The Wyoming Women's Legislative Caucus includes all 12 women who serve in the Legislature. This past legislative session the group introduced a bill to change the custom of using the word "he" to refer to all people in statute. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

– by Michele Irwin

If you are even remotely aware of what is going on in the world today it is easy to feel discouraged. Much of the negative news being reported centers around lack of leadership. Cynicism, apathy, blame and gridlock seem to prevail.

Of course there are problems, but this isn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of the whole picture. There are good people in leadership positions, quietly going about their work, without fanfare.

Here in Wyoming one such leader is Bernadine Craft, the only female in the Equality State’s Senate, an ordained Episcopal minister, licensed psychotherapist, and willing mentor. She personifies diverse leadership in a number of roles.

Recently she was one of several women leaders to share words of wisdom and encouragement at a Leap into Leadership workshop sponsored by the Wyoming Women’s Foundation. These workshops build leadership capacity of women in Wyoming, where less than a quarter of elected positions are held by women. Both sexes bring something of value to the table, but overcoming gender stereotypes and developing one’s own sense of power are issues women in particular face.

Wyoming Sen. Bernadine Craft (D-Rock Springs) and Rep. JoAnn Dayton (D-Rock Springs). (courtesy Michele Irwin)

While the efforts of Leap into Leadership focus on women, the lessons are applicable to others, including those of a different race, age, sexual identity, socio-economic background or work experience. (Another area is in personality, with fewer introverts being involved). In Wyoming government that diversity is lacking, but the values of bringing different perspective and experiences to the table are worth encouraging.

There are many leaders helping to make a difference in Wyoming with little fanfare, including people who have run for office, but lost. They were willing to challenge the status quo and bring forth other points of view. Grassroots leaders are another source. Currently Wyoming has a petition drive for medicinal marijuana, and there are several local efforts to pass nondiscrimination ordinances. There are many examples of people making a difference working for nonprofit organizations, including environmental groups and service organizations. Other sources of leadership can be found in union memberships and trade organizations.

It is important that more people in general seek leadership roles. The best ideas aren’t going to come from the traditional leadership paradigm, and the problems we are faced with are greater than the solutions of one person, or one segment of society. With changing paradigms, we may not always recognize the skills that are needed to be an effective leader. In addition, some skills don’t become evident until put to the test. The more skills and views involved, the more we increase the odds of success.

Linda A. Hill of Harvard Business School sees the new leadership model not as formal authority, but a web of relationships that is inclusive and collaborative. A leader creates the space for diverse views to participate and “harnesses the slices of genius.”

One of the greatest reasons people don’t seek leadership roles is fear of failure. If they don’t see themselves reflected in current leadership, they may assume they aren’t qualified. But according to Brene Brown in her TED talk The Power of Vulnerability, being vulnerable enough to follow our hearts and buck conventional wisdom can ignite action in others. Be vulnerable, take that leap into leadership.

There are many ways in which to serve in leadership roles. In Wyoming many elections have uncontested races. There are also non-elected positions for local, county and state boards. Each of us has interests and concerns where our experiences and perspectives can add value.

Consider other ways to get involved — help recruit others to run for office, or volunteer for voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. These can be done by joining a political party, or nonpartisan organizations like League of Women Voters, which has both male and female members.

Understand that voting is the heart of democracy. This last legislative session a bill was passed to ease the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons who have served their time. Don’t let a felony conviction be an obstacle to participating in our political process. Ultimately everything is political, and a democracy cannot survive without an educated and involved electorate.

You can also get involved by volunteering, writing letters (to the editor, to elected officials and agencies), signing petitions, and even posting things you care about on social media. All are forms of action. Taking initiative is a form of self-empowerment.

Wyoming is a great place to get involved. There are so few people here that your voice and efforts really can make a difference. Let “The Wyoming Way” be an engaged and empowered citizenry, with all of us bringing what we have to offer to the table, and being willing to learn and grow in the process. Diverse and inspiring leaders will emerge from this foundation of personal empowerment.

Michele Irwin

— Michele Irwin has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Idaho State University, and a master’s in Public Administration from the University of Wyoming. She was a candidate for the Wyoming Legislature in 2014, serves as Vice Chairwoman of the Sweetwater County Democrats, and is a member of various organizations, including Wyoming Outdoor Council, Muley Fanatics, and the Seedskadee chapter of Trout Unlimited.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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  1. You mean there,s more than just the political hole digging of Charlie Scott and Kerry Drake? Sounds good.

    Paul Cook

    1. Ideally we find a way to get everyone’s voices represented at the table. But diversifying the representative leadership would go a long way to bringing other perspectives into the decision making process.

      Michele Irwin

    1. There is a lot of diversity here – in landscapes, wildlife, weather, and even in the 56 nationalities of Rock Springs. But yes, we could do a lot to diversify our economy, and cultural opportunities, to name two.

      Michele Irwin