Effective Leaders Build a Circle of Safety

The Leaders Circle of SafetyHigh performing teams operate like a high-performing family. As an analogy: In a high performing family, the leaders (parents) provide security through love, food, shelter, guidance, and mentoring (a.k.a. “parenting”) and the followers (children) react to the level of security they receive through their individual performance in school, activities, etcetera. Unfortunately, there are dysfunctional families where the opposite occurs – a low security environment is provided by the parents and the children react accordingly.

As it is with families, so it is with teams. Any team in which you participate will have the same characteristics in structure and in social currency (i.e. sense of belonging, guidance, mentoring, etcetera) as a family. Why? Because this is how we, as humans, are wired. We’re biologically programmed to be social and to achieve together. Families exist to provide security for children in a social setting to bring them to adulthood. Other human groups exist to achieve some other purpose be it a hunter team of Paleolithic types on the steppes of Central Asia or a project team in the conference room of Central Consolidated, LLC.

If you are thinking it’s odd to consider a team you lead at work as your “family”, stop. These people are, in fact, your family at work; the ones with whom you will share successes, failures, camaraderie, joy and the occasional meal (or many meals!) You’ll most likely spend the best part of your waking day with these people versus the people who may be your actual family. There’s nothing odd at all in viewing a team, organization, or company you lead as family.

It’s All About the Circle of Safety

In fact, those leaders who do consider their role as that of a “parent” of the organization bring two characteristics to their leadership art that all but ensure success: (1) empathy and (2) a commitment to keep their “family” safe from outside and internal threats. In his book “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek uses the concept of the Circle of Safety to illustrate this. Humans as social animals have been teaming-up to achieve forever. Our ancestors were faced with a dizzying array of threats, from starvation to physical brutality; and they looked to a leader to be strong to keep them safe from these outside threats. read more »


5 Traits Every Successful Engineer Leader Must Have

5 Traits Every Successful Engineer Leader Must HaveThe engineering profession is full of exceptional leaders of thought, technique, and design. They are the ones who laid the foundation on which the profession is built and on which we continue to build. From Archimedes to Larry Page and Sergy Brin, all successful engineer leaders share five traits. 

A Burning Idea or Concept. It’s not enough to have just an inkling or just a thought. The idea has got be an inferno! The idea or concept must burn a hole through your mind that drives you to action. For engineer leaders, this burning idea or concept typically leads to their life work. For Fazlur Rahman Khan, who introduced design methods and concepts for the “tube” structural system for tall buildings, his burning idea was about how create very tall buildings with very efficient use of materials. His concepts are reflected in the Willis Tower in Chicago and are still used today in buildings like the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. How much did Khan’s ideas drive his thinking? “When thinking design, I put myself in the place of a whole building, feeling every part. In my mind I visualize the stresses and twisting a building undergoes.” That’s total investment to one’s burning idea.

You have to be burning with “an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right.” If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” ~ Steve Jobs

Perseverance.   We all know the story about Thomas Edison and his attempts to find the combination of materials necessary to make the incandescent light bulb commercially viable. He and his team at his Menlo Park research lab tried material after material in an attempt to get the right combination. And that combination needed to be one that was easily reproducible, otherwise it wouldn’t be easily manufactured. Although it took only a year to hit on the magic combination, it took 1,400 different material types. Asked by a reporter afterwards, Edison replied “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If this isn’t perseverance to an idea, what is? When’s the last time you took 10,000 swings at something to make it work?  Sticking with something in the face of failure takes perseverance, a trait that separates the successful from everyone else. read more »


An Engineer’s Guide to Mindfulness Meditation

This post is an overview of Chade-Meng Tan’s book, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) If you enjoyed reading this review and think I need to provide others (I consume, on average, a book a week); let me know through the comments below.

Mindfulness Meditation for Engineers My journey in developing a mindfulness practice started in 2005. After nearly a decade of starting, stopping, learning, and then starting over again my practice has become an indispensible part of my day and my life. When I learned that an engineer at Google, known as the “Jolly Good Fellow”, created a course on mindfulness I was ecstatic! Finally, an engineer who gets it and does so in such an easy to understand way that anyone can tap into the power of a mindfulness practice to bring success and happiness.   

Why Be Mindful? Meng is an engineer, steeped in science and the scientific method. It’s with this background that he under-took the task to create a course that taught people the mindful-ness practice in a way in which it can be applied to everyday life. It’s not “navel gazing”; it’s bringing focus and clarity to your mind, observation of your thoughts, and installing a gap between a stimulus and your response. It’s about being attuned to other people. And by being observant, more present, and more in tune with others you end up contributing more to the bottomline because you’re clear about what you’re doing and why.

Emotionally Smart. Emotional intelligence (EI) is a key part of mindfulness. It’s importance to business is just as strong:

  • Contributes to stellar work performance. In fact, EI is 2x as important as pure intellect and expertise.
  • Outstanding Leadership. Over 80% of the qualities of effective leaders are linked to EI.
  • Ability to create the conditions for happiness. EI gives you the tools to apply a mindfulness practice of observation of ones thoughts.

EI and mindfulness are interlinked and combined; they allow one to be über-effective in everything they undertake.

Bottom Line: Mindfulness extends beyond just sitting on a cushion and observing thoughts and breath. It has to in order to be of any use in our daily lives! One area where it will boost your success immediately is in communications. The act of mindfully listening to another is one action that you can apply today; in your client meeting, the field visit to a job site, at home with your spouse and children, or out with friends. Success and happiness can, and must, be developed from inside. Otherwise, what you have on the outside still might not be adequate.

Key Take-Aways:

#1 – Mindfulness is the best mental app for developing EI.

#2 – Every emotion has a correlation in the body.

#3 – Self-confidence comes from emotional awareness and an accurate self-assessment.

#4 – Begin your meditation practice with 2 minutes.

#6 – Don’t try to avoid emotions, they’re what make us human.

#7 – Motivation grows from alignment, envisioning, and resilience.

Mindfulness In Six Easy Steps.

What is mindfulness? There’s no one better qualified to answer this than Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine and the one credited with brining mindfulness practice to mainstream America. According to Kabat-Zinn, “mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience.” Note the words “gentle effort”, because you will find immediately upon beginning your mindfulness meditation that your attention will wander away from your breath. It’s natural for this to occur, but easily frustrating! Hence the need for your gentle effort to bring your attention back to your breath. Then repeat!

The Mindfulness Meditation Process for Engineers.

  1. Intention.  Create an intention, a reason for wanting to abide in mindfulness.
  2. Follow your breath.  Just bring gentle attention to it.
  3. Attention.  This may be a state of where your mind is calm/concentrated…perhaps even flow with your breath.  This is fleeting as it will dissolve to…
  4. Distraction.  May ruminate, may worry or fantasize.
  5. Regain attentional focus.
  6. Attitude.

6-Step Engineer Meditation Process

Posture for Mindfulness Meditation.

In general, you don’t want to slouch. Meng says he thinks of himself as being Mt. Fuji, strong a majestic. Whether that works for you or not, sit with dignity. That’s’ the best way I’ve learned to think of my posture.

  1. Take your SEAT. Whatever you’re sitting on – a chair, a meditation cushion, etcetera – find a spot that Engineer Meditation Posturegives you a stable, solid seat.   Don’t slouch or lean back…sit with dignity!
  2. If on a cushion on the floor, cross your LEGS comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, then make certain the bottom of your feet are touching the floor.
  3. Straighten – not stiffen – your UPPER BODY. The spine has a natural curvature, so let it be. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.
  4. Place your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Then let your HANDS drop onto the top of your legs. With your upper arms at your sides, your hands will land in the right spot. Too far forward will make you hunch over – bad! Too far back will make you stiff – also bad!
  5. Drop your chin a little and let your GAZE fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids lower. If you feel the need, you may lower them completely, but it isn’t necessary to close your eyes while meditating. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
  6. Be there for a few moments. SETTLE. Now you can follow the next breath that comes out. You’ve started on the right foundation – and hands, and arms, and everything else.

Want to Get Ahead? Don’t Act Like an Ass

Don't be an assPersonality matters. Studies involving employees of varying levels within organizations show that a person’s personality has a demonstrative impact on their intrinsic and extrinsic success. Read that as: a person’s personality directly impacts their feelings about success (intrinsic) and the income/promotions/occupational status they attain.

The importance of the personal and social aspects of one’s behavior as engineer is vitally important to a career.  Yet all of the engineering education and likely 99% of the training received is focused exclusively on the technical component.  This is important – the world doesn’t need ill-educated and trained engineers designing buildings, airliners, and automobiles.  However, the lack of the “human” component means that engineers are, by and large, left to their own devices to figure out how to get along with colleagues in a team, communicate effectively, and lead others.  Trial and error is standard operating procedure in these non-technical areas; even those who are well steeped in the skills of team building and communicating make mistakes.  However, the potential for engineers to generate grievous errors in their careers due to poor communications or inability to “read” a political situation is higher than for non-engineer counterparts. 

In our organizations, we cannot get far without the voluntary support of our subordinates, colleagues and superiors. The quality and quantity of the cooperation we receive is directly linked to our “personality factor” more than anything else.  The subjects of personality and character are enormous and I’m by no means an expert.  What I do have, however, is the empirical evidence gained from a career of having to earn the cooperation of others to aide me in achieving organizational goals.  

The Law of Personality and Cooperation

This relationship between the elusive “personality factor” and the cooperation of others might not be exponential. For certain, it’s definitely not linear! Regardless of the relationship between the two factors you get the point: as your personal mojo increases, you gain more cooperation from others.  It’s easy to see the direct correlation by taking the two extremes:

  1. Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 17.41.10

    Don’t be an ass. Please.

    You’re an Ass.  If you are an ass in your dealing with others, cooperation tends to be rock bottom (if the people work for you, they’ll do the minimum’s to avoid being fired or in the worst case, sabotage you) or non-existent (if they don’t have to listen to you they won’t).  

  1. You’re affable.  If you’re easy to talk with, friendly and good-natured people, whether they have to or not based on working relationship, will cooperate with you. 

Personality vs. CooperationNo doubt you have personal empirical evidence of the relationship between personality factor and cooperation from your career and life experiences.  Let’s just call the correlation between these two factors the “Law of Personality & Cooperation”. When your personality factor (friendliness, communications, level of empathy…i.e. being a human) goes up, cooperation goes up and this leads to an increase in team/organizational achievement. When your personality factor goes down, so does the level of cooperation you receive and, unfortunately for everyone, team/organizational achievement.

Any of us working inside an organization have witnessed this. An engineering manager arrives to the office in a foul mood. Everyone can feel it and her negative vibes cause everyone to be on edge. If she’s like this all the time, it’s a given that everyone does what they can to avoid her or provide the minimum level of assistance possible. Why get too engaged and have your head ripped off?

For engineers there’s zero excuses for any of us not accept, abide by, and do our part to enhance our ability to live by the Law of Personality & Cooperation as we do by Newton’s Laws of Motion or the Laws of Thermodynamics.  One’s ability to gain the cooperation of fellow engineers, if they are a junior engineer, or a team, if they are an engineer-manager, is just as important as these laws of our universe.  Violate any of these laws at your own peril!

Rules to Help You Live by the Law of Personality and Cooperation

Here are some rules of engagement to help you operate better with the Law of Personality and Cooperation: read more »