This interview with Ruth Kagi, State Representative in the 32nd District in Shoreline, was conducted by Guest Blogger, Tarja Kallinen.
A: I worked 15 years for US Dept. of Labor and helped start a new regional office for the Employment and Training Administration. Later I chaired the Washington Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. I also worked on the King County Commission on Children and Youth. When I first ran for office I was terrified about standing before people. I was a policy nerd, not used to being in front of large crowds. Experience has changed all that. What I discovered was that it was important to learn from your mistakes.
Q) Can you think of a turning point or a ‘defining moment’ in your life that describes your values as a leader?
A: After getting involved in community work I became very committed to child welfare. It was a very positive experience.
Q) What is your leadership style now? Has it changed over time?
A: The longer I’ve been in the legislature the more willing I am to be bold and take risks. I started out as a policy wonk but with growth and experience began to understand that sometimes you need major reform and not just tweaking here and there. Things need to be shaken up. People don’t like change, but I am now more willing to make change happen. Change brings new opportunities.
Q) Are there obstacles you face as a woman in a leadership position; if so, how do you deal with them? How would you advice younger women who aspire to lead?
A: Washington State has been very supportive of women. I have not noticed any specific obstacles. I would advice younger women to get involved with the issues and with your community, find your passion and gain confidence. Learn the issues and become knowledgeable. Most women get involved with politics after someone else asks them. Women work harder to really learn the issues before getting involved.
Q) How has leadership changed in the digital age?
A: I am old-fashioned; I do not like the digital age, it's a huge distraction. But I realize that I must learn. I need to find a way to communicate because the local newspaper in Lake Forest Park has disappeared! I write e-memos every two weeks and a newsletter once each legislative session. I talk with Shoreline Patch, a local online newspaper, to disseminate information. I conduct town halls, and sends emails.
Q) What are some of the challenges of social media/transparency you have encountered?
A: Younger legislators are more comfortable with digital media; I am not, and learning takes time - which is not available during legislative session. I use email and I find that easy.
Q) Can a leader show vulnerability?
A: I do all the time! Vulnerability is part of being genuine, building trust with people.
Q) How do you ensure credibility in the age of digital media?
A: I am disgusted with the media because they focus on the wrong issues and manipulate the issues. I am worried about where it will lead. What will happen to PBS when they try to cut the funding? What will happen when we lose our newspapers - our watchdogs?
Q) Are women’s stories different in politics?
A: Yes, women have a more difficult time getting and staying involved because of family and small children - they struggle with feelings of guilt. Women are more interested in children’s issues, health care etc.
Q) How do you understand ‘authentic leadership’?
A: Authentic leadership is about being direct and up-front about issues, such as budget, etc. It is about being genuine, and understanding the vision, where we are going and sharing that with people. It is about bringing people together.