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Lance Rothe
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Texas Forever: An interview with Lance Rothe

Kristen McGillivray, Western Canada Water

 

I would have preferred to travel down to San Antonio to meet with Lance where he works as a Manager for Eastside Water Maintenance at the San Antonio Water System for this interview (we probably would have had BBQ). Lance completed both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University (he’s also a 6th generation Texan). We met in Nashville earlier this year at the Water Environment Federation Emerging Leaders Workshop. I called him a “keener” during an exercise,  he didn’t know what that meant but we struck up a connection and now he’s stuck with me.

Side note: is keener a Canadian term? No one in the room had heard of it! 

 

Starting Point

Q. What sparked your interest to pursue a career in the water industry? Can you describe a moment where you realized this was the field you wanted to work in?

A. I have to say, water has always been in my blood. Growing up on a ranch, our livelihood depended on rainfall to keep pastures full of grass for the cattle. My dad was always in a good mood after a good thunderstorm and I spent many happy days going with him to ‘check the rain’. My first awareness of the importance of water came on a Saturday morning when I was 6 years old. While watching my favorite cartoon, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” I saw this PSA commercial and first became aware of water conservation.


I considered other careers growing up (MLB baseball player, anyone?), but when it came time to decide, I picked civil/environmental engineering which combined my strengths (math/engineering) with my interests (environment/water). I love being in the water industry.

Q. How have you built up your professional networks? 

A. First, being involved in AWWA and WEF has helped me build my professional network immensely. I have been an active member of the local and state chapters and traveled to state and national conventions. People I knew through the organizations helped me get a job quickly after being laid off, and then later helped me to get into the position I am in now. Second, I’ve focused on doing quality work and being responsive so that I have a good professional brand. This has led to people seeking me out and wanting to work with me. In the last year I have been working to post more on LinkedIn and have made some connections that way, but just becoming a connection with someone online isn’t enough. There needs to be phone calls or emails or in person meetings to make a true connection.

Working in Water

Q. What brought you to your current job? What professional experience prepared you for the role you’re in?

A. I worked as an engineering consultant for 9 years, getting to work on some cool projects and working with great people. But as my career advanced I came to the realization that my strengths and interests would be a better fit on the public side. I wanted to lead larger teams of people, I wanted to be closer to the actual work in the field, and I wasn’t interested in the competitive nature of consulting. I found an opportunity at the San Antonio Water System to lead an Operations team doing water distribution maintenance, and made the jump. I didn’t have much experience in distribution systems, but understanding water, pumps, pressures, valves, and fittings helped me tremendously. I was in a Leadership program through the local COC, so that experience gave me the confidence to begin leading a large group of people.

Q. What are your "go-to" time management strategies? 

A. Time management is incredibly important, there usually isn’t enough time to do all the things I want to get done in a day! I use my Outlook Calendar as much as possible to schedule blocks of time to do certain tasks. I have a daily log where I write down all my daily work activities at the end of the day and list any pending items I want to take care of the next day. In my current position, it’s also important for me to delegate tasks as much as possible. I would love to investigate and respond to every email, but it’s important for me to trust my team and know they will take care of certain tasks, so I can focus on the bigger picture.

Q. What do you think the future of the water industry looks like?

A. I am continually amazed by the advances being made by the people in our industry. This includes the work of utilities, consultants, operators, contractors, and manufacturers. I think that the future is promising and the IoT and data age will give our industry a great opportunity to be good stewards of the environment and continue improving the delivery of water services so that people can maintain a high quality of life.

Challenges 

Q. It’s hard to talk about mistakes but they help us learn. What’s your best advice for handling a mistake?

A. The most important part of making mistakes is taking ownership of them. It is easy to find excuses and blame other people when something goes wrong. But when you blame other people, you lose the opportunity to truly evaluate what happened and learn from it. It can be hard to take ownership of a mistake, but the more we do it the better we become.

Q. Thinking about your career progression, what are some of your fears? How do you respond to them?

A. There have been times in my career when I’ve been afraid to take on a new challenge or new position or new responsibility for fear of failure. But I have found that taking on new challenges is the only way that we ever grow. Now I say yes when a new opportunity arises and trust that I will learn how to handle it. One of my favorite quotes is “The purpose in life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” – Ranier Maria Rilke. We can’t do that if we don’t take on challenges.

Perspective 

Q. What do you think the key to being a leader is? 

A. Leadership is something that I’ve taken a lot of interest in learning about and improving since I came into my current role. There are 3 things I’ve learned about leadership. The first thing is that when something goes wrong, your first thought should be “What did I do to contribute to this, and what can I do to improve that in the future”. The second key is to always see yourself as a servant of your employees instead of the other way around. It’s vitally important to make sure your employees have the resources they need to be successful at their job. The third key is that you must hold people accountable for their work. If they are not performing up to expectations, make sure they know exactly what is expected of them, and follow up. You will get whatever performance you tolerate, and if you tolerate poor performance, that is what you will get.

I was really hoping Lance would answer with “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” or some other prolific Coach Taylor quote from Friday Night Lights. 

Q. What do you wake up and look forward to the most?

A. I wake up and look forward to the daily challenges that we face in maintaining the distribution and collection system for a large city. I am continually amazed at what my team is able to accomplish, and am really glad to be a part of that team. We make repairs and get water service back on for our customers, so that they can enjoy the high quality of life that our service allows. I also look forward to working to improve our system, so that we can do an even better job of providing service for our customers.

Learn more about where Lance works at the San Antonio Water System.