“What will employers expect of me?” Most young people ask themselves that question as they contemplate a career in engineering or the sciences. It makes little difference whether they are considering a career in for-proit business or not-for-proit. I know that many years ago, when I was starting out as an engineer, this question was on my mind.
Early in my career, I was certain that my employer expected me to contribute on the basis of my technical capabilities. I was a research engineer completely dedicated to improving manufacturing processes. I suppose I was like many other engineers who want order and structure and logic in their lives and who dedicate themselves to the practical sciences. I had little interest in collaboration in those early days. Of course, I knew that working together was important, but I was sure that success was largely going to be a function of my engineering and technical skills.
My journey from engineer to leader-engineer began about ive years into my career when a certain supervising senior engineer inluenced me to understand that the business side of engineering was important and that I needed to become an integral part of that business. He also helped me realize that I could leverage my contributions and skills by working with and inluencing others. Several years after that, as a reasonably successful technical manager, I experienced another moment of understanding. A group of us concluded and eventually proved to ourselves and others that leadership was the key to a successful company. This long journey from engineer to engineer-leader to leader-engineer has convinced me that I can add to the understanding of what employers truly expect of us as engineers and scientists.
It is an important question because graduating engineers or scientists are conident that their education will open up a lifetime of challenging
and rewarding work. They also know that how well they succeed will depend greatly on how well they, as practising engineers, meet the needs of their employers. And to a large extent, it will also depend on their ability to satisfy society's needs more generally.
Many graduating engineers believe that they will satisfy their employer's needs, and society's, by applying the skills they learned in college or university. They believe that their engineering training is what the employer wants. When these people ask me to verify as much, I reply in a way they do not expect.
What I tell them is that the vast majority of employers expect the technology graduate to have four distinct traits (see below) in addition to engineering skills. Indeed, society as a whole expects them to have and use those traits. I urge them to consider all four very carefully as they enter the workplace, for I believe this will help them set and achieve their career goals. I also believe that they will beneit from learning at an early career stage what they will need to offer in order to meet the needs of employers, business organizations, and society as a whole. Our technologically rich world is the ultimate beneiciary of engineering and scientiic competence.
Those four traits are as follows: It will help you succeed if, irst, you bring to your career a determination to continuously expand and upgrade your engineering / science skills. Most people would agree with that, but, unfortunately, some people stop there. The most successful engineers have recognized that there are other requirements they must satisfy. So the second trait leading to a successful engineering career is a willingness to develop yourself emotionally, socially, and physically. Competence in what are often referred to as the “soft skills” is extremely important to employers, for it is those skills that enable all of the organization's people to work together effectively and with high levels of energy, which points to the third trait – self-motivation, or will. That is, you need to be strongly motivated to contribute well beyond your job description and to seek ways to contribute beyond the current or daily problems presented to you for solutions.
In this book I will be discussing those three traits in terms of the preparation required to lead. As I will show, strong leaders display a competence that extends beyond engineering skills. They are self-starters who seek challenges beyond the current ones. They look for ways to beneit the employer into the future. They are the ones who raise their hand at meetings and ask the best questions, such as “Have we thought about trying this? Would doing it this way make our company stronger?” When you are a strong leader, others notice it. All of this leads me to the fourth trait of successful engineers, which is the ability to build on the irst three so as to develop competence in leading others – that is, in inluencing people, teams, groups, and the entire organization to make changes that will generate higher performance. Employers may not articulate their needs in terms of leadership, be it of self or others – indeed, most do not – but all of them notice potential leaders when they encounter them, including among recent engineering graduates. Deliberately or not, employers look for highly trained people who are willing to grow their capabilities, both as engineers and as leaders.
This book presents a pathway for developing the ability to lead oneself and others. The aspiration presented here is simply this: Everyone a Leader. This book will help prepare you to create and lead a high-performance organization, which is deined here as one in which all the people are motivated to achieve ongoing positive change and to get results that satisfy the needs of all stakeholders – owners, employees, customers, and society.
The key to achieving that goal eficiently and effectively is for everyone in the organization – from the executive suite to the sales ofice to the plant loor – to actively learn to become a role model leader: that is, for everyone in the organization to be constantly engaged in learning to achieve higher levels of leadership competence, and, importantly, for them to learn to think completely and in an orderly way about all things that are important to achieving goals and getting high-performance results.
And at the same time that the organization's people are developing themselves individually as exemplary leaders, all of them are working together to develop a high-performance business organization. The route to achieving that future state entails establishing high-performance work systems dedicated to sustaining, growing, and serving all stakeholders.
The developmental leadership framework for an organization is best understood by comparing it with the conventional leadership framework. The leaders in a conventional organization are at the top of a positional hierarchy; from there, they direct the work of the managers, who in turn direct those whom they are managing, and so on. In the developmental leadership model, by contrast, everyone is learning to be a competent agent of change. Leading in a developmental organization is not a position – it is a process followed by all the people in the organization.
The work done in a conventional organization is most often carried out in a tightly controlled manner. In this sort of organization, change is incremental and transactional and is planned based on past experience. In contrast, a developmental organization emphasizes ongoing positive, transformational change dedicated to achieving aspirational goals and results. To
accomplish this, the organization emphasizes that everyone is learning to be a leader; it also establishes lexible and robust processes for everyone to continuously improve. Working developmentally – that is, by process – is in contrast to working by structure, which is the approach taken by conventional organizations.
Every individual in a developmental organization will be leading in some particular circumstances and following in others, depending on the work at hand. But even when an individual is in “follower” mode, the individual's competence as a leader will continue to enhance the organization's effectiveness. Transformational change can result from this.