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7 Questions on Leadership with Cliff Herd

Updated: Jan 11

Name: Cliff Herd

Title: Owner/CEO

Organisation: C. Herd Consulting and Management Services LLC

Graduate of the University of Nebraska, Omaha

B.S. Political Science and Economics, 1975

Sales Representative, Regional Manager, Marketing Manager for 3M/Unitek 1979-1984. Founding President for Class One Orthodontics 1988-90, Owner and Founding President for Nexadental/OrthoQuest 1992-2018. In these companies, I brought forth the first 2 Telephone Sales Specialized Orthodontic Supply Companies. Built Nexa/OQ into an international business with 17 offshore and 26 domestic distributors.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Cliff's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

In some cases, I have found that remaining true to your core beliefs can be a challenge. Circumstances will change underneath your feet, sometimes without you knowing it. Being resourceful and being founded on a true belief in what you do is a must. Especially if you are rebuilding an organization that has lost its way. I believe most people want to be led.

It removes a great burden from their shoulders. But one must be fair and consistent in what they do in their leadership role, or they will never build a sense of confidence in their organization. Organizations with no sense of confidence are lost. They will look to you as a real leader only if you stay true to your core beliefs and they know and understand what they are. Above all be fair and let everybody know, as well as you can, what you want the organization to become.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I believe my father helped build the ability in me to lead. He instilled in me competitive confidence. I learned my work ethic from him and watched him struggle in his career. Each time he got knocked down he got up and forged ahead. The determination I saw in him helped me to want to lead. Every time I was allowed to lead I tried to take advantage of it.

From Student government in College to job performance in sales, and as a manager, I have always strived to be the best I can be. As a company president and CEO, I came to believe that most people want to be led, by a leader who is competent, fair, empathetic, and has a core belief in the goodness of people—playing favorites, inconsistency, unfairness, lies, and misdirection cause failure. One needs a solid sense of direction and the skill set to define it in a way people can understand and believe in.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I do not believe in a set way of handling my day. Business demands more of me than trying to make it conform to how I want my schedule to be set up. So, during my career, I have let my circumstances help me define my daily routines. Some people believe you must control your circumstances with a fixed and ridged scheduling routine. I do not. As a leader, I go and do what I need to do to stay on the path I have set forth.

I do try to plan out my weeks instead of days. I also try to have an understanding of the quarterly demands on the business and what will be needed to get where we want to go. That requires a focus on what's down the road. I expect my management team to handle today while I try and bring the future into focus.

Most people waste an incredible amount of time during the day. I do not. I am true to myself in trying to complete my daily agenda early in an attempt to give me more time to react to what is happening in front of me, down the road. I don't think leadership is about the "here and now", so much as it is about tomorrow and what lies ahead. If you have a plan that is well built you should be able to see your way to the future and have the instinct to make corrections ahead of yourself. If you are constantly making corrections today and tomorrow, something is not right.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

While consulting in the last two years, in one instance early on, I failed to keep reminding the client of the progress we were making. This person was rather disjointed from his business realities. He was so focused on today and tomorrow, that his vision of what he wanted long-term became blurred. I failed to keep him reminded of what I knew. Today is important, yes. But where will you be in a month, 2 months, or 3, or a year? That is much more important. Turning a business on a dime can happen. But, it may take more than a month or 2 to see your new direction begin to unfold in terms of financial results.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

This story is very personal. It was a book called "Jonathan Livingston Seagull". At 16 I was diagnosed with Osteogenic Sarcoma in my right lower leg. At that time, and even today, it is largely considered a fatal form of cancer. The book was given to me by the father of my best friend. He was a clinical psychiatrist for the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

It is about a young seagull and his struggle to learn the finer aspects of how to dive from extreme heights, at very high speeds, into the ocean to catch fish to eat. He struggled and struggled to get it right. It was a story of "gaining self-confidence" and overcoming fear in life's struggles.

As a young cancer patient facing a possible early death, the message hit home. As Winston Churchill said, "Never, never, give up". It helped me pull myself from the midst of depression up to a mental state where I could deal with my situation. It was fundamental in helping me understand overcoming the fear of failure.

After facing deadly cancer as a young man, not much else has intimidated me in life. Not because I am tough, but because I understand how to cope with the many aspects of fear. That is something I think many, many people struggle with.

It's a great little book. I recommend it to many people without explaining why. I just say, read it and you will understand. And they do.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

I would say foremost in what you do, you have to believe in yourself. When allowed to "lead", you must believe in yourself. If you don't, nobody else will.

You must have empathy, but you must also not settle for less than what you know it will take to get the job done. Don't be afraid to make a mistake. If you do and don't move to correct yourself, others around you will have already figured it out and will lose confidence in you.

In most situations, there is more than 1 way to get things done. Understand you are not a leader with 1 answer for people. You must be flexible and have to ability to communicate your sense of direction in many ways. For as many people as you lead, there may be just as many interpretations of what you are saying. That is why you must be consistent and lead, don't waffle. Never get upset because you have to explain yourself many times.

Not everybody hears the same message. It is your job to define it to your audience. Leaving it to interpretation can lead you to fail. And sometimes, you must be willing to adjust the audience's attention level. Leadership is a command performance.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

My first management position was taking over a group of 9 sales positions in a very busy area of the country. I moved there from Nebraska.

What I found was a group of people who had been without leadership. Some told me this, some were happy with things the way they had been.

I met with the group and over 2 days set up my expectations for turning around the business. I had studied their reports and followed up with their customers to find out what was going on before I met with them.

My message was clear. If I could succeed as an outside sales rep, as an amputee, in an agricultural area, there was no reason why each of them could not do the same where they were living. At least that was my expectation and I was consistent in delivering that message. In 2 years, out of 9 territories, I filled 2 openings and replaced 5 of the seven people who had been there. We were the number 2 sales group after the second year, and first in the third and fourth.

That experience led me to marketing and then to a career as a successful entrepreneur.

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