The importance of your mindset – your collective set of beliefs and attitudes about people, circumstances, challenges, etc. – cannot be overstated. This is because what you believe about yourself and others truly drives your behavior.
So often we focus simply on changing behavior – this will rarely have any effect unless we address the mindsets that are driving that behavior.
We must also address and change our mindsets and beliefs in order to create sustainable behavior change.
Common Engineering Leadership Myths
There are a lot of myths and limiting beliefs that engineers and technologists tend to believe that hurt our mindsets and leadership effectiveness. These ideas are often proliferated by negative social stereotypes, and engineers then accept them as their own reality. But they don’t help! They only hurt the engineering leadership culture.
Let’s address just a few:
- “Leaders are born, not made” – This is so untrue I don’t even know where to begin. Yes, some people are predisposed to certain behaviors, but every skill and ability needed for leadership can be acquired through training, mentoring, and experience. Even an “old dog” can learn new tricks. It’s this belief that often limits the growth of leadership skills.
- Engineers have no social skills – As an old (and terrible) joke says, “How do you know the difference between an extrovert and an introvert engineer? The extrovert will look at your shoes rather than his own.” There are plenty of extroverted engineers, and often introverts can be even better with influencing people as leaders. On another note, introvert vs. extrovert has nothing to do with social skills – I often find that introverts are amazing with people.
- Engineers are not ‘creative’ – I have fought this one myself. I got into engineering because I loved how math and science always had correct answers. I loved being right. Okay, I still love being right, but it meant that I felt like anything that was creative or subjectively evaluated wasn’t my thing. The truth is, a good engineer has to balance logic, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and more to be successful. This takes a lot of creativity!
These and other myths about engineers and leadership can drive others to think negatively about them, but even worse for the engineers to believe this about themselves.
Change Your Mind
If an engineer wants to pursue becoming a leader, they absolutely must stop believing in these limiting ideas and embrace new mindsets that are growth oriented. Here are some things to give you a boost:
- Engineers can become excellent leaders – In a report by Harvard Business Review in 2018, 34 of the top-100 performing CEOs had engineering degrees. Guess how many had MBAs… only 32. So are engineers better leaders than MBAs? You decide. Full disclosure – I am both.
- Leaders can have any natural personality – There are so many variations of personality types out there. If you were to list 10 top leaders that you admire, almost every single one would have a different personality. The lesson here is that good leaders simply harness their strengths, and ask others to fill in for their weaknesses.
- Engineering principles can inform leadership – Rather than thinking as engineering and leadership as distinct paths, think of leadership and management as a way to apply principles of design, optimization, and problem solving to a new set of challenges. Lessons learned as an engineer can often translate into solving people issues.
Remember the quote by Henry Ford:
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
So – do you think you can become a leader?
The answer to that question may determine whether you do or not!
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