It is almost June, about three months into COVID-19. Even through all this craziness, life has to keep moving on. As our lives start to take on a new normal we will get back into routines – thank goodness.
We are getting set to elect a mayor and council this fall to serve us for the next four years. It’s always an exciting time to see people get involved and eager to serve their community. It also allows us to understand the goals of the candidates and make our choices for community leadership by voting.
As you all know, it’s a passion of mine to inspire other women to participate in leadership. As I look ahead to the upcoming election, I have also been reflecting on my 20 years of service to the City of Warman. In a blink, these years have passed by, and what incredible years they have been. Although I was nervous at the beginning of what lay ahead, I truly became captivated by all there was to do and learn. It is quoted, "The mere fact of being able to call your job your passion is success in my eyes." This couldn’t be more true to my experience as a Councillor and then Mayor for the City of Warman.
There are many reasons why people decide to run for office, whether it’s to work for a specific cause or issue or for a love of their community. I was never very political. I never thought about serving on Town Council as a political choice. I thought of it as servitude, plain and simple. I’ve always been involved in my community in one way or another. Something I have always loved from this community was the opportunity to get involved and, in the process, meet people. Through this, I have met lifelong friends who have filled my life fully. These friendships, and building a stronger sense of community, is what you get when you become involved.
Back in 2000 when I first ran, I didn’t know a lot about Town Council. It wasn’t until after I submitted my nomination I began to hear about community issues circulating during that time. I was excited to lend my voice to these issues on behalf of the residents I met while door-knocking during my campaign. This is an extremely valuable process as you go into your term. Connecting with voters in this manner can be hard, but worth every bit of time you take to do it. Hearing their concerns and ideas directly will have a valuable impact on your ability to understand the vibe in your city. You will become keenly aware of how well you have been connected to the pulse of your community by door knocking and hearing the opinions of the constituents.
Early in my local government leadership role some challenges surfaced because of my gender, and to be truthful some persist today. But I never let anyone try to quiet my voice and I encourage all other women who will be running for office to do the same. Having a greater number of women in politics or leadership roles will also encourage more girls to pursue their dreams, realizing anything is possible for their future as they look up to women who have shaped the communities they live in. I have daughters, and I tell them to have their voice in this world – strong voices – and I am thankful they do.
Words of caution: Women need to be careful to not wear their hearts on their shirt sleeves. Now, don’t get me wrong here. The fact that women make wholesome decisions by using our God-given gifts, including a warm heart, make our contributions that much more valuable. You will need to make some difficult decisions during your term, so having some grit and resilience will help you get through some of these challenging times. Men's and women’s different viewpoints, ideas, and insights are some of the best tools for building a strong, gender-diverse team that enables extraordinary and unique leadership.
When I was first settling into my role as Councillor, I was given very good advice from a fellow long-time Councillor. He said, “Don’t take things personally when you are in this arena.” This statement is true. Often, other people’s comments on a matter, or even Council motions for or against your views, can be taken as a slight against yourself, when in fact it is just democracy at work. Not everyone thinks alike — and thank goodness for that! You may go into a debate with your mind already set on supporting one direction, and walk out supporting another because you heard through that democratic process other views you hadn’t even considered, which compelled you to change your opinion!
What else do women need to be successful in office? Number one, you need confidence in your abilities to serve and lead. Add to that the support of family, friends, colleagues, and the desire to work hard and you will succeed. Patience is another key in leadership (sometimes the wheels of change are slow). Be a good listener. It is said, “Listen twice as much as you talk,” and this is very important to keep in mind when you’re in a political position. Do your research! Never underestimate how important it is to go into meetings fully prepared. If you do these things you will be respected for your work ethic and interest at making the best decisions possible, all while having that desire to hear and care about what your constituents are saying.
We don’t know everything. We really don’t. So surround yourself with good advisors who represent different demographics of your community. This will be such a great resource and support all at the same time.
Remember balance: you have a life outside of your role on Council and you need to nurture that because at the end of the day maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important for wellbeing and relationships.
I believe that gender balance is very important. As I have said many times, having both men and women sitting around the decision-making table is powerful. We tackle problems and concerns differently. Our objectives, perspectives and world views may be different, but we all have strengths and gifts to offer. Putting all of this together can create great decision-makers, enhanced collaboration, and a better reflection of your communities.
Serving your community can be so rewarding. It has been so rewarding and interesting for me. Warman has seen change, and being involved in this change has been such a positive life experience. A role I would recommend to anyone who wants to get involved in their community – you know, that place you call home.
Rosalynn Carter said, "A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
If there is one thing I know for sure: women have a role to play around the decision making tables. Our voices and contributions are important to this world we live in. It’s your turn to become involved.