Leadership is the act of leading a group of people or an organization. For the women of WAPA, though, leadership means so much more than that.
With Senior Vice President and Rocky Mountain Regional Manager Dawn Roth Lindell being recognized as one of Colorado’s Top Women in Energy, Closed Circuit thought it would be an appropriate time to reach out to some of WAPA’s unsung female leaders to learn about their own leadership experience and insights into what it takes to excel personally and professionally.
Born to lead
Surprisingly, many female leaders of WAPA did not initially seek to become frontrunners. Through learning and growing in their profession, they have found their passion to help others reach empowerment.
“I didn’t say, ‘One day I want to be a leader.’ My career has led me in that direction,” said Supervisory Public Utilities Specialist Julie Matteson. “Throughout the positions I held, I took several opportunities to teach and work with individuals when the chance arose.”
Supervisory Public Utilities Specialist Chrystal Dean had a similar journey. “For me, leadership wasn’t so much of an I-want-to-do-this type of a decision as it was a natural progression in my pursuit to contribute to our organization,” she said. “I think it’s one of those things you do without realizing it, and then look back one day and start to see your level of influence and the impacts you are making on people.”
“I never planned to be a leader,” said Vice President of Financial Management Wendy Shatford. “It kind of fell into place. As I became more confident in my functional area, I realized I wanted to have a voice in our future direction.”
It’s not enough to want to be a leader; decisiveness, passion, confidence and integrity are key factors in the journey to the top.
“To be a strong leader, you must care about the employees and the mission of the organization,” said Engineering and Construction Manager Teresita Amaro.
Other crucial traits include strong communication, trustworthiness, consistency, humility and being willing to grow with team members.
“Leaders build trust within their teams and have the backs of each team member when things go right and most importantly when things go wrong,” said Vice President of Governance and Policy Lisa Hansen. “It’s easy to relish when success is at hand, but a strong leader stands tall when there are challenges and missteps. They are always accountable.”
“The single most important and constant thing is being able to bring out the best in others,” said Management and Program Analyst Stacey Decker.
Power Marketing Manager Lori Frisk believes in not asking your staff to do anything you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself and encouraging skill growth.
The women of WAPA get their drive and motivation from a variety of sources.
“My motivation comes from solving the next challenge,” said Energy Services Specialist Rosemary Jones. “I have been a part of some major events and accomplishments here at WAPA, and every day I walk into work feeling like there’s something new coming. It’s quite energizing for me.”
Supervisory Electrical Engineer Gayle Nansel finds her motivation in helping others. “I’m inspired by a job well done and working to make my team the most effective group of leaders for WAPA,” she said.
“Doing something purposeful inspires me. Being involved with something that needs doing, that matters, is what keeps me coming back,” said Vice President of Natural Resources Shane Kimbrough.
Challenge in change
In spite of their own successes, many women in leadership positions agree that it’s not always an easy journey.
“I believe women in general, regardless of industry, face challenges each day in terms of being heard and respected as leaders,” Hansen said.
“Each employee, male or female, has something to offer our organization,” Supervisory Contract Specialist Susan Ethridge reinforced. “It’s trying to identify that strength that sometimes is the challenge.”
Two major challenges are a shortage of women in the energy industry and the lack of support from other women while expanding jobwise.
“There will always be men and women who do not have good things to say about you,” advised Reliability Compliance Management Specialist Ann Craig. “These are background voices. Keep them as such. I turned those voices into encouragement for me to continue to do the best work that I can.”
WAPA for growth
WAPA provides assistance and allows its employees to develop careers they enjoy.
“WAPA has allowed me to choose and develop my career path in my own time through its employee programs, initiatives and leadership,” said Program Support Specialist Alexia Mendoza.
“My managers at WAPA have allowed me to hone other skills, build relationships with others and see short term project results that sometimes we can’t see in a long-term position,” Frisk added.
Supervisory Civil Engineer Gina Crawford has taken advantage of a number of growth opportunities within the organization. “WAPA has countless opportunities for training, committee involvement, details, promotional opportunities, informal role models and people willing to provide advice and answer questions,” she said.
For many women in leadership, their colleagues are their first priority. As Dean said, “We are strongest as a team.”
“I believe in servant leadership,” said Shatford. “I’m not here for personal glory; I’m here to make it possible for the Finance community to excel. My role is to do what it takes to support our team.”
“The truth is, there’s not one style of leadership that’s the secret to success,” said Craig. “It’s about remembering who you are at every step of the way, and showing those around you your ‘realness’ so they have a true reason to believe in you.”
“Very simply, I believe leadership is boiled down to two major principles,” said Crawford. “Accomplish the mission, and take care of your team.”
Diversity is key
Seeing women in all forms of leadership is becoming the norm and adds diversity to the leadership world.
“It’s imperative to have a diverse group of leaders in an organization, which includes women in leadership roles,” said Nansel. “It brings different perspectives to meeting the goals of the team and organization.”
“Women bring new and different perspectives. By diversifying leadership we gain diversity of thought, which builds a stronger organization,” added Decker.
“It’s important to have the right person, regardless of gender,” said Kimbrough. “Women can bring a different way of approaching and resolving things.”
Words to the wise
For those looking to advance professionally, our interviewees have some advice.
“You don’t need a title to become a leader,” said Ethridge. “Don’t tell someone you’re a leader; show them you’re a leader. That leadership role will then seek you out.”
“Understand resources, identify your own strengths and weaknesses, capitalize on those strengths and improve on those weaknesses,” suggested Supervisory Power System Dispatcher Christine Henry. “In the meantime, seek assistance when necessary. Humility goes a long way.”
“Take advantage of the leadership opportunities that WAPA has to offer,” said Matteson. “Join committees to network and expand your knowledge. Try a detail or take leadership classes. Find a mentor and work with them on improving your skills.”
“Communicate,” concluded Mendoza. “Tell people you’re interested in other positions, negotiate and ask for help. Get a mentor, someone you trust and respect. Be persistent and go for it even if you don’t meet all the requirements. Keep moving, always develop, set high standards and pursue goals relentlessly. Enjoy the journey!”
The women of WAPA have broken countless barriers with their team-oriented and hard-working mentalities. Their contributions positively benefit the organization and we hope both men and women are inspired by them to seek their full potential.
Note: Wilson is an administrative analyst who works under the Wyandotte Services contract.