by Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE, CPEM, PMP®, NPDP
Engineers and engineering managers have spent a lifetime of knowing the right answers. I always took pride in school at being the kid with a 110% score on the test – not only did I answer all the questions correctly, but I also did the extra credit right.
Education to become an engineer and engineering manager is tough. We watch as friends drop out of engineering programs and we carry on – studying and grappling with complex topics like thermodynamics, kinetics, and dynamic motion. By the time we get settled into a job, our experience teaches that we are right more often than not. Moreover, it seems that people come to us for help and to get their questions answered.
Yet, as stubborn as I am, I know that I cannot be the best engineer or manager I can be without help. Many recent studies demonstrate that managers and executives who ask questions are perceived as better leaders than those who do not. Our goal as engineering managers is to lead and guide our teams so that we collectively produce the best results for our companies, our customers, and ourselves.
Formal mentoring programs usually put the burden on the mentee, and you may need to ask for a new mentor if you are not getting the responses you expect. A lot of times, formal mentoring programs assign people randomly to the mentor/mentee pairing and you may not feel a social or personal connection to your mentor
In my own career, I benefited from several informal mentors. One mentor was my direct supervisor who helped me to learn a new technology and trusted me with larger scale projects during my assignment. His philosophy was that it was better to do something and apologize later rather than to do nothing at all. To this day, I rely on advice I learned from him.
As you climb the ranks in an engineering organization or in any business, you may want to have a coach. Business coaches can help a manager navigate all kinds of situations. But, beware, coaching is tough and personal. You have to do the hard work to learn and improve your performance to get to the next level.
Coaches, like mentors, can also help an engineering manager build skills. Say you don't like doing presentations. A coach can help you learn skills and become confident at presenting. You should trust coaches based on their experience and with a personal match of style.
Other coaches can help you through the business processes of an organization. I have recently been coaching an entrepreneur who is developing a smartphone application. Normally IT people (like engineers) adopt a technology, build a product, and then hope it will sell in the marketplace. We have worked, systematically, to set up his product for success by first talking to customers. This has allowed him to understand the product requirements before spending time and money building the product. Coaches can offer advice based on their own experience and the experiences of others they have worked with over the years.
Master Mind Groups
Master mind groups are sometimes known as peer coaching. In a master mind group, individuals commit to both giving and receiving help. What's different from a mentor or coach relationship is that participants have a larger set of experiences from which to draw.
A typical master mind group session is facilitated by an expert who also might be a mentor, coach, or other leader. The master mind members are drawn by a common interest - innovation, engineering, or even cooking. Each session starts with a celebration of goals met by the master mind members since the last meeting. Then, each person puts forth a question or problem that is facing them. Other master mind group members brainstorm solutions in a fast-paced discussion. Finally, the mastermind session closes with each member committing to one goal for the next meeting. Usually, this objective is based on the group brain storming discussion.
Benefits of master mind groups include providing a free, open, and confidential environment to discuss ideas; accountability; and an opportunity to share your own experiences and knowledge.
Asking for Help
It's hard for engineering managers to ask for help. If you're like me, you like to know answers rather than show vulnerability. I hate when I must turn on the GPS instead of knowing the route ahead of time! Yet, I've also learned that the GPS can navigate a quicker route or help me to avoid traffic jams.
Engineers and engineering managers can use other people in their company and with organizations like ASEM to navigate career challenges, learn new skills, and build their toolkits with knowledge and experience. Ways to improve your performance as an engineering manager include mentoring, coaching, and master mind groups
Please join me for a complimentary Innovation Master Mind Q&A webinar on 22 August at 12 noon CDT to learn more about both asking for and receiving help.
What step will you take to ask for help and to advance your career?
About the Author
Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE (State of Louisiana), CPEM, PMP®, NPDP, is a passionate lifelong learner. She enjoys helping individuals and companies improve their innovation programs and loves scrapbooking. You can learn more about Teresa and her new Innovation MasterMind group by connecting on LinkedIn or visiting her consulting business' website: Global NP Solutions, LLC.