Last Word: Sterbenz
Photo by Megan Rogers Photographie
What is your role at Westar?
As the chief operating officer, I am responsible for leading the operational activities of the largest electric company in Kansas. Ultimately, my job is to make sure customers are satisfied with their electric service.
Why are you on the public speaking circuit?
I frequently speak to groups outside of Westar to share our great story about leadership and safety performance. I draw from real experiences with people throughout my career and share what I have learned about leadership in my years moving from a shift supervisor to executive management. I’m passionate about safety and leadership. If we can share our successes in those areas and save a life at another company or inspire people to be better leaders, I’m all for that.
How does this fit into your position as COO of Westar?
In today’s social media world, you have to develop the skills to get your ideas across. Every time I see the impact that a professional speaker has at a safety meeting or leadership conference, I’m reminded how important it is that I work those skills myself. Being a good public speaker is hard work and takes a lot of intentional practice. I want to get better at it, so I do it more. When I grow and expand my horizons, I come to work a fuller person.
How important was it to define your relationship inside and outside Westar as a public speaker?
Very important because it is an ethical deal. I sat down with Westar’s CEO and we talked about the proper parameters for both Westar and me. If the engagement is related to our work at Westar, I don’t get paid—I do it as part of my job. If the engagement is not related to Westar, I do it on my vacation time. If I get paid, I donate the fee to charity.
What is the ONE piece of advice you give about being a better leader?
Be present—really present in the moment as the leader. I believe that Leaders Must be Present to Win™. We must be present physically, knowing what is happening in the day-to-day operations; present mentally, thinking deeper about the business and challenging the status quo; and present emotionally, aligning what inspires people with the mission of the organization.
What advice would you give to business professionals?
Spend most of your time doing what invigorates you. Mine is pretty visible—standing in front of a group talking—but it’s really not much different than other areas of our lives where we pursue something of interest either outside or alongside our careers. I think having that other pursuit is healthy. We should continue to develop our skills and gifts wherever they may take us and strive to become better every day.