Engineers have the potential to make great leaders - they are creative and have lots of ideas, they think analytically and logically, they can understand complex systems and interactions, they are able to weigh up alternatives and make compromises, they want to build and implement things and get things done efficiently. BUT there is one key characteristic of engineers that risks making them terrible leaders - they love solving problems! Why is that not great for aspiring leaders? Find out here!

Try this out yourself

In your next coffee break, grab a colleague and ask them to tell you about a small problem they have (e.g. difficulties with a colleague, low performance figures in the last quarter, disagreement with their boss, etc., etc.). If you can, get another colleague to listen and observe. Then, try out the following two problem-solving methods, one after the other, on the same problem:

  1. The Engineer: after hearing the problem, make as many suggestions as you can for solving the problem. Give examples of how you successfully solved a similar problem or applied the suggested solutions successfully. Share as much of your valuable experience as possible. Keep the tempo up and your ideas flowing.

  2. The Leader: concentrate on listening and giving your colleague time and space to think themselves. Ask questions in order to understand the cause of the problem. Ask what they have already tried, how they feel, why they feel like they do, if they have experienced a similar situation. Really listen carefully Resist the urge to share your ideas or make suggestions how you would solve the problem. Take your time. Give your colleague time. Reduce the tempo. Try to really understand what they are feeling and how they are behaving.

What did you notice? How did your colleague feel and what were the results?

You will find that Method 2 “The Leader” was much more successful than Method 1 “The Engineer“. This is because in Method 2 you empowered your colleague to understand and solve the problem themselves, rather than bombarding them with your ideas and experience. They will be much more likely to be motivated to implement a solution that they thought of themselves, rather than something forced upon them. It’s also quite likely that you discovered that the original problem stated by your colleague wasn’t actually the real problem at all, but just the symptom of an underlying problem. Maybe you even learned something yourself?

So if you are an engineer aspiring to be a leader, don’t be such an engineer*! Actually listen to your team members, give them space and empower them to solve problems themselves!

What now?

Transform yourself from an engineer to leader in six easy steps by signing up for my Engineer2Leader coaching programme here (online or live, in English or German):

*This phrase was inspired by the great book “Don’t be such a scientist” by Randy Olson