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72: Water Nerd’s Guide to Building Dream Teams

Stephen Sanders is a certified Water and Wastewater operator living in central New York.  He has nearly 19 years of experience in the industry.  During that time he has worked at several drinking water and wastewater facilities throughout NY.  He has worked for public, private, and not-for-profit entities. Currently, he is the Director and Head Trainer for the Environmental Training Center at Morrisville State College where he does precertification operator training.  He has been teaching at the ETC for the last 9 yrs. He serves on the state operator certification governance council and on WEF’s recently formed Diversity, inclusion, and Equity taskforce.

Top Takeaways:

  1. A professional is someone who isn’t just collecting a check – a professional is involved.
  2. Diversity needs to be managed and we have to get a lot more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  3. Dream Teams. Just read it, then change how you see diversity and work at it.

Show Notes:

[7:33] What is your connection to operators?

  • Stephen does operator training and sees 500-600 operators per year. This career in water is multiple jobs down their career path.
  • Do operators want a voice? Yes, if they want to be a professional. They need to be enc

[10:14] What is the best message we can offer to operators see the value in being a professional?

  • Education. Leadership needs to recognize the value of your field staff workers.  Leadership in utilities needs to understand these individuals are professionals.

[11:40] When should we start talking to students about operations as a career path?

  • Middle school to early high school. 
  • Can’t just look for operators, need to be willing to train an operator. Need to create the pipeline of workers to fill these roles.

[14:10] What is the biggest industry blind spot?

  • We need to answer why we are trying to have more diversity. Do we value people and different types of people? 
  • We don’t just want to check the box – we need these voices.
  • We serve real human beings.
  • We can encourage one another through storytelling and what it feels like to be out of place.  Leaders need to tell stories and influence the organization.

[18:35] What are some ways we can encourage empathy?

  • We sharpen each other. We need to communicate the value of diverse perspectives.

[20:15] Dream Teams by Shane Snow – what stood out to you most?

  • The part of our brain that puts up the red flag is unconscious; therefore, we have to put in a conscience effort to resist that urge.
  • As human beings we are hardwired to be biased and resist those who look different from us. We see each other as threats.
  • We have been robbed of our ability to have disagreements without “hating” each other. We need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.  It’s our obligation as a water sector. It’s about what we are trying to accomplish together.
  • Feedback comes from wanting to help someone – it’s not about a personal attack on them.

[27:09] Discussion about the importance of Wu-Tang and the power of diversity.

  • Diversity has to be managed – it’s not a free for all.
  • Just because its not comfortable doesn’t mean you should avoid it.
  • “if it ain’t rough, it ain’t right.”

[31:06] The Lighting Round

  • Dream Teams – Shane Snow
  • Get out in the morning with a walk. Need to have a clean desk. Mind the calendar.
  • The golden rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated.


  • Dream Teams – Shane Snow
  • Radical Candor – Kim Scott
  • Creativity Inc., –  Ed Catmull


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