How to Innovate and Accelerate Leadership Development for Engineers, Part 2 B. Michael Aucoin

Interview between businessmen

Part 1 of this series presented a framework that innovates and accelerates leadership development for organizations that rely on engineering talent. This article provides systemic strategies to implement the framework across the talent management life cycle. Particular attention is given to new hires from college, but you can adapt these strategies for other engineers or engineering leaders. Here are the strategies according to the stages of the life cycle.

The majority of engineers spend most of their careers in management and leadership roles. It is important to understand this progression at your organization to better plan for talent management and development activities.

Recruitment and Selection
Do your recruitment efforts convey the importance of leadership skills or potential in engineers? This message is particularly important in conversations with college students. A leadership role in a student organization may be less relevant than demonstrated leadership efforts as a team member on an engineering class group project. Appropriate company personnel should both be aware of engineering leadership skills and communicate their importance in recruiting activities. Consider goodwill opportunities, such as presentations or webinars, to deliver this message to student engineering groups as a way to enhance your organization’s brand among potential hires.

Engineering is a team sport. Entry-level engineers are typically expected to function well in teams, but few have the right team member skills. Invest in development and support that helps them function well in teams, and then use team contracts as a robust tool to solidify team performance. It is here that new hires learn leadership skills that will benefit them and your company down the road


Leadership skills are best learned when presented in an engineering context, in contrast to generic leadership development programs. Take advantage of the principles from Part 1 of this series to use an engineer’s existing skill set as a bridge to leadership. Their deep knowledge of systems thinking enables engineers to accomplish the systemic change in an organization that is critical to impactful leadership. Remember in coaching and mentoring efforts that engineers give greater respect to and will learn most effectively from engineering leaders. Engineers value behaviors that model servant leadership, and it would be worthwhile to instill this perspective into development efforts. With greater leadership roles, engineers will need more exposure to systemic and cross-disciplinary development.

Performance Evaluation
In addition to your firm’s existing evaluations of individuals, consider how to gauge the performance of tailored leadership development for the engineering subset of your staff. It is believed that similar innovation can augment leadership development across a variety of professional disciplines. It may be worthwhile to similarly tailor leadership programs for other professionals in your company and compare the results against baselines.

Succession planning
Leadership development and succession planning should go hand in hand. A systems approach can demonstrate how organizational robustness requires the linkage of these two functions. Accordingly, take advantage of action learning methodology, as outlined in the ATD Talent Management Handbook to powerfully accomplish this connection.

Because of rapidly accelerating technology, the half-life of technical knowledge of engineers runs about three to five years. Your company can develop a strong brand among engineers as one that will invest in the long haul of an engineer’s career by giving attention to his or her development as an engineering leader. Innovating your leadership development of engineers over the talent management life cycle will enable your organization to excel at innovation and will undoubtedly deliver great bottom-line results!

B. Michael Aucoin
Dr. B. Michael Aucoin, PE, PMP is an internationally recognized consultant, author, and speaker in innovative collaboration. He is the president of Leading Edge Management, LLC and author of From Engineer to Manager: Mastering the Transition, and Right-Brain Project Management. Projects he has led have received the R&D 100 and Outstanding Engineering Achievement Awards. He has degrees in electrical engineering, engineering management, and organizational leadership. Contact him at


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