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Leadership Snohomish County (LSC) is a nonprofit that connects, ignites and develops county-specific sustainable leaders to strengthen our communities. Each year, we help experienced and emerging leaders in Snohomish County gain an understanding of the critical issues affecting the region and the stewardship capabilities needed to resolve them. Through our nine-month Signature Program and Young Professionals Program, we work in small teams with the business, government and nonprofit sectors as Community Impact Project Partners. LSC features more than 700 alumni who remain strongly invested in Snohomish County.

Inspiration from Local Leaders

What defines a community? It's not always what you'd think.

Connection, Meaning, and Appreciation from Sam

Erika Olson

Sam Askew   General Manager of Tulalip Resort Casino

Sam Askew
General Manager of Tulalip Resort Casino

The LSC Signature Class enjoyed a tour of the Tulalip Resort Casino with Sam Askew, General Manager, during the January education day. The class was touched to hear that Sam had given a special lapel pin to his entire team of 500 + people.

LSC: Sam, tell us the story of your pin. 

Sam: I like to close out each year on a note of ‘beginning’ instead of an ‘ending’ with the teams; a message that not only looks back on the year and our shared accomplishments, but one that looks ahead to the road before us, challenging or not.  We are setting not only goals for ourselves individually or within defined departments, but rather for all of us as a team.  Sometimes those goals are lofty and sometimes they are just the same BUT regardless of the goals, we’re doing it together.  By the very nature of ‘work’ and the tasks at hand, the daily message too often involves the singular and not the whole.  “I have to do this job today, or send this email, or speak to this person.” It is a day of tasks, and then another day of tasks, and then another, etc.  The pin this year was a reminder that while we are each an individual part of the whole, each doing our job or task, that individual part is so important for the whole. We are in essence driving each other to be our best today, but better tomorrow.  So with all that in my head, and with the vision of each of us pushing and pulling and doing our part (big or small), the idea of the gift of “gears” seemed a perfect choice.  Thus, a pin that could be worn by all was the perfect symbol for our next new year together.

LSC: What is the meaning of the pin?

Sam: Unfortunately, I don’t get to personally interact with all of the team members all of the time.  While my personal attention span may at times seem to be a bit shotgun (all over the place), my affinity for the team members and their teams is unwavering.  I would say that the vast majority of the teams know this about me.  With that said, the pin was a personal way of saying, “I’m thinking of YOU, and I really appreciate the effort YOU make, and the part that YOU play.”  It’s a way for me to recognize each gear and his or her invaluable effort in the machine I’m often looking at as a complete whole.  Likewise, our combined resort teams are a cog in the greater whole of the Tulalip Resort Casino, which in turn is a piece of the Tulalip Gaming Organization, which in turn is a cog for the Tulalip Tribes.

I was 100 percent sure that I didn’t want the pin worn out of requirement.  It would have lost meaning and become part of the uniform.  I will admit that I was hopeful the team members would wear their pins with pride, and when they do, I feel especially blessed to be a member of the team.  Much like a wedding band is an outward symbol of love, care, trust, and respect for a spouse, the pins have become an outward symbol of pride for the teams in the job they do themselves, the organization as a whole, and their support of each other and the interconnected role of their teammates.  It’s a very cool thing to see.

LSC: What has influenced your strong sense of team building and community building?

Sam: My wife will tell you it’s because I’m a Libra. I like balance.  While that may be true at some subconscious level, I can definitively point to some specific examples. 

1.  Like many leaders, I’ve not necessarily learned how to lead, but rather how not too.  I’m all about inclusion, working smarter and not harder, and believe the power of one can and should influence the many.  Teams make all those things a reality, so it really isn’t a long walk to get to the conclusion that teamwork is where it’s at.  The trick is then to get everyone else to believe and understand that, too. 

2.  I moved a lot when I was kid, all over the world, but the one constant regardless of where I was, or how old I’d become, was my grandfather asking me to tell him about where I lived, who my friends were, what we were doing, and so on.  Always asking those questions.  I didn’t know it then, but he was teaching me about living life by lifting others up.  The community building is just a greater translation of those thoughts scaling to some degree.  If we can do this with one person, team, business, organization, city, community, etc., then we have to be able to magnify the positive effect with another (fill in the blank) and another, and another.

Flash forward to today. I’ve been extremely blessed to work with many of the Sovereign Native American Tribes in Washington and a few others nationally.  The best part for me is to see the connection point between what we do and what the community gets in return.  When we have record occupancy, the community gets new sidewalks.  When we have a record-breaking day, the community gets a new police car, someone gets braces, we can hire another community member, or a playground gets painted. You don’t get to see that in most businesses.  When you see those things, you can’t help but want to go all in with community building. You can’t not want to be your best today and better tomorrow!

Postscript: When our education committee emailed Sam to thank him for the wonderful tour, this was Sam’s reply: 

Just wanted to drop a line to let you know that I’m sending 25 of the team ‘gear’ lapel pins so that your class can feel part of the team too!  They are being mailed today.

— Sam

Now that’s a team builder!