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Thoughts From Engineers: Leadership Resolutions for 2018

Christine Brack on February 23, 2018 - in Articles, Column

So … how are you doing on your New Year (professional) resolutions? This is only relevant, of course, if you actually set some. Perhaps you’re not necessarily making a resolution as much as you’re committed to business initiatives outlined in your strategic plan. Maybe you just have new goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll be measured against in this first quarter. Essentially, these are all the same engagement in change that will benefit you and the organization.

At one time or another, we all have been overly enthusiastic and taken on too many pledges to improve a behavior, build a skill or break a habit. We learned quickly that it doesn’t turn out as we hoped it would, and we know all too well that people adjust in small increments. As a leader in your engineering firm, the following are a few ideas you might consider to up your leadership game:

Continuously improve. It may seem repetitive to start a list of resolutions with the vague suggestion to constantly pursue improvement, and it’s important to raise a few caveats worth mentioning. Don’t look for trouble where there isn’t any. Whether it’s personal skill sets or a process in the organization, the relentless hunt to find an issue to “fix” can overshadow the strengths one already possesses or the system that currently works well. Some improvements will be subtle, and we often have to accidentally stumble on a limitation that could use tweaking.

Work on the business. The cliché of “working on the business rather than in the business” may indeed be overused, but it’s still worthy of attention. As you look at the organization from top to bottom, be careful that you don’t start micro-managing and forcing improvement (see above). Asking for too many reports, explanations of why things are done certain ways, or over-examining people and processes is going to eat up time for everyone and create resentment. Unless something is truly dysfunctional or has been on the waiting list for repair, choose wisely what you work on.

Delegate one extra thing. How do you create time in your schedule to work on the business? You’re likely performing many small- and medium-sized tasks that would be better suited to someone else on your team or in your firm. We all have our reasons for not delegating the easiest of tasks, as it may involve meetings or explanations or quality checks. But those are teachable moments and definitely worthy of delegation (see below).

Find and mentor your successor. I recently had a conversation with a regional manager of a large engineering firm whose vision was for the advancement of the employees on his team—not his own advancement. Although he’s in the peak of his career and still several years away from retirement, his ambition is to provide the same opportunity and support he received from managers when he started. It isn’t a corporate requirement, and it isn’t on his most-recent to-do list. For him, mentoring and building a successor is capturing the passion in the next generation of engineers and leveraging the diversity the younger staff brings. It’s more than just identifying a raw candidate to take over your office so you can retire. As this manager illustrates, it’s also a chance to really work as a team and harness all perspectives.

Celebrate successes more often. The millennial generation might just be on to something when they overhype a job done well, reward everyone, and profusely hand out congratulatory words and declarations. Unfortunately, firms in this industry too often forget and don’t take enough time to step back and thank and congratulate team members. Successes don’t have to be the project win or the design award. Recognition is due for the overtime, working weekends, chomping through a complex project and creating a new solution together. Words of appreciation go a long way. Everyone from the project manager to the production team needs to hear it from you.

It’s a brand-new year, a new business quarter and a good time in the industry to make changes. You will notice the benefits and impact—as will the organization. Please drop me a note to share your own resolution. I wish you good work and prosperity in 2018!

About Christine Brack

Christine Brack, PMP, is a Principal at ChrismarGroup, a training and consultancy firm; email: cbrack@chrismargroup.com.

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