I think that what Michelle Obama was saying was that she regrets not being more of a leader earlier in her life. As John Maxwell (1) defines it: “Leadership is Influence. Nothing more, and nothing less.” So how do you come to have influence? I think there are 3 simple guidelines for this.
- Know your stuff. You don’t have to be the expert or have the most technical knowledge, but you can’t influence others (i.e. get your ideas adopted), especially in a technical field, if you aren’t competent. Find people who know more than you, and use their knowledge to compliment what you are learning through your studies and your experiences. Form relationships with these people, so you can rely on their guidance throughout your career. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (it does NOT make you look stupid!), and recognize that “knowing your stuff” is a lifelong endeavor. When you are competent, you can also be confident, which is a requirement for a good influencer, and thus a good leader.
- Know yourself. By this I mean be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Contrary to what you might think, you should focus a larger part of your time and effort on building upon your strengths, not on improving your weaknesses. When you know and recognize your limits, you can strive to build teams that include people who have strength in your weak areas, freeing you up to focus on what you do best. Self-reflection is a fantastic way to increase your knowledge of yourself, and again you should tap on others for feedback to help you gain insight into what you do well and what you don’t. And take that feedback as a gift! Even though it might be painful to hear from someone you respect that you have gaps in your skillset, it is invaluable information for you to use to improve your effectiveness. This feedback should be used to self-correct: to deliberately modify the way you show up to others. I also call this being coachable. If you always respond to feedback with an excuse or explanation of why you are right or why it is someone else’s fault, people will stop giving you the very feedback that could help you continue to grow.
- Know your team. Following up the idea of knowing yourself and your strengths and weaknesses, you need to invest in knowing the same of your teammates. The best teams are combinations of people with different strengths -- this allows the team to achieve more than what the individuals could by working separately. This is huge! When you are working against technical and time deadlines (does that sound familiar??), multiplying your effectiveness by having team members with complimentary skillsets is invaluable! Knowing others takes empathy (that is understanding and sharing the emotions of others). By understanding what motivates others, you can help them better know themselves and work to build upon their strengths. This is so important as a leader, because people want to align themselves with someone who not only gets results, but who also makes them perform better, too.
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John C. Maxwell, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998
- “What makes a Leader” by Daniel Goleman, published by the Harvard Business Review, 1998
This blog was written by Joyce Witowski, mentor of FRC team 2468. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
Joyce Witowski has over 30 years of experience as an engineer and leader in the area of semiconductor manufacturing technology. She has held a variety of technical and leadership positions at Intel, General Electric, KLA-Tencor and NXP, spanning process engineering and operations, applications engineering, sales, procurement and quality. She is currently the Director of front-end quality at NXP Semiconductor in Austin, Texas. Joyce holds a BA in Chemistry from Washington and Jefferson College and an MS in Chemical Engineering from Clarkson University. She has been a mentor for FRC team 2468 for the past 9 years, focusing mostly on project management and outreach.