All civil and structural engineers have a chance to be leaders: Leaders in the organizations that employ you; leaders in professional and technical societies; leaders in your fields; leaders in your communities. But aside from working hard and being decisive, what are some other “leaderly” qualities you may want to be developing? Here are my thoughts:
1. Don’t accept every excuse for a lack of results as valid. While some excuses people have for not performing may be justified, many are not — certainly, all are not. Engineering project leaders have a tendency to accept every excuse in the name of protecting their “family” work atmospheres. It hurts the organization and demotivates everyone else — not to mention it can ruin the project.
2. Value your time. You have to set the example for valuing your time. It means you don’t get sucked into trivia, don’t waste your time doing things other people can do, and do not accept every single interruption as normal, especially if it keeps you from doing something more important.
3. Take care of yourself. Eat right, sleep, exercise — don’t let yourself go. When you can show some self-discipline and care for yourself, you set a good example for everyone else. You also show that you don’t let circumstances dictate what happens to you.
4. Don’t let negative stuff destroy your optimism. There is so much negativity — so many negative people you can associate with — and all of it will suck you down. It doesn’t mean you have to live in a bubble, but it does mean you can turn it off when you have to because you know it is hurting you and your ability to lead a bunch of other people who are probably exposed to more negative stuff than you are on a daily basis.
5. Don’t be afraid to try something that hasn’t already been done a million times. We are so conforming in the construction industry. If you do everything just like everyone else, why would you ever be more successful than they are?
6. Tolerate criticism or skepticism yet keep moving forward. Not everyone will like you, trust you, or believe in you. And there will always be people taking shots at you. Thicken up that skin. Be ready for criticism — expect it, embrace it, and then prove the critics wrong.
7. Make a plan, share a plan, and implement a plan. You will never get out of the woods without a map or at least a good sense of where the “exit” is. This has to be explained and shared with everyone else in your party because, if not, they will all be worried, fearful, and paranoid.
8. Keep your cool under fire. Losing your temper is never good. You have to remain calm and in control of your emotions no matter what. That said, I have been able to use what appears to be emotion effectively at times as a communication tool. Be smart about what you “show” people!
9. Be self-critical. Everyone loves someone who knows what they are good at and what they aren’t. It’s especially endearing when you can be self-deprecating. You cannot be the jerk who honestly thinks he or she is better than everyone else and acts accordingly. You aren’t perfect — acknowledge it. Work on your weaknesses; maximize your strengths.
10. Be trustworthy. You have to be able to keep a secret. If not, you won’t really know what is going on in your company because no one will tell you anything.
We have another great issue of Civil + Structural Engineer magazine. And because we aspire to be leaders in our field, we need your feedback! Please tell us what you like and don’t like about our publication by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Every email will get a response — and I promise every idea will receive a thorough consideration. Thank you!