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Leadership at All Levels

Encouraging everyone at every level to think of themselves as leaders leads to an environment of safety, innovation, and excellence.

We desperately need leadership throughout all levels of our organizations to elevate the industry and continue to adapt to the rapid transformation that is partially driven by ever-expanding technological advancement. In our experience with ownership transition, mergers and acquisitions, or strategic planning, there is a lack of leadership development that will lead to a gradual decline in the overall excellence of our profession. That is why it is important to encourage everyone at every level of the organization to think of themselves as leaders and hold themselves accountable. It will lead to an environment of safety, innovation, and experimentation required to achieve excellence and inspire the next generation of engineers to enter the profession.

Hierarchies within our society are largely based around competence and arise naturally within organizations. The problem is, and you’ll see this reported frequently by CEOs, that we tend to develop an imposter syndrome, most noticeably in the mid to lower tiers within the firm. Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud” when taking on a leadership role.

There are a few simple things that you can do today to be seen as a stronger leader, no matter what role you currently fill. Things such as standing up straight, dressing well, and continuous learning are simple ways to begin. Take some time for self-discovery and perhaps consider a personality test to help you determine what your individual strengths and weaknesses are. That will set you up well for the more difficult task of developing leadership skills.

Conventional wisdom is that potential leaders need to focus on different skills within different stages of their career development within an organization. This is partially true, but there are also a set of sills that are fundamental to every level and will not dramatically change as you move up the hierarchy. The number one skill to develop is high moral and ethical standards. This is more important than anything else you can do and requires some serious self-reflection. When combined with communicating clear expectations, it is about creating a safe and trusting environment for employees. In a safe environment, employees can access the brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.

The neuroscience is clear. If an employee doesn’t feel safe, what gets activated is the brain’s fight-or-flight response, where the amygdala registers a threat to our safety and arteries harden and thicken to handle an increased blood flow to our extremities. In this state, we lose access to the social engagement system of the limbic system and the executive functions of the prefrontal cortex, inhibiting creativity and the drive for excellence. Utilizing this perspective, making people feel safe should be the number one priority for any true leader.

Other competencies that leaders frequently cite as having the greatest impact on success include:

  • inspires and motivates others,
  • solves problems and analyzes issues,
  • drives for results,
  • collaborates and promotes teamwork,
  • builds relationships,
  • develops others,
  • has the flexibility to change opinions,
  • takes initiative,
  • champions change, and
  • practices self-development.

Continue to develop leaders within your organization. If you clearly communicate the expectation that every person within your firm is to perceive themselves as a leader, you will truly see transformational change.


Phil Keil is director of Strategy Consulting, Zweig Group. Contact him at pkeil@zweiggroup.com.

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