Two Minutes with Heidi Grether, Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
How long have you been the Director of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality?
I was appointed as the Director by Governor Rick Snyder on August 1, 2016.
What’s your best experience thus far?
My best experience so far has been witnessing the passion and resiliency with which MDEQ staff members have performed their duties under immense pressure. When I came on board over a year ago, we were in crisis mode. Morale was low, but employees remained steadfast in their commitment to MDEQ’s mission. Watching them persevere through challenging times has been a humbling and rewarding experience for me.
How has being a member of ECOS benefitted you?
ECOS is a great resource for me personally, as well as for the MDEQ. I confer with other state leaders on issues of mutual concern, seek advice, and provide my perspective. One example is discussions with my counterparts on their experiences with pipeline routing. Our department benefits through working with others via ECOS committees, as well as sharing best practices.
What is the best management advice you’ve received?
The best advice I’ve received is to collaborate with staff. Everyone’s opinion counts. It’s amazing that what you think you know may be upended when you listen to others. I’ve found that team members in other parts of the state bring different perspectives to the table that may not have occurred to me. Ultimately, the buck stops with me, but I’d be doing myself and my team a disservice not to listen to what they have to say.
Tell us about your morning ritual.
Because my days often don’t allow for quiet time, I start my morning quietly. If the weather allows, I’ll sit outside by our pond with a cup of coffee, listening to the birds. As an avid birder, I’ve seen a thousand different kinds of birds, but there are none as special as those who greet me in the morning in my own yard. Then I kiss my four cats (and my husband) goodbye before heading off for work. It’s these little things I do every morning that set the tone for the day.
What was your childhood dream job?
I wanted to be the head of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which at the time included the state’s environmental programs. Not as crazy as it may sound when you consider that, as a child, my dad was very active in the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and we spent time with the then-Director of the Michigan DNR, Ralph McMullen. I thought Mr. McMullen’s job was the best: He got to be outside and look after the state’s resources. That’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. And here I am. Dreams do come true.
What’s your favorite moment of your career so far?
The favorite moment of my career so far is the “aha” moment when everything I’ve learned about leading others came together. In my lifetime, I’ve led in crisis situations, including the BP Deep Horizon oil spill. Enduring those difficult times reminded me that we all need each other and that we can, if given the opportunity, help each other.
We need to put others first, be kind, not make assumptions, and recognize, in a leadership position, that you are always being watched and judged. But, if you can lead with integrity, your job is much easier.
What leader do you most admire?
Vern Ehlers, former Michigan legislator and Member of Congress. I had the distinct honor to work for him when I was a legislative staffer. His motto: Leave it better than you found it. I embrace that.
What was your first real job?
Banquet server. Only lasted one event! Then moved on to work in an independent fabric shop.
Guilty Pleasure: What can you not live without?
High-quality binoculars, spotting scope, and tripod.
If Hollywood made a movie of your life, who would you like to see play the lead role as you?