How to Become the Best Engineering Leader in Your Field – Podcast interview with Dr. John A. White

How to Become the Best Engineering Leader in Your Field – Podcast interview with Dr. John A. White

“The answer is always in the room, the people you are leading often are better qualified to come up with the answer than you will be.” – Dr. John A. White, Ph. D., P.E.

In this episode, I interviewed John A. White, the Chancellor Emeritus at the University of Arkansas and one of the foremost engineering authorities in America, and we talked about effective leadership in engineering. He provides some great tips that you can start using right away to become the best engineering leader in your field.

Here Are Some of the Key Points Discussed About Becoming the Best Engineering Leader in Your Field:

  • John’s book, “Why It Matters: Reflections on Practical Leadership”, is the first book he wrote without equations, and is based on his experiences in his leadership classes’, and what he learned about leadership along the way. At the end of the classes, the most common feedback he got from his students was, “It’s the most demanding course I’ve taken,” or “It’s the best course I’ve taken,” “It changed my life,” and so on. But in the last offering, the most crucial feedback John received was, “It would be the most demanding course, and it was. It would be the best, and it was. It would change my life, but it didn’t. It saved my life”. At that moment he realized he must write a book about becoming the best engineering leader in your field.
  • His book is not about leadership theories, as the title says, it is about leadership reflections in a practical way. It’s based on the joys and disappointment, balance in life, the paradoxes that come up in leadership, the mistakes, the decisions, and how you deal with those things along the way.
  • The first Newton Law states: “Every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force”, and it happens the same in organizations. Once you become great, it is difficult to become better. You must put tension on the organization. The best engineering leader must regulate the tension in the organization to keep the body moving forward. You can’t just be consistent. You must continue improving.
  • As engineers, we are called problem-solvers, but as a leader, you should not be solving all the problems. If anything, you should be the problem-provoker and ask the questions. You should not be the person with all the answers. You must have questions you can ask your team to solve. It is essential to involve all the people in your team.
  • The world’s polarization does not have a notion about polarities because we want to take extreme positions. Nevertheless, polarity is about results. We put parties together for collaboration trying to find the midpoint. It means that something is acceptable, even if it is not the best outcome for both parties.
  • Good is the enemy of the great, but there will be situations where good is enough. Depending on the case, the latter is acceptable, but we ought to continue finding greatness.
  • As a leader, you measure success with your team’s success. Your goal is not to be the best engineering leader, but to be the leader of the best team. It is the key to how you help your team be successful.
  • One of the most significant recommendations about leadership is a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Your team members must know how much you always care about them.
  • John’s Secret Laws for Leadership are: Listen; Learn; Love; and Lead.

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