This is an articles on one of  five characteristics of leaders, as identified in Richard Barrett’s book The New Leadership Paradigm.

The New Leadership Paradigm: “Ability to Cooperate”


Kevin Parker is certainly a well-known public figure in Spokane. He and his wife Kerry own several Dutch Bros coffee franchises, he is a state legislator, adjunct professor at Whitworth and Gonzaga and a true servant leader in our community. Fortunate to be a colleague of Kevin’s, I became curious how his ability to cooperate delivers such impressive results, as well as the admiration and respect of those whom he mentors, leads, teaches, collaborates with and calls friends.

What comes to mind for you as the ability to cooperate is identified as a crucial to leadership?  “First, when you talk about cooperation it has to be a mutual cooperation about what is beneficial for them as well as you. If you want the organization to move forward and excel, it will have to be at a mutual cooperation, not a singular benefit for the employer or the organizational leader.”

I have followed your success in getting bills approved as a state legislator. There must be a lot of people to cooperate with in order to make this happen? “Typically in the legislature you have to have the majority of 150 people, plus the Governor to agree to your legislature. Most every bill has a Republican sponsor and a Democrat sponsor, called “bipartisan sponsorship”. From there it goes through a bipartisan committee, to rules, moves to house floor, and then you actually see the vote.”

“Through the legislative process there is enormous collaboration, giving and accepting, or taking, in order to refine the legislation. The people who are the most successful in state government are the people who learn to cooperate with people who may think or view the world differently than they do themselves.”


How did you learn this?  “For one, I have learned that whether you are talking about business or academia or politics, you have to come with the assumption that people have good intentions. You may disagree on the process, but even the outcomes may be more similar than you think they would be. If you can move the question of people’s intentions off the table and instead of spending time there, spend time on the policy or the idea itself – removed from the individual, you will make a lot more progress.”

What particular strategies have you used to pass legislation? “Strategy is a big part of it. If you can find someone on the other side of the aisle that will share your passion for that legislation; someone that won’t just sign on to your bill, but generally cares about it, that will literally help you to move it forward. I think that is really important. The other thing is to have strong relationships with the committee chairs, and in the communities themselves. Typically, you don’t want to be a bridge crasher, you want to be a bridge builder. You never know what bridges you need to cross and at what time.”


Recently you spoke about your unique perspective on working with employees and the importance of company culture. Can you say more about that? “Yes, at Dutch Bros we anticipate we will have employees 1-6 years. We view our company as a place we can invest in them and develop them as individuals for personal and professional growth, so when they leave Dutch Bros, they are stepping into their careers and hopefully into position of influence with the community. Our whole goal is to create more servant leaders within Spokane.”

How do you and Kerry teach your team at Dutch Bros to cooperate with other people? “We build it within our system. We promote managers based on recommendations from the people they have worked with, and that alone starts to foster cooperation. We talk about the theme of ‘loving your neighbor’ and focus on building a strong internal culture. We believe people will feel this externally, so we do not focus on customer service as much as on how to show love to everyone. We tell people to check the drama and challenges of life at the door and then you can have fun at work and build relationships with people.”


In The New Leadership Paradigm empathy is stated as a requirement of cooperation. How do you see it? “I see empathy as a huge aspect of entrepreneurship. I think ‘empathetic entrepreneurship’ is a new trend and where entrepreneurship is going. It is a much better term than ‘social entrepreneurship’ because most entrepreneurs are already socially minded. Empathy means you care about your employees because they have intrinsic value, because God cares about them, and because their worth is well beyond whatever contribution they can make to your company.”

You mentioned you are a fan of Covey and share his work with your MBA students. How have you found the empathic listening he promotes builds cooperation? Do you have a story to share? “Recently we held a town hall for the homeless. They deserved to have someone from government listen to them. They wanted to get jobs and were really struggling with this, but what I could not figure out was where the hurdles were. I asked them to walk me through the day, minute-by-minute. This is how I found out not having a home address was the biggest hurdle of the homeless to be able to secure a job. We worked with the homeless shelters and now they are able to use the shelter’s address on a job application. Truly listening with empathy to their needs helped to resolve this obstacle.”

Kevin Parker’s ability to cooperate with others is excellent and clearly a big part of his success as a leader and a difference maker in the Spokane community and the state of Washington. Stay with us in the next issues as I explore four more competencies of influential leaders from The New Leadership Paradigm by Richard Barrett, founder of the Barrett Values Center.