This is a guest post by Jeff Perry, MBA
We all have something that feels like if we could change or get over it and turn the weakness into a strength, it would unlock all sorts of progress and opportunities for us.
Uncovering what this change is and how to overcome it so we can move forward with purpose and confidence is what we are focused on today!
What Is Holding You Back?
Before you can start making changes, you first need to know what you need to change.
For me, it’s being present. With clients, with my work, and with my family. All too frequently my wife is like “Hey, be with us…” or I lose myself in the latest sports news update instead of remaining focused on the work I’m doing. Yep, there is work to do!
Additionally, here are just a few examples I have seen from people I have worked with:
- An experienced engineer about three months into his new job at Blue Origin recognized that if he could effectively create better professional relationships, it would enable him to reach his goal of making the shift to work in a new group that is working on a project he is VERY interested in (think long-term living in space).
- A senior data engineering leader recognized had already needed to take time off to get her health in check. She needed to figure out how to grow her team in a fast-moving startup while also staying healthy and creating boundaries for herself. Basically, not taking it all on herself and saying “yes” to everything.
- An owner of an engineering business was taking it all on and losing himself in his work. He needed to build his team and create expectations with his clients and those he worked with while delegating and enabling his team to take on more responsibility. This would keep him from burning out (he got MAJOR sick for a while), and allow him to enjoy more time with his wife and kids.
So what’s your big change? What is the NUMBER ONE thing that would help you unlock your potential?
Why You Haven’t Made the Change
Once you have identified the change you need to make, it doesn’t mean all the work is done — you’re just getting started.
Even if you have known about the need to change (often for years), you might still resist it. You may have tried all sorts of things including:
- Taking courses to learn new skills
- Setting up new behaviors/expectations (like a diet if you’re trying to lose weight)
- Reading books
- Just trying to “buckle down” and make it happen this time
And yet, you still struggle. Why?
You are trying to prescribe a solution, without knowing the true cause. You think just laying out a set of behavior changes will make it all go away.
And that’s just the thing — it’s not just about behavior change.
It takes a change in belief. A change in mindset.
It takes uncovering the deeper patterns of belief, assumptions, and mindsets that lie beneath the surface.
If you can do that, then suddenly you can address the real problem and get to a real solution.
If you don’t, your change efforts will feel like driving a car with your foot on the gas and the brake at the same time. It doesn’t work.
Let’s take Ian as an example:
Ian was a senior engineering leader, trying to build teams, build the business, and build his career.
But he took it all on himself. Any new task that came his way, he thought he was the one who needed to take care of it. So, all of his working relationships went in that direction.
Don’t get me wrong — he typically did a great job with all those tasks. He worked crazy-hard and did great work. But eventually those crazy weeks piled up over time burned him out.
He tried some things to figure it out:
- He read a bunch of books
- He took courses on LinkedIn Learning
- He attended conferences
- He participated in training available to him through his workplace
But none of these things seemed to do the trick. He was still stuck in his old ways of doing things. Months of effort and still getting burned out.
The problem was that he didn’t even know what the real problem was (think about that for a moment), until we met and started working together.
He recently told me: “I just took on a new project and was able to assign my team member to take ownership of it from the beginning. The client was cool with it and I hardly have to see anything about it. I NEVER would have been able to do this a few months ago.”
He got to the root of the issue and made adaptive change. BOOM! Results.
“But how do I uncover the real problem?” you might ask…
Making the Change
Like I shared above, this is how we typically try and make changes in our life:
We try to prescribe actions and behaviors to change, but our mindsets don’t adjust, so we go right back to where we were before.
But you don’t want that to be you, right?
No, that’s why you’re reading this.
The real key to sustainable change is going through a mindset transformation.
There is a process to doing this, here I will lay out the basics for you:
Step #1: Write down the “big change” you want to make (we’ve been talking about this for a few days now).
Don’t over analyze it and wonder if you have written down the right thing.
Just write it down.
Paper is good.
Sticky notes are fine.
Type it out if you want to stay digital.
Just get it out of your head.
Step #2: Write down all the fears you have around making this change, or going through the process of making this change.
Some common fears I’ve heard:
- Quality of my work will go down
- I will get rejected by my boss
- My family won’t support me
- I will try something very important to me and fail
- My coworkers won’t respect me
- I will miss out on career opportunities
- I might get fired
- Financial ruin
Whoa, that’s a lot. These are just examples.
Step #3: Write down an action you can take to TEST whether these fears will come true.
Yep, that’s right, we’re going to run an experiment. Collect data. (We’re engineers, right?)
Make it small, but one that will put you out of your comfort zone.
Here are a few examples:
- If you struggle with delegation, take one small task and train someone else to do it. Document the process and set them up for success (don’t sabotage the whole thing from the start).
- If you are afraid to ask for new responsibility, look for a way you can add value in this new area that would be helpful to the team or company, and do that work. Then, next time you are talking to your boss, let him/her know what you did.
- If you aren’t networking and building relationships with people at work, set up a brief conversation with someone you already know but want to get to know better. Start there, and see how it goes. Just get ready with a few basic questions you want to learn about them and their experiences.
Take Ambitious Action
Follow the process above. That’s it. Do it. In the next few days. Put it in your calendar. Don’t wait.
Then, when you take the action, look at the data.
Did all the terrible things that you thought would happen actually happen? If yes, maybe your fears have some validity (or maybe you did it in a way that was a self-fulfilling prophecy).
If your fears didn’t actually happen, maybe there isn’t as much reason to be led by those fears as you thought.
And suddenly, your beliefs and mindsets of how you see the world are starting to change…
About Jeff Perry, MBA
Jeff Perry is a leadership/career coach for engineers, building mindsets, leadership, and career intentions to unlock hidden potential and remove self-imposed roadblocks for career and life. For years, he has had the pleasure of supporting engineers and software pros, from new grads to director level. Having been on the front lines in the technical world, he has been able to map out the necessary skills for becoming a quality leader in the field.
You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffcperry/ or visit his website, https://morethan-engineering.com. Jeff also has a new, FREE, on-demand training course for engineers who are job searching or in job transitions. You can see it at https://engineeringcareeraccelerator.com.
New To Technical Leadership?
The transition from individual contributor to technical leader is a difficult one. Jeff put together a FREE, 90-day guide for those moving through this transition to help them be as successful as possible. You can get it here: https://morethan-engineering.com/career-clarity
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on how engineers can break through career and personal development barriers.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success