Fellow Michelle Hess on leading as elected official, nonprofit executive

May 5, 2022

By Jessica Vaile

Michelle Hess

Michelle Hess (Buckeye, 2013)
Executive Director, Leadership West Inc.


1. Can you please describe your work and how public policy impacts how you manage your organization?

I have the privilege of two roles that are impacted by public policy—one as a Councilmember for the city of Buckeye and one as the executive director of Leadership West. As a member of the city council, our job is to set policy, pass the city budget, and create strategy for our long-term planning. During the pandemic, Buckeye, Leadership West, and many of you learned that as leaders, we needed to be adaptive, flexible, and receptive to the ever-changing environments around us. We can have all our local planning set in place, but if public policy at the state or federal level change, those can have a drastic impact on the city level. During the last state budget session, the funding formula for cities and towns was changed and we are still waiting to see the exact impact that will have in each of our communities.  During the last legislative session, it was more important than ever that we stayed in constant communication with our city staff, our fellow cities, and our state representatives. Communication was everything. We had some good and hard conversation with our legislators with the pros and cons to the proposed change.  We did our best to share what we perceived as possible unintended consequences of the proposed changes. They on the other hand shared what was at risk with no changes. If we are going to have good public policy in Arizona, it is up to us to create good working relationships with all parties.  It is just as important to foster our communication skills to enable us to have hard and meaningful conversations. Finally, it is our job as leaders to foster humility. Our way may not be the best, we may not have all the answers, and there may be things we miss. These are some of the tools that we teach in my other role at Leadership West. We believe in 4th quadrant leadership. A 4th Quadrant Leader is an individual with a highly developed set of leadership skills combined with an equally developed Civic Ownership Mindset. The Civic Ownership Mindset is the highest manifestation of Love of Community. It’s about selflessly taking action to protect, promote and give back to the people and businesses that make up a community. Think William Wallace. Joan of Arc. Ghandi.

2. Do you have a favorite quote that is meaningful to you?

“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” – Andy Stanley.

With all the problems and issues in the world, it is tempting to get overwhelmed and default to inaction. This quote has helped me tremendously in my leadership. As one person, I have limited time and resources. I wish I could meet with everyone, meet every need, and solve each problem, but I can’t. What I can do, is be intentional with the one. I can help solve that one issue or mentor that one person; I can do for that one issue or person what I wish I could do on a larger scale. This has helped to focus me and to ensure that I don’t overextend myself.

3. Is there a book you would recommend to the Fellows?

A good friend of mine recently gave me the book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell. This friend knew that I meet a lot of people and that this book could help with natural assumptions we have when we meet people. Here is a quick one sentence from Storyshot about the book, “Talking To Strangers helps you better understand and accurately judge the people you don’t know while staying patient and tolerant with others.” Many of our Flinn Fellows are engaging with strangers daily and for that reason, I would recommend this book.

4. How has the Fellows Network been useful to you?

Hands down the network.  As the Executive Director for Leadership West, I have been able to rely on my Fellows Network for guest speakers and presenters for our program.  I have been able to collaborate with Fellows in getting things accomplished for my city and the region.  Personally, I have benefited from the network as a place for support. Some members of my cohort have been the few people that I can have an honest conversation about leadership fatigue, failures and more.

5. What do you see as potential opportunities strengthening civic health in Arizona?

At Leadership West, we believe and teach that an individual’s engagement can help the community or hurt the community – but it’s still ‘engagement.’  Those seeking to benefit themselves by engaging in the public sphere don’t necessarily make things any better, yet they are civically engaged.  What society needs – what Arizona needs – is more individuals that become civically engaged with the right mindset – the Civic Ownership Mindset. The term ‘ownership’ refers to stewardship, not possession.


If you missed a Fellows Spotlight, you can view them on the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership website now.

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