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  • A Duty to Serve

  • My guest on Leadership Moments this week was Todd Heidgerken – General Manager of Clackamas River Water. What follows is a summary of the highlights of our conversation.

    Developing your very specific career interest came early in your life. How did you do this? Growing up on a farm where he was involved in a myriad of “systems” gave Todd an appreciation for life’s complexity. It also gave him an appreciation for thinking about the future and his place in it and led eventually to his interest in water systems.

    Providing direction for a complex public water delivery system draws on a leader’s ability to think systematically and act strategically. A simple way to experience this is to play a very popular computer game, Sim City, which simulates growing an entire city’s infrastructure in such a way as to enhance and improve the lives of all the citizens being served.

    What leadership skills sets enable you to succeed? When you think about the critical importance of clean water, the ability to build and nurture the confidence of the customer is a vital leadership skill. Public leaders need to be able to build trust. Particularly as a public entity, we need to prove that we are providing good value to our customers while encouraging public investment in expanding and maintaining the water system. A commitment to providing a quality product; to looking ahead into the future and preparing for future challenges and needs. The ability to build trust and confidence with diverse groups and even competing interests is a vital skill.

    Trust is a basic requirement of leadership. How do you build trust, maintain trust, and when trust is eroded, regain trust? Part of the answer is bringing on to your team qualified people that can be trusted to do the right thing and do it adequately. Transparency in all things is important and is showing that you will carry through on your commitments. Remind others what the organization is all about: This refers to the need for leaders and followers to engage in a continuous dialog about the values they share and the mission they are trying to accomplish.

    Four pillars of a well functioning water system:

    1. Understand the source, in this case the Clackamas River and the influences on that river.
    2. Making sure water treatment systems are effective
    3. How well is the system of distribution being maintained
    4. An informed public

    Todd’s daily habits include a reading of Scripture and reflecting on the lessons of the Bible in addressing daily challenges. The challenge of bringing faith into the public arena can be difficult. “A lot of it is living by doing.”

    What is “the duty to serve?” Public service is all about serving. One of my personal motivations is to remember that it’s more about how we can best serve the public and our constituencies and not about me.