Leadership Training: What to Expect

Note: none of the links in this post are affliate links, I’ve personally found value in them

This week I’m traveling to Chicago to participate in a Leadership course – specifically a “Women in Emerging Leadership” course. (That’s the early morning Toronto skyline from the airport.)

Leadership courses are my favourite type of training because of the opportunity for personal growth. The good leadership courses make us take a hard look in the mirror at what we do well and could craft into a strength, and where we have blinds spots and are tripping ourselves up. And there is always something I could do better.

Quality leadership training involves a great deal of introspection. Here are the elements of leadership courses that I’ve gotten the most benefit from:

Generate data: There are two ways to generate data to drive introspection: inventories and external feedback.  Inventories involve filling out questionnaires, and using the answers to look for trends or preferences and grouping you into categories with like-minded individuals.  This attempts to give you insight into how you operate, see yourself, and how you interact with others.  Then you can consider if this information gives you anything you want to work on or develop.

Exernal feedback is another data source (the best being 360 degree where you gather data from direct reports, co-workers, and senior leaders).  This could be an anonymous questionnaire.  The benefits are anonymity and a report may be generated to show trends (and you know I love data). Drawbacks: you rely on the written word.  Face-to-face feedback gives you more body language; you can prompt with additional questions and explore themes, but it’s more direct and negative feedback may not be shared.

Analyze the data using context, and frameworks: Once you have all this data, you need to figure out what it means.  Leadership training will give you context.  There are two general ways I’ve experienced: a comparison of your performance to leadership traits, or how you fit into a framework.  Again, either can be useful, because it’s the insight you gain that is valuable, not subscribing to any one school of thought.  A good list of leadership traits are actually behaviours, because leaderhip is not about any one personailty type – all can be effective if used with skill.  Behaviours will describe how well you communicate or resolve conflct, for example.  A framework is more about categorization, and how people like you, in general, can be effective.  This can be as simple as introverts using the written word to communicate, as they do it better that way.

Determine actions: How do you put all this into action? Often there are specific scenarios that you can name that you want to approach differently or more confidently.  A detailed action plan, or strategy for dealing with upcoming or difficult situations will help you through them.  Then you either adjust based on what happens or you become more confident and repeat the same things next time.

Becoming a better leader never finishes.  You get feedback and decide to develop your skills – this takes time. You have to practice.  Sometimes you won’t get the opportunity to try out a skill very often and only being put in a pressure situation will you know how you will react. You can always learn something new – you may be interacting with new people who respond differently to your style.  Work or life challenges may be different and that causes you to react differently (though better to not react at all but to choose your response with care and thought).

I have never been in a woman-specific leadership course before.  I understand the value of targeted learning so I hope I learn some specific ways I can be a better leader.  I’ll report back next week.

Have you ever taken leadership training?  What were the most useful insights you received?

Why I Got an MBA…and Why I’m Glad I Did

When I was a teenager, I cavalierly decided that “I’m going to school for Engineering!”  I had no clue what engineering was, or if it suited me, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  It turns out I’m utterly suited for engineering and that was almost total luck. I had the benefit of attending a co-op program which gave a real taste for what I’d signed up for, and I grew into the idea as I grew to understand what engineering meant.

Fast forward a few years, and I had another idea: why not an MBA?

The reasons I signed up to get an MBA and the reasons why I’m glad I did are different.

I thought that an MBA was a good idea because: I’m mildly ambitious, I enjoy school and learning, it was subsidized by my workplace, and I wanted to differentiate myself from other young engineers.  I started out in my career feeling inexperienced, and when you’re brand new, it seems like everyone else has loads more than you.  And they do, but it’s a temporary situation.  Besides making the most of the early days, you can train in a complementary discipline.

I worked through the first year courses – finance, stats, HR, etc. and liked most of them well enough.  It wasn’t until I got to experience the second year courses (where I took primarily startegy-based ones) that I really started to appreciate what was on offer. 

Why I’m glad I did it: I found out that I love it.

Like anything else, it’s in the doing of the thing, more so than the having of the thing, that is valuable.   I’m glad I got my MBA for reasons other than the ones above: it helps me be a better coach, I understand and appreciate the business better, I learned about myself and what I was capable of – how to manage stress and prioritize effort.

The most important benefit from that degree, though?  Learning a new language – the language of business.  Market forces, early adopters, strategic plans, supply chains, communication…leadership. It gives me a more holistic view of what’s at play. When senior leaders talk, I can understand more.  Just as an engineering degree gives you a new way of seeing the world, a new language, so to does an MBA.

And always, it’s what you do with this new knowledge that counts.

Laying the Foundation: Make the Most of the Early Days

If you are a new engineer and you’re starting out in the world of reliability, it’s a great opportunity.  Generally there are two types of engineers – the generalists and the specialists.  The ones who find great satisfaction in depth, and those who add value by making connections through the breadth of their knowledge (then there are some special individuals that can do both – they are really cool people I’d like to know, but I’m not one of them. They usually get that way by a long career and extraordinary effort.)  Everyone starts at the beginning.

The beginning for many is reliability work.  Learn the process before you can change it, learn the equipment and how to maintain it.  Witness some catastrophes, facilitate investigations.  This is how you learn, how you gain traction. Each root cause analysis is a chance to learn as well as a problem to solve.

It may seem like all you are doing at first is asking other people for their opinions and experience.  You were hired because of training in critical thinking and problem solving.  But you can’t do either if you don’t have all the information.  Those rational skills should tell you that you don’t have it all YET, but the best way to get it is to learn.  And the best way to learn is to be as involved as possible. Go and see when something breaks down – witness the mechanisms for failure, and also the way repairs happen.  Take a problem and apply your engineering training to solving it; use first principles to figure out something that hasn’t been figured out before.  Make mistakes.  Ask for advice.  This is the unique position of the new engineer.  You may not have all the experience in the equipment, or process, and you’re not expected to, but what you bring to the table is not insignificant.

You will gain credibility and knowledge, become the go-to person.  Credibility is earned, and sometimes it can be slow.  If you are the real deal, it will become apparent. Quality results and a track record can’t be bought.

What’s your experience getting involved at the beginning of your career? Did it come naturally, or was it something you had to work at? What tips would you share with those just starting out?

What’s Next, Reliability Ninjas?

Hello Reliability Ninjas!

I started writing this blog to share why I think Reliability is valuable. I’ve found that new engineers or new reliability leaders often need to spend time figuring out why their work is important and how it fits into their organization’s goals. Call it “Meditations on Reliability.” Hopefully you’ve found something useful here, some ideas that has made your work seem relevant or given you words to find a voice. I’ll continue to write about this, but I’d also like to branch out.

I love feedback – can we expand this discussion? What would you like help with? Some ideas I have:

  • Specific tricks to make reliability work easier
  • Ways to organize your reliability program
  • Business book reviews (and how they apply to reliability)
  • Mentorship
  • Something else?

Please answer in the comments, or email me at steph AT longgamefighter DOT net, and tell me what you’d like me to write about. I’ll do my research so you don’t have to.

Thanks.

Reliably yours,

Steph