What set of behaviours make the best leaders?

Andy Webber, trainer and coach at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, on why you need someone who is driven, focused, determined and manages relationships well. 



The best leaders need to be good listeners who ensure that everyone in the team is fine, but at the same time they also need to be very detail oriented.

It’s a lot to expect of any individual – in any sector, and anyone moving into a management role will need development in certain areas. Leadership tends to be a reward for competence in your functional role. Whether the functional role has skills that are consistent with leadership or not is irrelevant.

Typically, engineers are problem solvers who like to take things apart and put them together again to understand how they work. And that’s part of what a leader needs to do. The other aspect of leadership is to understand people and be able to motivate and coach. These tend to be the skills that engineers need to develop – but that’s the same for anyone who becomes a leader.

To help engineers develop greater self-awareness of their natural style, I use DiSC behavioural assessment. Inspired by the work of psychologist Dr William Moulton Marston in the 1920s, this measures four primary personality traits: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness. However, engineers can be extremely suspicious of it. They tend to be task-focused and not particularly motivated by ‘peopley’ things. So it takes some selling of the theory for them to see the value.

Engineers want to see a logical need for the assessment, along with evidence-based research that it works. DiSC is a trait tool rather than a personality tool. Its main purpose is to demonstrate that everyone is different, and that those differences need to be taken into account when working with other people.

In DiSC terms, the typical patterns for the ways engineers think, act and interact tend to be Ds and Cs – Dominance and Conscientiousness – or a mix of both. The best leaders combine all four DiSC styles.

What makes somebody a good leader is the ability to develop the qualities they don’t have naturally to become an all-round mix of all four DiSC styles. By nature, engineers are good at getting things done. What they need are the softer skills on the people side. 

Training groups of mechanical engineers together, as we do at the Institution, brings the benefits of a shared set of values that enables delegates to learn, network and support each other. And their learnings are shared across continents. My work takes me all over the globe, so I am able to bring a broad, cross-cultural awareness to training.

A management role can come as a bit of a shock for engineers struggling to let go of the day-to-day tech – and that’s the challenge that needs to be overcome.

Andy Webber is a trainer and coach at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 


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