Engineering and Leadership - Technical Leadership Skills

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 Today, I want to talk about something fundamental to this blog. I want to try and answer the question: why are technical leadership skills important anyway? I’m going to argue that technical leadership skills are the most important tool you have at your disposal for becoming indispensable and maintaining a healthy level of job security.

What do I mean by “Technical Leadership Skills”

When I talk about technical leadership skills, I’m referring to the application of leadership principles to technical environments, be that a project, process, or service. John C. Maxwell, one of the most prolific leadership authors alive today, argues in his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” (audiobook version) that a leader’s job is to change things for the better, while a manager’s job is to make sure existing systems are in good working order. When I refer to leadership, I’m talking about your ability to bring about positive change, and influencing others to adopt that change.

Bringing About Positive Change

It should probably go without saying that bringing positive change is a good thing to do at work. No big whoop. What makes this a big deal is that nobody else is doing it. Why is that? Well, I’ve got a theory on that. I think the fact of the matter is that it’s easier to complain something that’s not working right than it is to actually solve the problem. I don’t mean to sound cynical – I tend to be an incredibly positive person. I’m just getting at the fact that people tend, in general towards the path of least resistance. In this case, taking the initiative to change something that’s broken is most definitely not the path of least resistance.

Beyond that, I think there’s an even bigger barrier to people taking on the challenge of change – it makes you vulnerable. If your idea doesn’t work, then you might look bad. The alternative is not to get noticed at all, and a lot of people are actually more comfortable with that.

The Opportunity

I think the fact that change is hard makes for a huge opportunity for potential leaders in industry. To me, this means you don’t actually have to do that much to really stand out from the crowd. Incremental, gradual changes can be initiated by even the most junior of engineers. If it’s a genuinely good idea, it’ll stick, and the world around you becomes a better place. If it’s a bad idea, you’ll be recognized by your superiors as having the guts to at least try something, and you’ll have no doubt grown along the way. Good times.

Engineers who make the effort to improve their teams, projects, processes and services are critical to any organization. Most managers would give their eye teeth for people like that. Nobody will be eager to get rid of someone who purposefully tries to make their surroundings better – especially when done out of a spirit of service. To me, this is the ultimate job security in a corporate setting.

What Will You Change?

My challenge to you is to find something that you can improve within your own sphere of influence. Something small, and something that will make life better for the people around you. Find that thing and just do it. If you can tackle something small once a month over the course of a year, you’ll be amazed at the impact on the world around you – not to mention your own job satisfaction.

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