Continuous Learning for Engineers: Providing Coaching and Accountability

 This is a guest blog by Mike Burns

Last month’s blog discussed Embracing a Risk-Intelligent Approach. The guidance stated that we shouldn’t be paralyzed by unknown unknowns, allowing a risk-intelligent culture to support sustainable growth. In these uncertain times, as we respond to broad human suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, I’d like to expand on mitigating unknown unknowns as an introduction to our continuous learning discussion.

A risk-intelligent approach creates a culture where teachers, students – leaders, managers, and staff thrive in a continuous learning environment. As this culture matures; mitigating inherent risks and exploring opportunities becomes a natural output of our sustained discussions. Concurrently, these discussions will surface strategic risks, informed by our trajectory and influenced by systemic threats, crisis, geopolitical events, and pandemics.

Mitigating Strategic Risks Requires Organizations Whose Culture Promotes Proactive Engagement With Internal and External Stakeholders.

This intellectual curiosity, fueled by leaders willing to be questioned, positions organizations to acknowledge potential threats early. Mitigation planning rapidly progresses, engaging trusted resources as we utilize a broad swath of scenarios to test potential outcomes. This proactive approach, communicated with transparency, particularly to internal stakeholders, sets the stage for better outcomes when the worst happens: resiliency anchoring a mindful business culture.

Feeding Our Personal Intellectual Curiosity Provides a Similar Resilient Basis for Our Lives and Careers.

My parents, school teachers, and small business owners instilled continuous learning as a way of life for our family. My mom, in particular, a voracious reader, continues to fuel my exploration as we debate, discuss, and learn from articles, books, streaming shows, podcasts, family, and friends. Then my childhood in Boulder, Colorado, coupled this parenting approach with an accepting and supportive community. Benefiting greatly from this socially privileged upbringing, I am wholly aware that not everyone shares this experience.

Now More Than Ever, as We Recover From This Existential Crisis, We Must Start Conversations Acknowledging Our Varied Backgrounds.

Social science provides compelling evidence that at-risk children struggle to catch up without a holistic safety net. This reality informs STEM recruitment programs globally as we work to attract and support everyone who can contribute to and benefit from an AEC career. My current employer, VANIR, a women-owned minority business, adds a very cool twist to STEM. Our CEO, Dorene Dominguez, in memory of her father, started the Dominguez Dream focused on our neediest students. This organization “empowers children in underserved communities to achieve their full potential through Literacy and STEAM.” The A is an intentional inclusion of the Arts, empowering a broader group of young people who will inform our communities’ solutions.

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Professional, Continuous Learning Should Be Equally Diverse and Inclusive, Deepening Our Ability to Best Serve Our Communities.

Over time, this can include training, coursework, or certifications. Yet the deepest learning often occurs through hands-on experiences, engaging with other professionals, tradespeople, and laymen. This broad learning perspective collectively matures sustainable solutions. This is incredibly important today, as the complexity of our infrastructure programs challenges AEC business models, concurrently requiring broad public support.

Continuous Learning

My professional learning perspective stems from my first boss, Barbara Weiss at Drexel-Barrell, whose patient and open approach is a foundational element of my career. Day one at my first engineering job, after a friendly introduction, Barbara asked me to go to the drafting room and get the plat and grading plan for a project. Plat? Grading plan? Certain that I’d received a very good civil engineering degree from Montana State University, I was more than a bit concerned that neither of these words were familiar. So, I walked back to a room full of drafters, hand drafting on mylar, and asked the first person who looked up to help me find these documents.

Kirby, our lead drafter, kindly helped me find the appropriate drawings. Months later, Kirby taught me to draft, laughing our way through my ink-blotted septic system plans. This type of engagement fueled my on-the-job training for years. As I struggled with design tasks, Barbara and our other principals were readily available to answer questions. As importantly, during slow periods, our surveyors and construction supervisors were willing to let me try new tasks. Getting into the field and chatting with tradespeople as they interpreted our plans deeply impacted my engineering perspective. These chats fueled my interest in construction management, and, more importantly, created a deep respect for the wide variety of talented people it takes to deliver our infrastructure assets. I can’t thank Barbara enough for this lasting professional lesson.

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Never be afraid to ask FOR help; never be afraid to ask TO help.

During this period of my career, I coached at my elementary / middle school. Youth athletic programs are wrought with aggressive coaches, empowering stars, and winning games. Division arises as frustrated families, who love the sport and appreciate the wins, feel left behind. As a tall, uncoordinated kid who matured late athletically, I leaned towards a teaching approach as an assistant coach. I enjoyed working with every kid on the team, encouraging them at practice, pulling them aside to teach specific skills, and marrying this attention with inclusive coaching on the bench. These coaching lessons continue to inform my team-building approach.

This experience did not prevent me from making parenting mistakes as my kids’ high school careers progressed. Early on, I attempted to convey my teaching philosophy to my daughter’s coach, entrenching four years of utter dysfunction. In that moment, I undercut the coach’s credibility and my daughter’s role as a team leader. As my younger son, Taylor, watched this occur, resenting the associated drama in our home, the student became the teacher. Over the next several years, Taylor regularly pulled me aside, actively criticizing my discussions with his sister or my criticism of her coach. Initially offended, I grew to trust his perspective. Several years later, Taylor’s coach Jeff, an excellent mentor, praised his role as a team leader, one whose work ethic and willingness to encourage teammates was widely respected.

I cherish this lesson; as Taylor taught me, his confidence grew. We can all Teach; we always have more to Learn.

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As we prepare to recover from COVID-19, adaptive investments in the infrastructure sector are critical.

Please don’t hesitate to teach, as your experiences are critical to our solutions. Please listen empathetically, as a wide variety of teachers inform our solutions.

About the Author

An Entrepreneurial Mindset

Mike’s 27-year career has included planning, design, construction, and finance roles across a broad set of public and private development projects. His empathetic leadership style and program management experiences honed his understanding of complex governance and economic models, deepening his enthusiasm for leading teams delivering sustainable infrastructure in our communities.You can learn more about Mike here

“We grow together as teachers and students.”

We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share about how providing coaching and accountability can help in this current crisis situation.

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 2020-04-20 13:48:04.

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