The ELDP group photo taken in a carpeted room with white walls.

ELDP graduates third group of future WAPA leaders

“On a blustery morning in Billings, Montana, our cohort embarked on a journey to explore ourselves, cultivate relationships and develop dynamic leadership skills within WAPA,” said Mark Straub, an Electronic Integrated Systems Mechanic in the Rocky Mountain region.  

As participants in Leadership Development’s third cohort of the Emerging Leaders Development Program, a group of 25 candidates committed to two separate in-person, week-long training courses and an individual coaching session. 

Straub continued, “The first session centered around the concept of ‘start with why,’ which helped answer how I arrived at this point. My desire was to grow and align with a purpose within WAPA.” 

Attendees’ first week in the program continued with a “generative lens,” where they discussed how to transform problems into possibilities.  

“We delved into various topics such as appreciation, trust, identifying our strengths and weaknesses, handling conflicts and building resilience,” Straub said. “This initial week proved highly impactful, offering insights into my current leadership journey and areas in need of development or refinement.” 

Other participants shared similar positive experiences. 

“I went in with my guard up, ready to fight interruptions and defend my stance as someone in an easily dismissed, oft-undervalued role,” said Executive Assistant to the Sierra Nevada Regional Manager Aeryka Denton. “I was initially intimidated walking into a room as a) one of five women in a class of 25; b) a millennial; and c) someone in a non-technical role.”  

However, Denton quickly learned how limited her own preconceptions were.  

“Instead of interruptions,” she noted, “I was met with active listening and thoughtful, engaging questions. Rather than feeling inadequate in a sea of brilliant technical expertise, I was made to feel intelligent with valuable and unique insights.”  

Through the entire class’s vulnerability, genuine curiosity, and hunger for learning and connection, for Aeryka, this once-intimidating room quickly transformed into a network of trusted confidants who, “astronomically built up my confidence and made me feel supported like never before,” she said. 

The second week commenced at WAPA headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado, where the ELDP cohort learned about the significance of emotional intelligence in effective leadership. This included perceiving and expressing emotions, fostering relationships and handling emotional information constructively. An evaluation of self-perception, self-expression, decision-making, stress management and happiness helped attendees form the foundation of a personal composite. 

George Rendon, a fellow WAPA cohort teammate and Safety and Health Specialist in the Rocky Mountain region, also found this program invaluable.  

“It was gratifying to participate in a program that encouraged us to connect by sharing our personal challenges and lowering our defenses,” said Rendon. “After experiencing isolation during the COVID pandemic, it felt rejuvenating to reconnect with people.”  

“We began as strangers from diverse areas within WAPA and DOE, but now we have established connections and friendships,” he added. 

The team members gained an understanding of how they perceived their own abilities and values, and received feedback from various coworkers regarding how they viewed others’ leadership qualities.  

“Comparing the variations was humbling,” said Rendon. “While some areas aligned with my contributions, there were also several aspects that required improvement. The feedback motivated me to work harder and enhance my skills.” 

Emphasizing the use of “Appreciative Inquiry,” trainees aimed to focus on positive responses to issues, fostering an environment where coworkers could excel collectively with their “collective genius.” 

“Implementing Appreciative Inquiry has helped me build trust among teams and practice mindfulness during conversations. It allows me to comprehend opportunities from my team’s perspective without passing judgment or introducing my prejudices about the topic,” Rendon explained. “I feel more engaged and empathetic towards situations. I now understand that sometimes the best approach is to listen, as individuals often possess the ability to resolve or find answers to their own issues.” 

Throughout the program, cohort members learned that effective leadership revolves around listening, inspiring and creating an environment where others can reach their full potential. 

“Leadership is an honor and comes with enormous responsibilities,” noted Rendon. “I strongly encourage anyone with the desire to lead or currently in a leadership role to apply for this course. The knowledge and influence gained will significantly enrich your life.” 

For those who feel hung up on the word “leadership,” which may elicit thoughts of stressful managerial duties and responsibilities, these ELDP alumni stressed this is not the focus of the program.  

As Denton described, it’s easy to forget that leadership isn’t a title, it’s a mindset. It’s a way to use the innate influence humans have on each other, whether it’s in a work group, personal organization, family or perhaps most difficult: oneself.  

“The more we learn about ourselves and the people we share a vision with, the better we can use this influence to bring out the best in others, including ourselves,” Denton said. 

“It means a lot to me that WAPA and my supervisor supported my leadership development,” Straub acknowledged. “The investment in our future leaders will undoubtedly yield positive returns for the people of WAPA and the success of our mission.” 

Inspired and motivated, many participants returned to their respective workplaces at WAPA with newfound confidence and a leadership mindset, ready to play their part as teammates, mentors, innovators or whatever role allows them to contribute to their workplace. 

“Since completing the ELDP course, I have effectively applied the tools we were taught to several situations,” shared Rendon. “For me, incorporating an Appreciative Inquiry lens into my work environment has been pivotal, focusing on discovering the best of what was, what is and what could be.” 

For employees interested in pursuing a path towards leadership, ELDP presents an opportunity to learn about their own leadership abilities and receive guidance to enhance their skills. 

“Everyone, regardless of grade, age, background or ambitions can benefit from this program,” Denton said. “If you participate in the ELDP’s future cohorts, you’ll leave with some pivotal lessons and a community network of nearly 100 WAPA employees across the organization who speak the same language of leadership at all levels.” 

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Last modified on March 9th, 2024