Tou Her (Class 45)

Tou Her (45) is the assistant general manager of water resources for the Turlock Irrigation District (TID). He has worked for TID for more than 26 years and was appointed to his current position in 2013. He is responsible for several functional areas, including water resources and regulatory affairs, hydrology, civil engineering, water distribution, construction, maintenance, transportation and facilities. He is a member of the Southeast-Asian American Professionals Association board, a member of the Alliance Church of Merced service team and volunteers in his community. Tou is of Hmong decent and immigrated to the United States in 1980. Prior to coming to the U.S., the Her family farmed the hillsides of Laos for generations. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and is a licensed professional civil engineer in California. Tou commenced from the California Agricultural Leadership Program in 2016. 


In what ways did the program’s teachings and experiences enable you to make a greater impact in agriculture and beyond? 
Ag Leadership taught me to remain humble, be more self-aware and continue to strive to be a better and more effective leader at Turlock Irrigation District (TID) to ensure that it continues to provide reliable and competitively priced irrigation water to our growers. I continue to leverage my relationships with Ag Leadership alumni to gain broader perspectives to help me make decisions at TID.  

Share an example of something you were uniquely able to do because of the program.
Ag Leadership provided me with the ability and tools to strategically manage complicated matters while navigating politics, differing interests and a broad range of opinions.  Two examples that come to mind are representing TID in negotiating a long-term water sales agreement with the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority to construct a drinking water project and leading the efforts in the formation of groundwater sustainability agencies within the Turlock Subbasin for Sustainable Groundwater Management Act compliance. Both of these milestone projects required strong leadership and communication skills that I developed in Ag Leadership.  

How are you strengthening California agriculture through your practiced leadership? Why is doing so important to you?
I am so proud to be a part of TID. Visionary even before its inception, TID facilitated the introduction of legislation to establish special districts in California, and then became the first irrigation district in the state. The district went on to construct the largest overflow dam in the U.S. at the time, construct Old Don Pedro and later New Don Pedro, which all have played a part in providing reliable water to growers for many generations. As the assistant general manager of water resources, it is my responsibility to do the best I can to ensure this innovation and forward thinking continues.  

I give Ag Leadership credit for helping me become a more effective leader. What I experienced and the lessons learned from my Ag Leadership journey influence many elements of my role: my decision making and efforts to protect TID’s water rights, developing strategies to ensure long-term water supply reliability, being good stewards of the water resources entrusted to us and managing the day-to-day operations to ensure that the irrigation systems are well maintained so that water is delivered efficiently and reliably to our growers. Additionally, Ag Leadership experiences and lessons furthered my ability to establish and leverage relationships within my industry and beyond to develop regional solutions for water management.

What personal and professional values do you carry through your life and how do those show up in your leadership?
My personal and professional values are aligned with CALF’s values of excellence, integrity and respect. I would also add humility to the list. Humility helps keep our ego in check and helps us recognize that when we are in a leadership role, we are often in that role to serve others.  

How did certain elements of the program (self reflection, self assessments) help you to be a more empathetic, authentic and effective leader?
I truly believe that if one cannot work with others, then one cannot be an effective leader. This requires a person to be self-aware and self-adjusting. My Ag Leadership experience inspired me to be more receptive to feedback and be more self-reflective, such that I often seek feedback on my performance from staff at varying levels. 

What personal and professional values do you carry through your life, and how do those show up in your leadership?
Similar to CALF, I also value excellence, integrity and respect. If you are going do something, do it well. Be honest to yourself and others. Respect that everyone is different and that we were not meant to be the same, but rather, we were meant to complement each other. I live these values every day in my marriage and with my teams at work.

How has your understanding of your specific role as a leader changed since the program?
My experiences at AbilityFirst, a nonprofit organization helping children and adults with disabilities, and Loaves and Fishes, a homeless service provider in Sacramento, really opened my eyes and helped me understand what it means to respect, love and treat people where they are. These experiences have allowed me to see and feel what others go through, shaping the way I listen and act. I am a much more thoughtful and effective leader because of these experiences. 

How do you continue to invest in your continued growth through lifelong learning?
As I have gotten older and wiser, I have come to realize that the more I know, the more I know what I don’t know. My Ag Leadership journey was focused on humbleness, self-reflection, diverse perspectives, effective leadership and continuous improvement. From YouTube videos about self-improvement, motivational speeches, reading books (including the Bible), seeking feedback from family, friends, peers and superiors, I continue to learn and grow.

How has your view of the world around you changed and impacted your development as a leader since participating in the program?
I have gained a better understanding and appreciation of the world around me, which has significantly shaped the way I think, plan and make decisions. As an example, I’m not as narrowly focused as I used to be. I have learned to recognize and account for the bias with which I view, or previously viewed, a situation or problem, and I’m more observant of the myriad perspectives surrounding an issue or matter. I often refer back to the training and experiences during my Ag Leadership journey to see how they relate to and inform decisions I am evaluating.   

What would you tell a prospective applicant to inspire them to apply to the program?
Just do it already! We will always be too busy at home or at work. If we do not make the time, there will never be time. You will find out that this will be one of the best decisions you will ever make in your lifetime.