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Developing Leadership in Your Career

August 26, 2014 - 5:43pm


Editor's Note: This blog is cross-posted from the Clean Energy, Education, Empowerment (C3E) online network, Learn more about C3E here.

As a C3E Ambassador, I’ve been asked to reflect on my career (now spanning over three decades) and discuss insights on leadership. Let me start by saying that every person has her (or his) own career path and the most important advice I can give is to stay true to the approach that fits you the best. However, don’t ever short-change yourself on how much you can accomplish or how far you can go.

With that caveat, I offer four thoughts:

1) Leadership starts early in your career.

My first professional job was working as a staff attorney in a newly created state energy agency, the California Energy Commission, under Jerry Brown in his first term as governor. I had just graduated from law school and knew little about energy law, state regulation, or public policy. However, I quickly became fascinated with the idea of helping draft the state’s first energy building and appliance standards, establishing a system of integrated resource planning, and permitting the nation’s first large-scale solar plants.

I decided to learn as much as I could and to seek assignments that would be the most challenging. It was intimidating to be the lead attorney on multi-million dollar powerplant permitting decisions, write proposed energy efficiency regulations, and the like, but I worked hard to find mentors, learn technical aspects of legal issues, and always be well-prepared. I developed pride in my work and think my early pursuit of challenges set the stage for pursuing leadership positions later on.

2) Develop networks, especially with other women.

Another strategy I used from the beginning of my career was to seek assignments that would give me contact with professionals outside of my direct employer. In those pre-computer days (truly!), networking involved picking up the phone or setting up a meeting, having a conversation, and then continuing to build a professional relationship.

I totally believe those direct conversations (as opposed to today’s ubiquitous electronic networking) cemented the many long-standing professional friends I’ve developed over my career. Networks develop through more than a few clicks of the computer keyboard – it takes repeated contacts and a sharing of ideas and information. And, always remember to suggest actual meetings over electronic meetings!

3) Seek leadership positions, if that is your goal.

Studies have shown that women are more hesitant than men to seek leadership positions. If you want to be in a leadership position, you must be clear about that goal with yourself and others, particularly mentors and supervisors.

I was a Commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission, a gubernatorial selected position, from 2005-2010. When I was first approached about the position, I had to decide if I wanted such a high-level appointment and then whether I was willing to put myself through the significant personal effort of seeking broad-based support for my appointment and legislative confirmation. At times the effort was difficult, since it seemed like self-promotion, but I understood that the responsibilities of the position were such that I did need to obtain broad support, even knowing that I would make decisions that would not always conform to the outcomes desired by those from whom I sought support.

4) Once in leadership, focus on your objectives.

I think of leadership as providing an opportunity to accomplish specific goals. In order to do this, you must identify those goals -- to yourself, those you lead, and others. A piece of advice that I was given when I began my Commissioner term was to focus specifically on 2-3 areas and try to make a difference in those areas. It was great advice. I became the lead Commissioner for transmission planning and permitting and for energy efficiency. By working closely with agency staff, other policymakers, and stakeholders, I was able to take the lead so that California built six billion dollars of new transmission infrastructure (three major new lines) now carrying renewable energy. And, we developed, through a year-long collaborative process that I led, the California Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, a document that continues to guide the state’s efforts in energy efficiency.

In closing, I encourage women to pursue leadership in your energy careers. Energy remains a male-dominated industry but I have seen significant change in my 35 years of working. The majority of you reading this blog are part of the coming generations of leadership. We need you and I hope you succeed in your goals!