A Simple but Comprehensive Five-Point Plan for Becoming a Powerful Engineering Leader

Anthony Fasano | Comments | March 20, 2013

I often draw on quotes in my career to provide inspiration and motivation to strive towards my goals. However, I recently found a quote that not only provides inspiration, but also actually gives you a very simple, very comprehensive blueprint for being a strong engineering leader. In this post, I want to share the quote and expand on the five guidelines it presents. The quote is as follows:

“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting. A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader is interested in the group.” – Russell H. Ewing

A Boss Creates Fear, A Leader Confidence.

Too many engineers attempt to create fear in their staff members rather than to instill confidence; the difference can dramatically impact the results that your team produces. Engineers often think that when someone fears you, they will work harder and follow guidelines better. The truth is, when someone fears, the fear will manifest itself in their work and their attitude towards it, and ultimately they won’t like you; and there is nothing good about that. If you instead delegate to your team and reinforce your belief in them, they will not only approach their tasks with more confidence, but they will also take ownership of their tasks—which will drastically improve the quality of the work and their overall attitude towards you and their job.

A Boss Fixes Blame, A Leader Corrects Mistakes.

Most engineering leaders that I have observed are very quick to pass blame onto their team members when something goes wrong. If their supervisor or client asks why something took so long to get done, they often pinpoint a weakness in one of their team members. If one of their team members makes a mistake in his or her design, the engineering manager doesn’t think twice about advertising that mistake to others. Strong engineering leaders take a different approach. While they make sure that they identify the mistake and discuss it with their team members to ensure it doesn’t happen again, they don’t play the blame game. Instead, they often take responsibility for the mistake and then immediately work with their team to come up with a solution, and they do so in a way that makes sure their team members are part of that solution. Blaming others is the quickest way to lose the respect of your team. As the team leader, their actions and results are ultimately your responsibility.

A Boss Knows All, A Leader Asks Questions.

A good engineering leader is constantly learning and trying to involve his or her team in the projects as much as possible. Asking questions allows the leader to accomplish both of these important actions. Just because you are a leader doesn’t mean you will always know more than your team members, especially when it comes to the technical side of things. Asking them questions will show them that you value their knowledge and are not afraid to admit when you don’t know something. This will help you earn the respect of your team. When they answer your questions, they also boost their own confidence, which as discussed above is instrumental to their producing high-quality work and developing into leaders themselves.

A Boss Makes Work Drudgery, A Leader Makes It Interesting.

A powerful engineering leader has the ability to keep his or her team engaged and excited on a daily basis. To do this, the leader must create a common goal that he or she can inspire the team to work towards over a period of time. Once this goal is clear, the leader should take the actions discussed above to inspire his or her team to take ownership of the project and make that common goal their own. If people believe strongly in something, they will go after it at all costs, and stay engaged and excited in the process. Establishing a common goal amongst the team is something that very few engineering leaders do well, but oh what a difference it makes.

A Boss Is Interested in Himself or Herself, A Leader Is Interested in the Group.

My main goal as a leader is always to ensure that I put my team in a position to succeed. It’s a simple goal, but by following it, I have always achieved great results—and built a lot of really strong relationships in the process. By focusing on your team and their needs, you are showing them how much you believe in them and support them. With that belief and support, they will do great things, and if your team is doing great things, then you never have to worry about yourself.

This is a guest post by Anthony Fasano, PE, author of Engineer Your Own Success. Anthony found success as an engineer at a very early age and now writes and podcasts to help other engineers do the same. Visit Anthony’s website atEngineeringCareerCoach.com and subscribe to the top 3 resources Anthony has used to become a partner in a firm at the age of 27.