Being in Charge Is Complex and Comes With High Expectations

This is a guest blog by Manny De La Cruz

To succeed, you must…

  • Go to school…
  • Get good grades…
  • Love math and science…
  • Get into STEM…
  • Take AP classes…
  • Love STEM…
  • Pick a college…
  • Go to college…
  • Love STEM more…
  • Get a STEM degree, preferably engineering (my opinion)…
  • Get an internship…
  • Get a job…
  • Be a leader/manager…

Does this list sound familiar? For many STEM professionals, and, more specifically, engineers, this list may sound all too familiar. For some, it happens early in life when parents, teachers, or some influential adult begins to tell you what the formula to success is and how engineering fits into that equation. And for other, non-traditional students, like myself, all it takes is one visit to a college campus and there is no shortage of STEM advocates singing the praises of obtaining an engineering degree.

So, you pick engineering, and for the most part, love the journey; let’s face it — statistics for engineers or the third round of calculus can get old at times. As you begin to align yourself with where you want to work, you start to hear the term leadership. To be a strong candidate for an internship spot requires you to have the trifecta: high GPA, skills experience, and leadership potential. For some, “being a leader” has been engrained as the solution to many problems, especially if you are a minority candidate.

Manny, where are you going with this? Great question. So, you want to be a leader/manager? Are you sure you know what you are asking for? It is my opinion that most of us do not really appreciate what we are asking for when we say we want to be a leader/manager. Being in charge is complex and comes with high expectations and many burdens.

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What Does Being in Charge Mean?

1. Delivering Results

Without a doubt, the most obvious requirement of being a leader is that you deliver results. This means understanding the business conditions, deliverables, key stakeholders, and deadlines. It means setting expectations, making goals, keeping schedules, ensuring regulations are met, and ultimately contributing to the bottom line.

2. Career Advancement

This is where the hard part begins. A great leader should understand where each member of their team is when it comes to their development. They should have individual and personalized development plans that highlight a person’s skills, but also makes plans for their area of opportunities. A great leader must have their ear to the ground for potential opportunities and should be an advocate for advancing the careers of their team members. They must be able to, at a moment’s notice, share a team member’s narrative with such passion that promotion is more than guaranteed.

3. Counselor/Coach

A manager must be able to “get to know their people.” They have to be prepared to juggle the company needs, but also be prepared to hear and adjust accordingly when team members share their personal constraints. They must be prepared to encounter difficult conversations about very personal items like medical conditions, relationship discourse, children going astray, family death, substance abuse, and a myriad of other topics that no amount of engineering statistics or calculus could prepare you for.

4. Motivational Speaker

A leader must have the ability to pull you out of the darkest pits and get the team delivering at 100%. Economic downturns, unforeseen setbacks, and changes in priorities should result in a leader pivoting with the athletic ability an NFL running back would envy.

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5. 100% Transparent

When you are in charge, you are expected to be transparent 100% of the time. What exactly that means can sometimes depend on the day of the week and the direction the wind is blowing in the Sahara. You are expected to share the details of performance programs and the reasons for certain moves beyond your control. You are being asked to trust your team with sensitive information when they don’t necessarily trust you in general.

I enjoy being a leader at work, but certainly admit I did not know what I was getting myself into. Thankfully, I got mentors and the guidance of leaders striving to be better. Perhaps you should give some thought as to what you think being a manager, leader, or overall being in charge means.

So maybe you think I was a bit dramatic in laying out some of the less obvious expectations of leaders being in charge. But the reality is that leaders are expected to be all things and accountable in all situations. I have started to look at congressional hearings on various topics and have seen the likes of Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sundar Pachi (Google), Charles Scharf (Wells Fargo), and Rex Tillerson (ExxonMobil) all field a barrage of questions that highlight the expectations leaders are held to.

Take the example of Dennis Muilenburg. Ex-CEO of Boeing. In 2019, he testified before a Senate committee to account for the multiple failures and accidents that the 737 Max had experienced prior to being grounded. During the investigation, texts surfaced between some Boeing employees that clearly stated there may be a problem. In an exchange with Senator Ted Cruz, Muilenburg was grilled as to the alleged timing he found out about these texts. His response was one that tried to explain a bit of the corporate structure and whose job it was to review and advise on the texts. In a statement that to me represents the general view of what is expected of a leader, Senator Cruz cuts him off mid-sentence and says “You are the CEO, the buck stops with you.”

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About Manny De La Cruz

Being in Charge

Manny De La Cruz is a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Texas-San Antonio by way of San Antonio Community College. He currently works for the ExxonMobil Corporation as an Optimizer in the ExxonMobil Chemical Company. For nine years, he has been heavily involved with underrepresented minority recruiting and coaching of engineers. He shares his advice and the stories of other engineers on his podcast Manny Talks, available on any podcast platform. Manny is also a family man, woodworker, bass player, and TV watcher.  

We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share about what you think the meaning of being in charge is suppose to be like for engineers.

Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.

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To your success,

Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success


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Originally posted 2020-10-05 12:12:08.

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