on July 8th, 2014

Dear Colleagues,

You’re probably tired of being subjected to regular doses of management and leadership advice. There are a ferocious number of coaches and theories out ‘there’ advising you on how to be a better manager or leader. Probably more than - bringing up your kids, improving your love life or career.

Some of the ones, which I would suggest you take with a grain of salt (i.e. probably best to ignore) include:

You need to know more than those who work for you. It is extremely difficult (and probably impossible) to be as knowledgeable and skilled as all those who work for you. Your job is to tie your team together with their disparate skills – not to do their individual jobs.

Maximise your strengths and avoid your weaknesses. This is true to an extent – obviously you should try and work in an environment where your strengths are called upon. This is where you can add value. But you should also work on your weaknesses and improve your skills here.

Be friends with your team members and encourage consensus. Unfortunately, you often have to take hard decisions – hire/fire/promote and reward. So it is very hard to become close buddies with people working for you.

If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it. The challenge with management is that most of what you do, you can’t measure or assess objectively. There is an enormous amount of ambiguity in the workplace which you have to deal with. This is certainly not measurable.

No news is good news.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You have to actively seek out information in your organisation as to what is really happening. You are generally shielded from bad news by your team members. Seek out the bad news and deal with it.

Micromanagement is bad. While you certainly can’t do your team members tasks without burning yourself up; you certainly should be able to know what everyone is doing and what their results are.

You need to work really  hard to be successful. Or 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration makes you successful. You definitely have to work hard as a manager; but working ferociously long hours and destroying your personal life is not the best way forward. You will simply wear out.

Good Managers Get their Hands Dirty. While it is good to get involved once in a while with the nitty gritty activities of a project; you simply don’t have time to neglect your key function which is to lead your team members to achieve a good outcome.

Learn leadership from successful CEOs. Sometimes this is true but it is extraordinarily difficult to copy a successful leader and to apply it directly to your situation. You are likely to be very disappointed if you try this approach. Your situation is likely to be unique requiring a unique customised approach.

Thanks to Dan McCarthy from SmartBriefs and the IEEE for some acerbic analysis on leadership.

John F. Kennedy's remarks are relevant here: Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

Yours in engineering learning,


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