Leadership Tips to Live By
Posted on January 30, 2015 by Katherine Razzi
An Interview with Dave Herda Sr.
During a college course on leadership in the workplace, one of our assignments was to interview a prominent leader of any organization. At the time, I worked for Ameritech when Dick Notebaert was CEO. I tried to get in touch with him, but to my disappointment (and his) he would be in Europe on vacation for several weeks.
There are leaders all around us. They don’t have to be the president of a large corporation, or have a big title. What they do need is the experience of being a good leader in which their reputation attests time and again that they are worthy of recognition and greatness. Therefore, I chose to interview David Herda, superintendent of the Northern Illinois Gas Company.
Below are 8 interview questions on leadership that I asked Mr. Herda.
1. What is your philosophy on leadership?
“To lead by example. You can’t ask subordinates to do something that you wouldn’t do.”
“You can’t compromise your scruples or morals.”
“You must encourage your subordinates and support them.”
Dave believes that when you give constructive criticism, it should be face to face with the person to discuss their strengths and weaknesses and TOGETHER, agree on how you can develop them. Leadership should “rub off” on them to the point that they walk away saying, “Hey, I can do that too!”
2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Dave believes that one’s [leader’s] greatness and weaknesses are seen in the eyes of one’s subordinates or peers. “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” In other words, what he considers to be a strength of his, is not necessarily regarded as a strength in the eyes of superiors or subordinates.
Dave thoroughly believes that morals and ethics are paramount to good leadership. In order to measure up, Dave would ask himself from time to time when issues arose, “How would I feel if I had to face my family [by doing something immoral or unethical]?”
Dave says he tried to “overcome the human aspect” of weaknesses and always treated subordinates uniquely because every situation is different. Dave maintains that you can’t deal with people like they are mechanical robots.
Dave believes that a good leader does what he says he’s going to do.
3. Was there any particular experience or event in your life that influenced your strengths and weaknesses?
Dave organized and participated in several games at the NI Gas annual company picnics. One of the games in which there was a trophy for first prize was horseshoes. Several participants had come and gone until it was down to Dave and one of his colleague’s father who was a champion at horseshoes in the 1920 Olympics. They were neck and neck to win until finally Dave got the winning point. When he was presented with the trophy, he graciously handed it to the little old man who was thrilled and grateful!
The following Monday at work, Dave received many kudos for his kind gesture and was told what a class act it was. He also says that he won the respect of several union members that day too.
Leadership is not always related to work and it’s good for the people with whom you work to see your character and personality as a consistent measure and value of the person you are anywhere. A true leader exhibits leadership quality in and away from his professional life.
Another instance where Dave would not sacrifice his morals, was when he hosted a bachelor party at his house. He did not know beforehand that a couple of the fellows were going to bring stag films. As soon as he found out, he announced in front of some 40 men, that he would not show those films in his house. Later at work, he was applauded for his scruples from several of the men who attended.
4. What were the major decision points in your career and how do you feel about your choices now?
After 19 years of working with the union, Dave decided he needed a change and would like to try management. Despite the fact that management wasn’t as secure as a union job, Dave took his chances. He went into management after discussing it with his wife. Dave says he always consulted his wife before taking an assignment.
At age 44, he graduated from Illinois Benedictine College with a management degree and was really on his way up. After receiving his degree, he was promoted 3 times. The last of which was ultimately the best position Dave could ever have hoped for and that was superintendent of NI Gas in McHenry, Il.
5. What is the most important aspect of leadership?
“Mental toughness,” Dave declares, “You must be fair to all. A good leader sees no color, prejudice other than how they can do on the job.” Dave adds that for many leaders the thought of “passing the torch” can hurt, but he advises all leaders to “Develop a subordinate to take over [your] job.” – My instructor commented, “I especially like this – It takes a confident leader to do this.”
“You have to be morally untouchable.” Dave cited examples where he was in social situations where he could have easily been tempted to do something unethical, such as outings where people are drinking and can easily compromise their principles. When this would happen, Dave would start talking about his wife and kids.
6. Which leader in history do you admire and would choose to be like?
Dave says he really had to think this one through because there were so many great leaders to admire, however he said that General George Patton would be his choice because Patton made sure he was visible to his troops. He was always out there in front of them. He fought with them. He really loved his troops. Patton got the most out of a person and they in turn, trusted him. That’s why Patton’s army was such a success. Even Patton’s personal demeanor and appearance stood for success.
7. How do your professional leadership skills compare to your personal leadership skills? Is there a difference?
Dave says there’s a BIG DIFFERENCE. Perhaps it’s easier to lose control with ones you love because they will love you unconditionally and there is a different kind of commitment involved. Family members may not “obey” or “follow” the leader as they would at work.
8. Did you learn anything from this exercise?
Dave was more than happy to have been able to help out, and feels that his career with NI Gas was worth it in the end. To this day, friends and former coworkers call him for advice or just to say hello. One fellow still calls him “boss.” This same person was rescued on 2 accounts from Dave. The first was when Dave took him under his wing due to the fact that he had an alcohol problem. “This guy almost lost his job and boasted to everyone that if it weren’t for Dave, he wouldn’t be there.” Another time, the company insisted on the use of hard hats in the field. Dave always stressed safety first and one day he caught this guy without a safety hat and sternly made the point to wear it – “or else!” Sure enough, one day the guy is working and gets hit in the head. Fortunately, he wore his hard hat but still suffered a concussion! He was truly grateful to Dave for insisting that he wore it, and said, “I could have been dead!”
The interview was a good reflection of Dave’s career and leadership skills, which are a participative style. Those skills are not shelved away with memories of work just because Dave is well into retirement. Dave applies his leadership skills in other aspects of his life by volunteering his time to the community and offers sound advice to his children and friends on leadership. Aside from his formal college education at Benedictine, I conclude that he is a natural leader, and through work experience and life, he honed in on keen leadership skills.
I can only hope to follow in his path not only because I believe he is a good leader, but he just happens to be my father.
Instructor comments: Kathy, I thought your report was among the best in class. You should be proud of your father – – he did it the RIGHT way and displayed a lot of courage. Excellent job! – Steve
I got an A for my paper, but I passed it on to my father.