Let’s think about the stereotypical “engineer” for a moment. What comes to mind? Intelligent? High achiever? Introvert? Confident? Poor communicator? Egotistical? Stubborn? Risk averse? These might make you think of the four friends on the show “The Big Bang Theory.” While these traits may not be shared by all engineers, certainly many of us can relate to the caricature.
Fortunately, being a confident high-achiever can serve a person well as he or she progresses through a career. Unfortunately, some of the other traits common to folks in technical careers can be limiting. For the people that got into engineering because they don’t like to deal with other people, the reality of the job may have come as a surprise. How do you get your brilliant design built if you can’t explain what you need to the contractor? If you alienate your client, how do you get more work? Business relationships still come down to the human beings conducting the relationship, and it’s important to have an understanding of how we tick.
Leadership development is not something that you typically find in the standard university engineering curriculum. Most students are focused on getting the technical basics – which is probably as it should be. However, that does leave a gap that the individual and a forward-thinking employer need to make a commitment to fill.
Some people have natural skills and traits that lend themselves to leadership positions, but many of us have to work on it. Corporate leadership development programs vary widely depending on the employer, but most programs include soft-skills training (understanding your own style, awareness of other personalities, conflict management, coaching and mentoring skills, goal setting) as well as technical and business knowledge. With knowledge and practice comes confidence and proficiency.
We are fortunate to have begun the first Larson Design Group Leadership Academy recently. This program has been initiated to develop the skills necessary for the next generation(s) of leaders. Twelve participants successfully completed an internal application process and have attended a three-day retreat to kick off the course. In that time we managed to build trust and a sense of team camaraderie through exercises that forced us to work together and understand what drives us as individuals. We’ve set personal goals and are working on solutions to three challenges that we feel we can address within the company.
As one of the participants in the LDG Leadership Academy, I can tell you it has already been a challenge. Part of the deal is that the individual invests his or her own time into the program, in addition to the time covered during working hours. Because of this personal commitment, I see that each person is truly engaged in the process and appears willing to stretch beyond his or her comfort level in the organization. Developing leaders isn’t an easy or painless process, but it is an important one – for the success of the individual and for the continued success of the organization.