Leadership in engineering is more difficult than it sounds. Especially for engineers, who are trying to evolve into great leaders.
For one, many engineers have the tendency to be more introverted. At the same time, they can treat people like machines.
And that’s the crux of the matter. Many engineers treat people like they would their personal computers. Because that’s all they know, and so far, computers have never once let them down.
Simply put, your computer doesn’t talk back to you even if you treat it like shit. Plus, it’ll do what you ask it to do without any questions asked.
Clearly, this is why employers love machines so much. BUT, humans aren’t machines!
What’s more, engineers even have emotions, despite what they may want you to believe.
If you tell another engineer to just go do something they despise, they may do it for a couple of days. But then they’ll stop. To add icing on the cake, they may hate you for telling them too. This is not productive whatsoever.
In fact, it’s what I would call poor leadership in engineering.
So, I’m going to go over 5 tips on how engineers can become great leaders. Because transitioning from a technical to a leadership role is far from easy.
#1 People aren’t machines
This is a staple I always come back to. I can’t emphasize this enough.
I personally overwork my machines until they fail a lot of the time. Because I know how resilient machines are, and they’ll work until they can’t. All without a single complaint.
How awesome is that?!
It’s specifically why I wrote about why machines are better than humans at work.
So naturally, I’ve molded myself to work like a machine to increase my efficiency. I want to maximize each of my days to increase my output.
That said, I still have emotions though, even if they’re watered down a bit. Most importantly, I want others to treat me with respect. Not like I’m a machine out of a factory that you can easily replace.
Keep in mind, most people operate less like machines and more like humans of course.
With a machine, you don’t care if it has any problems. You may even kick it a couple of times if it’s not operating smoothly.
You certainly can’t do this with people.
In short, don’t treat people like machines. But, you can help increase people’s productivity by showing them how to work like machines.
These productivity hacks work wonders. In the end, they’ll even improve the personal lives of the people who adopt the hacks.
I’ve even listed tips on how to work more like a machine.
#2 Put yourself in the shoes of others
To be a broken record, understand people aren’t machines. Even if you really wish them to be.
So, place yourself in the shoes of people you’d be managing. Even if you’re the most rational thinking person, you wouldn’t want someone to treat you like a doormat. In fact, you’d hate it with a passion!
Why? Because again, you have emotions. And so does every other person around you.
That said, to think of things like machines, humans have certain inputs. You need to provide these inputs to get your desired output.
For example, all people have aspirations and pride. No different than you. That’s why you’re even pursuing or are in a leadership role.
So, you need to trigger these emotions in the people you lead.
The only kicker is, unlike machines, it’s never a fixed input with people.
We’re all constantly evolving and we have ups and downs in life. So there’s a constant dance you need to do as a leader to cater to the people you’re leading.
This requires understanding people. Figuring out their needs and desires.
In short, switching roles is a great exercise for everyone. It’s surprising to find out how similar you actually are to others. You’ll also realize your actions may not always match your intentions.
Many people don’t realize this without swapping roles. I think every person should do this from time to time. Because if you don’t, you’ll forget you once were in the position of the people you’re leading.
You may even start thinking you’re more important than you really are. That’s dangerous psychological waters to tread.
#3 Make people feel great
Everyone likes to feel great. This is a no brainer.
A simple compliment will release dopamine inside of the recipient. How cool is that?!
So go out of your way and acknowledge the work of people. Tell them you appreciate them and they’re doing awesome work.
But you need to be genuine. If you’re not, any half smart person will know you’re bullshitting. That’s worse than making the fake compliment, to begin with.
To make it simple, just don’t be an ass!
Be a good person, and treat others how you’d want them to treat you. So remember someone’s name, smile, and say “hello” in the morning. The simple things go a long way to making someone feel great
At the same time, have empathy. Certain behavior by others may seem silly and stupid, but the person may just need help.
For this reason, lend a helping hand when you can. Because we’re all struggling inside to some degree. Some just hide it better than others.
I know all this can seem daunting for someone who is more introverted. But like honing any other skill, practice making people feel great.
Over time, it’ll become a habit and become second nature for you. This will make people open up with you more and connect with you.
It’s the reason why Elon Musk states, “we have a strict ‘no-assholes policy’ at SpaceX.” He wants to maintain an awesome and productive work environment.
#4 Connect with what others want in life
Find what’s in the heart of hearts of people. Then use what you find to connect with them.
In other words, create a deeply founded mission people can connect with. For example, at SpaceX, most of the employees want to leave their mark on humanity.
They have a deep passion to explore the universe. They want humans to one day get off this tiny rock we call Earth and travel to Mars.
Now, what was SpaceX’s secret to attracting so much talent?
It all started when Elon Musk said he wants to make humans multi-planetary species. Elon’s message then became even more powerful through his deep belief in this mission.
This created an instant and strong connection with people who shared the same vision as him. Yet, they lacked the resources and cojones to execute it on their own.
So, Elon Musk created the vessel for people to connect with their dreams. At the same time, connect with like-minded people who also share their dreams. In other words, he tapped into people’s deep woven inner thoughts.
This is why people work long grueling hours at SpaceX. Even though there are other jobs with much greater pay a walk down the street. At the same time, they put up with the monstrous challenges SpaceX presents with space travel.
To drive this point home, even more, think about the day Elon started SpaceX. Elon was a nobody in the space industry.
He was just a rich young guy with a dream, after his Paypal sale to eBay. Yet, he was able to get top talent from the rocket and spacecraft industry to come to help him in his mission.
That’s the power of connection, which then builds loyalty too!
This lesson of leadership in engineering often goes untapped.
Why? One obvious reason that often goes undiscussed is most businesses have bullshit missions. There are billion-dollar businesses, whose sole goal is to get people to click on ads…
#5 Get your hands dirty
Don’t stand on the sidelines with your feet kicked up on your desk.
Get your hands dirty. Show people, you’re not afraid to get in on the grind.
This will inspire people by example. It’ll make people want to work harder for you.
At the same time by making yourself accessible to everyone, you become humanized. In other words, you become relatable as a human. This is another way to create connections with people.
It’s why Elon Musk stated the following,
“If you think about war … do you want the general in some like ivory tower or on the front lines? The troops are going to fight a lot harder if they see the general on the front lines.”
In summary, don’t hide away in an office, or spend your time schmoozing all the time. You’ll only isolate yourself from the people you need the most. People will then question your motives and morale will drop.
The importance of leadership in engineering wrap up
Engineers of all types can make amazing leaders!
Because engineers have the technical skills. So they can connect with projects on a granular level. They ‘get it!’
Then combine this with great leadership skills, and work productivity skyrockets. Projects run smoother without the bullshit bureaucracy.
When you have this type of leadership in engineering, everyone wins.
In the end, the lessons for leadership in engineering come down to two things. Don’t think of people as machines. And be a great person with deep-rooted contagious beliefs. There’s not much more to it!
Do you think engineers make great leaders? What difficulties do you think engineers have in becoming great leaders?
SUBSCRIBE TO ENGINEER CALCS NEWSLETTER
Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.