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Summit inspires leaders to fulfill potential

​​By Eric Barendsen
Photos by Alex Stephens

On Feb. 3-6, leaders from across WAPA braved Colorado’s wintry mix and gathered in Denver for the 2020 Leadership Summit. Open to senior leaders, managers, supervisors, foremen III and influence leaders, the event consisted of formalized leadership training and networking events arranged around a core All-Leadership Meeting that featured keynotes, panel discussions and more.

The theme of this year’s Leadership Summit was Leadership in an Evolving Industry. This theme captured the need for all leaders across the organization to stay motivated, agile and engaged, and it emphasized the importance of strategic thinking and WAPA-wide contributions to improving the organization.

“Leadership in today’s industry requires commitment, innovation and enthusiasm for change and demands more of our leaders as we prepare for the future,” said Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel. “I’m very proud of WAPA leaders in being open to change and accepting the challenge to continue making WAPA a great place to work.”

The overarching goal of the Summit, hosted at the Hilton Denver City Center, was to facilitate collaboration, increase communication across regions and Headquarters and align WAPA’s leadership to better serve the organization’s mission. Attendees participated in training and knowledge sharing, all while building relationships and enhancing their internal networks.

The vision for the 2020 Leadership Summit was to give participants a better understanding of their leadership styles, change preferences and coaching skills to lead teams through times of change. In this vein, the Summit introduced leaders across the organization to WAPA’s new Leadership Competency Model.

The model establishes six fundamental leadership competencies: accountability, ethical practice, effective communication, emotional intelligence, student of the business and collaboration.

The competency model was developed and recommended by the Leadership Development Taskforce. Based on feedback received by the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the WAPA culture assessment and a WAPA-wide survey about leadership, the taskforce identified the need to define leadership competency criteria and a framework to apply them across WAPA. They wanted a model to establish a consistently positive culture and to become more agile and inclusive as an organization—essentially creating a program that works for everybody.

“The competency model describes the leadership traits necessary for the future state of WAPA leaders,” explained Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist La Kischa Cook. “The fundamental competencies relate back to WAPA’s core values, as well as the skills needed to effectively lead self, others and the organization. Fundamental competencies, including effective communication and collaboration, reinforce WAPA’s continued commitment to creating inclusive workplaces.”

The model also underscores the fact that technical proficiency doesn’t always translate into good leadership. Leaders must consciously develop new abilities and practice the competencies in concrete ways.

One of these practices encourages leaders in giving and receiving regular feedback—offering feedback when people do their jobs well, effectively communicating when something needs to be improved and asking for feedback from their community. Another recommends that supervisors create casual opportunities to talk to staff about where they want to be in five, 10 or 20 years.

In support of the model, WAPA intends to hire a program manager to help implement and manage the program. 

“Before, it was a lot of training by trauma. We’re trying to be more proactive about training our leadership,” said Senior Vice President and CRSP Manager Steve Johnson. “If we get the culture right, everything else will fall into place.”

During the broader training portion of the event, led by the Center for Creative Leadership, participants engaged in lively discussions and group interactions intended to foster communication, listening and coaching. These activities culminated in 45-minute roundtable discussions centered on technology, markets, people and adapting in a world of change.

There was a twist: Participants were assigned to topics outside of their expertise or regular job functions in order to challenge them to grapple with unfamiliar subjects and expand beyond their normal mindsets.

“Sharing this experience with my colleagues allows us to have a common experience and memories to relate to each other,” said Vice President of Transmission System Asset Management for CRSP MC, DSW and RM Darren Buck.

Buck has a number of people on his staff who weren’t at the Summit, he said, so he’ll go back and talk to them—via discussions with union members, on calls with field managers and in his Monday morning staff meeting—about what happened at the Summit. “It’s important that similar messages come from all of us,” he said.

As part of the CCL training, each participant who completed the self-assessments ahead of the Summit received personalized results from two personality tests. These tools and the discussions about their results gave participants new insight into their leadership and interpersonal qualities and the ways in which they adapt to change in the workplace.

“The group discussions on the Change Style Indicator increased my awareness of different approaches to responding to change,” said Supervisory Electrical Engineer Wilson Head. “As a pragmatist, taking a practical approach to change comes naturally for me, but I am reminded how important it is to engage others who prefer to serve as catalysts for big change.”

The main event of the Summit was the All-Leadership Meeting, held Feb. 5. The meeting was emceed by Chief Public Affairs Officer Teresa Waugh, who began by reflecting on what it means to have a leadership legacy.

Gabriel discussed an anonymous letter that pointed out that employee’s perceived range of leadership failures, and he reflected on how he and fellow leaders remain committed to addressing those concerns while upholding the value of leadership development. He discussed why WAPA leaders need to lean in now, more than ever, and engage in the rapidly changing industry and connect with our core values and leadership competencies.

“I found it very inspiring!” said Lands Manager and Acting Vice President of Natural Resources Heidi Miller. “We want to embrace a positive culture and make WAPA the best place to work, and we can do that if we embody WAPA’s core values. I am excited that senior executives want to invest in our leaders and employees to ensure that we understand and are proactive in this evolving industry.”

The All-Leadership Meeting featured a welcome message from Colorado Governor Jared Polis as well as two industry and customer panels.

“My biggest takeaway from the industry panels and keynote speakers was that the push for 100% renewable energy is purely social-driven, not science or economics,” said Field Maintenance Manager Marc Kress. “That makes it even more important to adapt and prepare.”

Acting Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Rodgers recognized 10 participants of the 2020 Leadership Emergence and Development Program and 12 participants of the Craft Leadership Development Program.

The keynote speaker of the All-Leadership Meeting was Jeffrey Holzschuh, chairman of Morgan Stanley’s Institutional Securities Group, who provided a detailed financial outlook on the utility sector and discussed the importance of environmental, social and governance factors driving value for today’s investors.

“I was pleased at the importance investors are placing on environmental, social and governance factors, but particularly on governance, was highlighted,” said Senior Vice President and Acting Desert Southwest Regional Manager Tracey LeBeau. “More and more investors and shareholders are requiring corporate boards be more inclusive than in the past. They’re recognizing that it’s also good for their bottom line to be inclusive, in particular by including women.”

The All-Leadership Meeting closed with Management and Program Analyst Stacey Decker encouraging WAPA leaders to dive into the Summit training and networking opportunities and set their vision on sights beyond the immediate horizon.

“It was eye opening as a new supervisor to see how much value they’re putting on leadership training,” said Safety and Occupational Health Manager Tim Duffy. “I didn’t realize how much focus they have on developing our leadership teams.” 

Note: Barendsen is a public affairs specialist.


Colorado Governor Jared Polis addresses attendees at WAPA's 2020 Leadership
Summit in Denver Feb. 3-6. 


The Leadership Summit featured many break-out sessions so employees
could learn about WAPA initiatives and activities outside their normal work.
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