We all know bad leadership when we see it. Most likely when you read that last sentence, the image of that bad leader popped into your mind. What might be a bit harder to delineate, is the distinction between good leadership and effective leadership. I think this is an important one for engineer’s interested in achieving their highest potential in this arena of the business.
Good leadership is by far better than bad leadership.
What’s even better than good leadership, is effective leadership. Let’s unpack this.
What’s The Difference?
The traits of a good leader include:
- Emotional intelligence (includes social skills, empathy)
- Self-aware and confident
- Capable of self-management
- Able to communicate ideas and direction
These are definitely sought-after traits, and the good leader embodies each of them. These are also traits possessed by the effective engineering leader. However, there’s more trait to being effective.
There’s an action mindset.
The effective engineering leader instills an action-oriented mindset into everything they do. They are focused on doing the right things and getting things done. In short, the effective engineering leader is able to achieve goals that are self-initiated or set by other stakeholders.
You can be good without being effective. Envision a leader who is always supporting her people, very confident and jubilant, and able to set direction and articulate this to her team. Everyone loves her and she’s well thought of, however, the projects her team works on never quite deliver the intended benefits. She’s not quite able to get things to closure. She’s a great person, but she’s not able to deliver the goods.
Some might call this bad leadership. I won’t. She’s a good leader and all of the elements of good leadership are there, except the ability to execute.
That can be adjusted.
Effective Leaders Execute
Effective leaders embody the traits of the good leader and then add a vector to it. They give their leadership direction and momentum. They take action and execute.
Get the picture?
The traits of the effective leader include:
- Action oriented mindset
- Operates with a vision
- Focuses on delivering benefits to meet/exceed expectations
- Focuses on building/enhancing his/her people
- Evaluates performance of self/others by results
- Anticipates (aka plans for) his/her followers needs
- Anticipates project/organizational change
- Operates with full integrity
The last element is vitally important and worth highlighting specifically. An effective leader who is fixated on only delivering benefits and results can quickly become a bad leader if their entire focus is on the end goal. We’ve seen movies or maybe even worked for someone who was fixated on the results at all costs. They stepped over others, drove their people mercilessly, and took the credit in the end.
This is not effective leadership. This is bad leadership.
To recap: start out seeking to build the skills, characteristics, and traits embodied by the good leader. Then begin to add the action component. If you’re already an action-oriented person, then check in on your good leader traits.
Download the Effective Engineering Leader worksheet to help you gauge where you are in your leadership journey.
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
Engineering Management Institute