Scott Morris on the power of servant leadership

CEO Scott Morris retires on October 1, ending a 38-year career that began in 1981 when he joined Avista, then Washington Water Power (WWP). He leaves behind a legacy of investment in people and communities shaped by his fundamental belief in servant leadership. Some of Scott’s parting thoughts, experience and wisdom on creating a culture of volunteerism, commitment to community and the power of servant leadership are shared here.

When Scott Morris took over as President of Avista Utilities in 2000, the company was in the midst of an energy crisis.

“We had lost some our core values and were out of balance with the four legs of our stool – customers, communities, employees and shareholders. We needed simplicity.”

Building on the company’s long history of volunteerism and community service, Scott worked to expand and celebrate this spirit. He encouraged and empowered every employee to join a non-profit board or get involved in their community. Every employee.

“I wanted to focus on community service as an organization, as an important core value,” he said. “This means everyone in the organization is encouraged to serve their community.”

Over the past 18 years, this volunteer culture has grown to include hundreds of Avista employees contributing an annual total of almost 50,000 hours spent giving back.

“The greatest gift is the talent of our people,” Scott smiled. “Everyone has an opportunity to give back. We’re lucky because we hire the best people. Not only do they have high capacity to give back, but they want to give back.”

Scott discovered first-hand that serving on a non-profit board is a great place to build leadership skills. He learned through the challenges of being an accountable board member, but without day-to-day operational responsibility.

“You constructively contribute and influence, but you don’t run the organization,” he explained. “Growing employees into leaders while serving the community at the same time – it’s the secret sauce.” 

From the time he graduated from Gonzaga University, through his early years working his way up through the company, and his return to Gonzaga to earn a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership, Scott Morris has always been inspired by people.  

“I believe in treating people with dignity and respect and listening to their ideas,” he explained. “I also believe that people who do the work should be recognized and celebrated.”

Scott Morris epitomizes the traits of a servant leader – focused primarily on the growth and well-being of people and community, putting the needs of others first and helping people develop and perform as highly as possible.

A Spokane native who began his career with Washington Water Power Co. in 1981, Scott has continued the company’s 130-year history of playing a key leadership role in many of the community’s biggest initiatives.

“Early in my career, I was fortunate to have role models in former company CEOs Paul Redmond and Wendle Satre,” he said. “Their key roles in Momentum and Expo ‘74 served as guideposts for me in my role on those community issues that mattered.”

Reflecting on his 38-year career, Scott Morris smiles as he recounts his proudest community achievements -- Huntington Park, Mobius and the Catalyst Building in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene’s McEuen Park and a continued focus on environmental stewardship across Avista’s five-state service territory.

“As I retire, I have a great amount of pride in Avista’s role developing the now-thriving University District including bringing two medical schools to Spokane,” Scott smiled. “The U-District is my leadership generation’s Expo ’74. It has re-energized Spokane in much the same way. “  

Scott Morris on servant leadership and the value of community service:

  1. Continue to have a passion for your community and translate that passion into action. Broad, complex community issues have many different challenges, so be truly open to listening. It is messy, hard work. I’ve learned that once we’re focused and rally around a vision, we take the hill. 
  2. Don’t lose your heart and passion, even when it gets hard. The love and care I have for the place where I grew up and wanting to make it better has inspired me to want to work on tough issues, to leave this place better than I found it.
  3. What makes a great leader comes down to two key attributes: 1) your employees trust you and 2) your employees know that you care about them as people. Tend to these two traits and build on the little things, every day. Leaders often lose their way. They forget about the teachable moments in their careers or think they don’t apply. I’ve been lucky to have others help me see the teachable moments - the mistakes I’ve made - and learn from it. It is so simple and yet so hard for some.“

Learn more about the people behind the power.

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