Learn the basics of leadership so you can decide if you’re up to the task. If you are, assess your skills and improve where you can.
As a junior engineer I knew early on that I wanted to be a leader. However, I did not know the basics of leading others and how those qualities fit with my personality.
Here are some of the basics of leadership:
- Listen. This is a basic discipline. All that is required is for you to stop talking. As an introvert, I was naturally a good listener. For others, this could be extremely difficult.
- Communicate. This takes patience and the willingness to make yourself understood. Doing this in a group setting could be more difficult where the risk (embarrassment) outweighs the reward (being right). As younger engineers move into management they will have to gain confidence in their opinions. This should be done by becoming knowledgeable in the subjects important to the team.
- Simplify. Simplifying complex tasks is a hallmark of an engineering leader. Being able to simplify the complex means you can teach those below you and inform those above you in a succinct manner. This is the most difficult of the four competencies to develop. Some engineers take longer than others to develop this, but it can be improved. One method for developing this skill is by summarizing to others what you took away from the conversation after being assigned something complex. Another option is to write out a technical process you perform in your own words.
- Check your ego. Subordinating your ego is a cyclical, lifelong effort.
Certain aspects of leadership came naturally to me. For example, I was a natural at simplifying complex tasks and listening to others. However, two skills eluded me. I often let my ego override the end results I was seeking and I found it difficult to communicate in group settings.
Doing an assessment of yourself in these four areas will help you understand how well-suited you may be to a leadership role. Having others assess you on a scale of 1-10 will be an effective baseline for improvement. Ask several people you trust to assess you based on these four competencies, and do a weekly self-assessment of your performance in these areas.
Kyle Cheerangie is a project manager at HNTB Corporation, and is the founder and director of content for the blog Engineered Journals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.