Take a look at a history of America’s greatest business leaders, and you’ll see one profession that’s under-represented in today’s business world: engineers. The great industrialists, rail barons, and company founders such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were often engineers as well as entrepreneurs. The shift from industry to business as a proving ground for corporate leadership reached its peak around the turn of the century, though, and there’s a nascent trend toward engineers becoming owners again. What do engineers bring to the table as business leaders, and what skills do they need to develop for business success?
Engineers are purpose-driven by nature, and purposefulness is a vital characteristic for captains of industry. As engineers, these leaders are used to defining concrete goals and defining the steps needed to get them there. Translating that ability to define a purpose, following through on it, and assessing the end result within a corporate framework is a natural shift for business-oriented engineers. Leaders with an engineering background present potential investors with realistic outcomes and can outline their plan every step of the way. This analytical ability and attention to results wins backers, and for start-ups – especially those in technology-related industries – that’s vital.
From the automated processes that produce the company’s stock to assessing personnel needs for new businesses, engineers have a good mind for details that sometimes cause big-picture thinkers to stumble. Engineers take risks, but not without calculating them first. For many engineers who found businesses, the industry comes first; they have a bottom-up knowledge of what they want to do and understand the detailed processes of every step of research, design, and production. It’s a different vantage point from the top-down, administration-focused view of a leader with a purely corporate background, and it’s one that serves engineers well.
Engineers are scientists at heart, and they have a scientific understanding of the word “work.” To them, it’s a measure of motive force, something that produces results. That result-oriented mindset builds efficiency into an organization from the ground up, paring inessentials to streamline work processes and go farther with less effort. They’re masterful at figuring out how to increase efficiency in automated processes and manufacturing, but with some business training, they’re equally adept at turning that knowledge toward company structure and hierarchy. Businesses run by engineers are models of efficiency.
With these skills in mind, what should engineers focus on to become the complete package as a business leader? Look at where corporate leaders with business backgrounds excel to be a part of the engineering renaissance:
– Promotional skill: Engineering classes keep students focused on results, not collaboration. In business, successful entrepreneurs need to be persuasive too. They must sell their products, their organizations, and their own skill set to would-be investors. To succeed in business, work on developing a familiarity with self-promotion and communicating your belief in your organization.
– Spotting talent: Finding people who share your vision and can help make it a reality is crucial to your success, yet it’s a skill many engineers don’t learn until they venture into the business world. Learn to locate talent in the people around you and find ways to bring others’ skills to the fore.
– Customer Service: In the business world, customer service is essential. Engineers who may not have held a service-oriented position may inadvertently underestimate the force customers exert on a business. Make them happy, and they do much of your marketing for you; displease them, and you create friction that’s almost impossible to overcome.
Today, engineers are emerging as tomorrow’s business leaders just as they did around the turn of the last century. Be at the forefront of the movement by preparing yourself to lead now.