (center) contributes as a facilitator and panelist at the EDI kick-off for the class of 2013. Photo credit: Christina Twu.

EDI leadership programs strike a balance between training leaders how to play their cards right and get the most out of their teams, while empowering them to leverage their cultural assets.

On a different program day, participants engage in an activity designed to identify and learn about personal leadership styles categorized in four general types that aligned with animals: controllers (lions), analyzers (owls), persuaders (dolphins) and stabilizers (smart dogs).

The activity called for participants to break up into their respective personality and animal groups to discuss what their strengths and weaknesses were. Distinctive patterns could be observed in each group.

“The dolphin group was the loudest group — really on top of each other and the group that was the closest to each other, with not just one person writing on the board. They were all writing on the board at the same time,” Querido recalls.

The owls were the quietest, most analytical group and took the longest to complete their list of strengths and weaknesses; the smart dogs followed instructions carefully and were the only group to make an outline; the lion group, which Querido belonged to, was the group with the widest circle, with each individual spread far away from each other.

“We want our own space and claim our own territory. We also got done the fastest and wrote the most,” says Querido. This was a lesson in self-awareness and how to work more effectively with different types: “It helped me identify how to get the best out of everyone on my team.”

Querido looks forward to an upcoming emotional intelligence workshop with EDI and launching her EDI community project creating a video and social media campaign for Kin On Community Health Care.

By November when she graduates, she will join the ranks of more than 600 EDI alumni in leadership positions throughout the Northwest who have assisted area nonprofits.

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