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Peer Check
Peer Check

Episode 4 · 7 months ago

#4 — Why Engineering Leaders Need to Build Strong Relationships

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

All great engineering managers have one thing in common: they know how to build strong relationships.

Those relationships become the key to unlocking career progression, building trust, and earning the authority to implement new methods.

Hear our conversation with Leila Kheradpir, Program Manager at StarFish Medical, as she chats with host Adam Keating about:

  • How building strong relationships is vital to succeeding as a leader
  • The differences between a technical manager and a people manager
  • Why true leaders need to be big-picture thinkers  

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Welcome to peer check, a Colab podcast. This is a show for engineering leaders who want to challenge the status quo for how design teams work together. You're about to hear a conversation about the ways the engineering world is changing and how top teams are carving a new path forward. Let's do it. Welcome to peer check. I'm your host, Adam Keating, and today we're talking about why relationships are so important and helping you progress the right your engineering career. My guest is Leilah, current peer. She's a mechanical engineer who's done it all, from working foundries and space to medical devices, all across Canada. Welcome to the Shell, Lelah. Thank you and thank you for having me. It's excited to be here. Lelis so, we talked a lot about, like the different industries you played in the roles you've played. You've seen it all at this point and you've learned a lot of lessons about how to be a really good people mentor coach and also, like Allt to figure how to make real change happening these companies. How did you know that going into leadership was the right step for you? Like, why not? Individual contributor at what point did you figure that out in your journey? Well, I don't let let me tell you that it was not at necessarily a switch that turned for me at some point of my career, say at five years, ten years, of fifteen years. It was a probably a collection of my experiences from day one being a foundry and demonstrating leadership, manage myself, managing small, small tasks and and thinking that down the road I want to be able to manage bigger and greater things and I didn't know what that look like and moving forward over the past number of years. It's Humblie to think that I've lived through it all, but I've had some great opportunities to manage projects and teams and I've had that great opportunity and I don't know if I ever knew this is the right time I'm going to get into it. It's just sort of like hindsight. You look back in the Mirror, I say,...

Oh, I'm here, I've arrived, but you never know that you've absolutely there yet, and it's a it's always work in progress. So there was no particular moment and and I don't know if I have arrived yet. Do you feel like there's like an intrinsic part of who you are as a person that drove you to this like leadership mindset even from day one, even Tho it was just intrinsic and self starting to feel like that's just part of who you are from day one. Perhaps knowing this, these sort of things, I didn't think about them when I was twenty something years old coming out of university, thinking that I'm a I'm a leader. I've thinking that certain things. It's a process of elimination more than anything else. It was for me and it has been so. At that point, when I was younger, I was sort of like felt like I don't like doing this, I'd like a bigger picture. I like to see what's going on, how things are coming together and how do I get involved with that? So I didn't realize that any it just gradually. It's like when when a sculpture is working on something, in the beginning just looks like nothing and eventually it forms itself that piece of art. And I think it just took time for me to see what I like what I don't like to do, and even twenty plus years working, I sometimes a still question that, but I have now a database of experiences to go back to us. I've done this and that. They're great, I did well or I didn't do so well in something else, compared to run out of university in so green and not knowing anything when you first took that jump, like I mean you started as an engineer. You're acting as a leader sort of just by nature. What do you think it was that you know your first manager, or even your second manager, or a sawn you has said Hey, I think I think Layla's ready for that. What was this stood outs? I think a lot of people wonder. You know, what is it? What's the difference between being a leader in a role we are managing people and teams, that kind of stuff, and then being a technical leader, being a subject matter x was a very different career path. What do you think they saw on you that said, okay, Hey, there's a real opportunity here for her to take that team...

...and go wrong with it. Adam, that's absolutely correct. A technical leader who has technical expertise is a very different than a people manager and and I've often seen that we combine the two and someone may be very good technically and we say okay, well, you added here's about fifteen people, engineers just managed. I'm just tell them what to do. So I think it was mortal in in my experience I've had managers in a team, leads who recognize that I was clueless and in the beginning, and and I still, as I said, I question my own capabilities time to times, like am I doing a right job? The good enough job? But someone at any given time recognize that I can do it, I can manage the efforts in a team. It could be a team of one or fifteen, but they stood back and they were either my direct manager or indirect and but they were observing, they were seeing what's going on and they trusted that process within themselves and they were able to give me the green light to proceed and to take that that leap and and going from an individual contributor to a manager. And it's almost like, and I say it's to my team today, it's like a lot of times leadership. It's not a title, right, leadership is not a title. Leadership is how you behave and oftentimes most important part is that example. You said, even when you are a leader, it's more about what you do than anything else. That really sets that pace. Do you find that, now that you're in those leadership roles yourself, that you're seeing the same thing in your team that you're noticing, you know, someone new coming in? They're super hungry, but it's it's not that they're saying they want to be a manager, is that you can picture them doing that because of the way they're acting. Is that what you see today and now, just on the other side of the other side of table? I've always been observing teams that I work with and and that I like to think that I'm good at recognizing way more recent years. I mean, it takes experience to recognize talent, and that talent could be a technical talent, they could be...

...a people management talent, and and again recognizing that particular individual is really good at being a technical lead, but for heaven's sake, don't give him or give her an individual or two to manage because it just ruins their days. So it's a matter of recognizing that and I'm always looking for those opportunities because what I love to do more than anything else in a company environment is building teams, and teams are not static. They teams come and go. It could have a project team and the project could run for six months or six years or six weeks. So you could have a team assembly and come together. They need to work together, they need to function together and they dissipate again. So finding the right personalities is critical. Sometimes we don't have that opportunity. We have to say, okay, I need electrical, any mechanical, and you sort of like you have to pick and choose from that list. But then how do you make the chemistry, how do you make the dynamics of that work? And that's critical when you see those like two types of leaders you're talking about there now, is there a certain set of like characteristics in the people leader that are really obvious to you to say okay, that's that's the person who leads the team versus that's the subject matter of experts are. Is there a couple of characteristics are come in mind? Yes, and you can quickly, I would say, judge individuals to say Oh, this person is a big picture individual, he or she that they're perfect to be in a leadership role. But definitely it's it's seeing the big picture, being visionary and and I've experienced that myself, as you know, going from a manager to director role thinking now I need to dream and have a vision and not just thinking about, okay, here's the technical problem that I need to solve with my team. I think about, okay, this is like a liquor set, this is this component of it, but what does this fit into the whole assembly and what does the whole thing look like and when...

...it starts moving, what part is going to play? So I guess I look for in that sense, I'm always trying to see our the individuals looking at the big picture. Are The thinking beyond their own circle of comfort? A technical comfort could be like someone who loves to just write python coding and that's all they want to do and they don't want to think about the long term path for the organization and and the end. Every individuals wired and has different interests and we got to be conscious of that. For sure. I agree totally. I think that's a really good way to look out it like with the the broader are I think he has side of very media scope, if that's where the brain tends to go, and are thinking about people fit together and cross functional work requirements. What this actually means. I always think about it as like the why you know, some people are really good at the how, but the why is really important. Why are we doing so? Should we be doing this? You know, diving into those questions and he start to see it like I've. We've were some folks who are fresh out of school. On the first day they start working with you. The questions they ask are just so rich in what they actually are thinking about. But that's super exciting. I'm actually interested giving you done sort of management role director, like looking at programs. What things the biggest difference between being a good manager and a good director, like what is that step? You know there's lots of folks now they're thinking about that as managers. And how do I go to the next place? What do you think you need to prove to take that next step in your career? Right, let me say something first at that. Every organization has its own sort of leadership characteristics. So manager of an engineering team in one organization could have a lot more responsibility than a director at another organization. So and and one thing I like your listeners to really focus on is that progression in their career should not be linear and it couuld be a zigzag path of one day you take a few steps up...

...and then you take a step down. It's like a stick and ladder game and at the end of it's like are you having fun? Are you enjoying it? Are you learning? Are you learning it? So I would say for from my own immediate experiences, when I'm thinking about that going from a manager of the product development team, engineering team, going to more of the director rule is it's sort of like it's like being in the forest and and you're you're coming up, you're in a drone, you're in a helicopter and you're coming up. Are you seeing the force use? You know, as an individual contributor, you're right at the between the trees and and and you eventually find your way up and you're looking at the big picture. And I think that's a big, big difference. Your point of view changes in within the organization and the decisions that I had to make the reflected my view because now I knew what was going on with certain things that I didn't know before. I knew about some of the challenges, some of the winds and opportunities and trying to then, as I said, be a visionary and rather than my previous manager say, okay, here's the vision for the department and you have a team in that department. I had to dream and have a vision for that department and then the challenge is starts. How do you have sponsors and champions to help you execute on that? So I really liked the analogy the force. I can picture, I can almost picture, like you know, a individual contributors. We talked about rabbit holes, like you're right there at the roots, right or right at the roots of the tree, you know, as a manager or somewhere or somewhere in the branches, tangled up right, right right of everything, and a director you're sort of seeing over the top what's happening, and that's a really good analogy. What do you think's been the hardest like I think you just said it them looking for sponsors, dealing challenges. What do you think's been the hardest part? And shifting...

...from manager, where you had your hands we are still pretty close to engineering, to director where you're really thinking big picture. What did you find the most difficult and making that switch? It's a transition and sometimes it happens very rapidly and we need to if you know, for someone who's in that situation, they need to adjust how they're looking through that lens and I had to do that and I had to think about, okay, I'm I'm itching to do this, I want to do this myself, but I need to delegate. And that's the key. That's the key when when anybody enters any type of management, any managerial supervis supervision, any leadership role, to how to to have a trust relationship, really build that trust in your in their team, in their department, so they can say I'm not going to do this anymore. This this work, that I know what I know. You know. There's no, nothing wrong with that. But absolutely they can do it. But their biggest things, there's tasks that the rest of the team can do. So for me it was like, I need to change my mindset, I need to think about the bigger picture. Decisions that I make now will impact more than one individual. It impacts everyone. And then the relationship with the department, with other departments and at the end of a day, users, clients, patients and and and it was just a it's a the impact was greater and it was just a it took it took some time for me to change that mindset, but and also trust myself that I'm on the right path, I can do this. And after doing sort of roles now, I think you said something a few minutes ago where he said, you know, but it's about having fun, out a challenge yourself, about learning and contributing. Right where do you find yourself happiest? Like I think about my my role in on the CEO of collad today. I really love profit. I could totally see myself spending, you know, and another life,...

...a ton of time and product. I've learned that now from doing sort of bit Terry role. What have you found that you love the most? Is there a is it a certain role or a slice of the job? What's like your main passion? After going through and seeing this in some men from places, I don't know if I have one particular passion, but certain things, and I'm always trying to make that observation about myself, like what do I love's my passion? I'm still going to grow one day and figured that out so that they hasn't come yet. So but definitely I know I enjoy working with the teams and and having that, as I said, building teams, the team dynamic and also, like I'm I've learned over the past few years. That definitely also dealing with client and customers and and and also being their advocates, being their champions, and in and, because it goes with my interest of and my tendency to be more of a big picture individuals like I like to see how program shaping itself, where's it not working, where's working, rather than being at the vague detail level of it. But I'm happy to guide the individuals who are managing those details because I can then bring back the message of this is, this is the objective, this is the vision, remind them what's going on and keep that fission going. So definitely I'm happiest when I'm surrounded with individuals and and in and that means it else connected to the fact that every individual that I have managed in a team, they're unique. Sure, to all they technically gifted, but end of the day they are unique individuals and it comes down to with every one of them I had to build a relationship. So and no relationship is unique. And it sounds like you've done the hard work right, like you spent the time actually doing the relationship building, which I think it for many people, is probably the most challenging part, because you know, people are not one or zero. It's not a yes or no, it's not block or white like you've got to figure out how to build, like you said, that that unique relationship did you have? Did you do training along the way? Did...

...you learn this like trial by fire? How did you figure out to do the things that are, you know, not taught in engineering school like, obviously a director you're thinking about money, you're thinking of customer relationships, schedule. I maybe a little bit of that an engineering school and you learn a bit of that as an engineering manager. But did you do training? Did you learn about trial? Did you have manager? What the what got you from point a to point B where you're able to rock and roll with that? I wish there was. I mean there was something that I could take at some point and in terms of training, and I am here twenty plus years in the field mostly because of what I have observed, what I have seen from good managers. I'm not so good managers. So and we're surrounded by people that we agree with how their lead and manage and there's some that we don't entirely agree. So it's been a lot of trial in mistakes, failures and learning from those failures learning like this conversation didn't go very well and I could have handled it better. What do I do next time? How do I how do I move forward in the future? So definitely would has helped me all along is empathy and I never forgot about being an individual contributor, because it doesn't matter if you're a manager or director unless, like even in your role, you are functioning as an individual contributor. A certain things that you do and you got to get it done and and you wear different hats throughout the day. So I still have to be an individual contributor before I can lead a team, lead a group of people. So I haven't forgotten about that and I and I've always kept that close to my heart, that there are challenges that the team has been dealing with, just because I'm not worry about that analysis directly, but when they hit it obstacle and there is a challenge, I'm here, come to me, let's let's figure it out together. So I'm still involved with have been involved with the with those...

...aspects of the work, and I think empathy has been something that's definitely we can learn. It's a it's a learned skill, but I have learned that it's critical aspect of what I do throughout the day. I think it's potentially as superpower of just being a good leader, both with your team, other leaders, and then also your customer right being able to put someone ices. It's a fundamental power of being a good human being, I think as well. But in a company where there's lots of tension between getting something done and doing the right way and people's individual priorities and the bigger picture, like understanding the perspective of the other person is huge. You talked a little bit about, you know, that working well for the team mentoring, but then when you think about it as a leader for yourself, you talked about sponsors and champions and people to help you get the bigger initiatives over the line. How did you use empathy and sort that relationship building to help you build that little group that said, okay, hey, we're thinking about this bigger change. Maybe it's a new technology or a new product pitch or the big you know above the trees, like you said, how did you use those relationships to kind of build, you know, that momentum to actually make a change happening, because oftentimes an engineering it's a lot easier to just stay the way things are. How did you use people relationships to kind of make that work? So relationships means building trust, and trust is is is critical in every day and ego stations that we do. We in an our jobs negotiate constantly internally with our team members, we negotiate with our clients and customers, and think about like any any of these situations. If you don't have trust built, you're not going to take a step, you're not going to initiate anything, especially if it's something out of ordinary. And I've been through situations that here's a very, you know, standard product development process and thinking, okay,...

I want to inject something else into it, I want to bring in more usability, formative usability. In the beginning. What do I do that? Well, it's going to cost more money, it's going to cost extra time. How do we do that? So it was really a matter of having sponsors and organization to who had witnessed me in the past to release other products into the market, and so at least I had that relationship that that's sort of like, get here, she's done it, she can do it, but now I'm convincing them say, okay, we can do better, we can do here's the logic, and let's negotiate around this and see how we can implement a different process because at the end of the day, is going to be more beneficial for the end user and commercially for the organization. So again I like to think that sure, there's human factors and industrial designers and human factors, engineers get involved with that, but there's another level of human factors that we deal with all day negotiating with people all around and and none of us are fully qualified, I think. And then the entire planets you're still everyone's still learning on how to do that best. But I think we just saids actually really interesting. You spoke a moment about a go about seeing the big picture being, you know, that practice leader, thinking about using empathy and then building trust. But I think in what you talked about negotiation, empathy is almost just as important there as the trust is, because you need to really put yourself in their shoes. It's to why they even want to listen right, why are they even considering making a change, a PD which could have a risk or could derail one of their priorities? I think that's a really important factor that most times we go and just kind of tell and and the really good leaders, I think, actually start to ask themselves why would this person actually care and why would they actually want to be a sponsor and champion and build it together? Right, it's a shared vision then,...

...something we've seen. It's very powerful. But I liked he said that you kind of let in with the empathy which made you a good leader, and the trust which help you get it done. But really it sounds like it's a bit of a paired effect of kind of bringing those two things together. Absolutely one of the things I'm curious about when you look at like those relationships and those changes. You talked about negotiating and putting together these business cases. How did you do that in a way that was productive for everybody involved? I see lots of times we talked about like negotiating the business case. It gets write down in the numbers, numbers of an arrowy something that truthfully, nobody really knows the math like. It's going to be a made up oury no matter what. How did you think about positioning the value and getting people on the same page? What work for you in those cases? I think numbers are still talk I mean in any of these negotiations. I mean, I'm going to go back to the example of I gave on their product development. Sure they at the end of that process. Yes, it was going to be extra expensing cost to the organization, but down the road that would have been a better return investment. That would have been happier and more satisfied users and customers and patients at the end of a day and that means better business. So I guess what's important to do is to in these type of negotiations, to quantify what we're trying to achieve and that, if it's a business negotiation, good or bad, it comes down to dollar sign to two values. I mean is the company saving? Are The gaining and and is this leading to employee satisfaction? Is this? Are we changing the process, because our employees are going to have a better experience going through this process and and somebody's going to say, well, what's the return of investment? Well, you know what, you're going to have happy employees. We're gonna want to stay within your organization and they're going to be productive and and they're happy and they going to bring their friends over and they're going to be,...

...you know, building it even a stronger organization. So there are so many ways that we can look at the business benefits of these discussions and and again, with empathy, we got to think about what the other person is thinking. Turn a table around. Would the other had to say? Okay, listening to like, and I'm sure you your face that all the time in your organization. Somebody, if a different department, has an idea and they have to convince you, but they have to think from your perspective and hopefully they've presented that argument from your perspective so that you can say yes, I want this approved. Yeah, no, I love like that mindset. Like, one of the things I think a lot of times people struggle with is being able to really clearly articulate what success is going to look like and why, because you're going to you're going to face challenges when you try to go in and inject something new into an industry where, realistically, there is a lot of risk. Getting it wrong has real consequences. You talked about, you know, space medical there's not a lot of room for error. There's the tolerance for risk is pretty low. I think being able to like really clearly spell that out from their perspective is the key. I think I've seen lots of business cases that are cool from my perspective, like if I'm the one making it, but at the end of the day I'm not the one may be making that final call. I need someone else to understand it and needs to speak their language. So I really like that take away. If you were thinking about it, like you know, twenty years ago you're getting into your first leadership role, your first career choice. You talked a little bit about doing something in love, the title not totally mattering. You know, thinking about the difference between these roles, what would be your number one piece of advice to yourself, if you were to go back and say, Hey, through all the things out, take all things I learned, what's actually the most important thing you told yourself about engineering leadership? It's I think another way of to answer that is like would i? Would I have changed...

...anything right? So it's like what would i? So I would have definitely told myself stay patient, and I didn't, but unintentionally I ended up having champions and organizations for myself. So what I what I tell a lot of younger engineers just entering the industry. Tell them have mentors. Great, awesome. I mentor. I have mentors as fantastic. That's not the only key. You need the champions. You need sponsors in the organization. So I happened to always in every organization having one or two people who watched my performance from from somewhere, from a different angle, and they were my champions and and and even more recently in the past few years. Would that be great if we could create those a sponsors and champions more pro actively for ourselves? And sometimes it's difficult because we don't show who to reach in and and who that right person is, and sometimes it's someone very unexpected. But I think that's the key. That's that would be one advice for myself. Like fine, goal, lay the fine mentors, but look for someone who is going to drop your name when it's requiet, when they see it opportunity showing up. This is going to say, uh, I can think of Layla who can do this, and and and I guess my advice for a lot of individuals doesn't matter where they are in their in their career right now, when you're out of school, Twenty five years out of school, it doesn't matter it's never too late to have that champion and sponsor who's going to have your back. You never know when it's going to pay off either. Right it might be you help that person. I was down the road. They might help you out. A new company starts, a new rolestrets, new program starts. You never really know what if, once you find those people, I think oftentimes the first step is mapping out who am why. If you're trying to become a technical se you're probably looking at a different set of people than someone maybe you really admire. You get supply chain, but once you find them. You talked about empathy and trust. What are like? The...

...key things you can do, is someone who's maybe earlier on the career to actually build that trust. You know there's a lot of stuff you can do directly, but what are like? Is it delivering results? Is a communication? What do you see is kind of the key for building trust with those sponsors and champions while you're working? Definitely they have to, I want to say either don't need to go beyond their performance. I do well as as an individual contributor, but when there are opportunities to meet people, I mean a lot of organizations these days they have lunch and meet leadership team member. Go to those events. I can. I can assure you a lot of leadership members have open door policy and they're happy to someone say hey, can I have coffy with you virtual one twenty minutes. I just want to chat with you. So there's it's it's networking at work, which these days has totally changed with the pandemic. We can look you and I talking from two diffen ends of the country and that's fabulous and it doesn't stop us from reaching out. And yes, it's very overwhelming to go to the CFO or the CEO or see doesn't matter who you're trying to reach. It could be quite daunting. But network, reach out. If their events, you know, you go to your corporate all the event go and you know, shake hands and chat and it maybe it's a two minute conversation, but network, network at work and not just outside of work. I think comes down somewhat like just shooting your shot right. The worst is going to happen if someone says they don't answer or they don't have time. But it's not. People expect this. I actually had two different employees there in the last three weeks. And the each individually reached out to me after I welcome to a team and said, Hey, could I grab twenty or thirty minutes to just to just meet, like just to be able to meet you learn a bit about what you're interested in, understand more, but the company. But I think the...

...value for them is that they took some nuggets from that right that they when they go to do their next project, maybe it's a development project, don't know a little bit about why we did this, the why we talked to the very beginning. There's the how, which is like, you know, how do I fix this problem, and then the why. I why am I even doing this problem? I think you learn a little bit of that too. So even just outside of the sponsoring and the champions, you just get a whole different set of perspective, which then makes you a better leader to because you can make those bigger picture decisions. So I think it all ties back together in a beautiful kind of way. They laud this was awesome. I really really appreciate it and I think there's so much to take from that in terms of just like that, their differences in these roles. Think about your growth really focusing on empathy, trust, relationships, networking at work. I'll take that one. A is a tagline for this, but I really appreciate the time and wish you all the best and whatever whatever comes next to your current role future, all the people you're going to help along the road. Thank you for doing what you do and thanks for joining us today. Thank you. I had a blast. This was a great conversation and this you asked me what I'd like to do. This is one of the things I'd like to do, like reaching out to people, and I don't know how many people this is going to reach out to, but I hope that even if someone walks away with one nugget of thing, oh I like that, and sort of like validates that they are want the right track or they need to change the trajectory, I should accomplished. I'm happy collab is on Amission to excel rate the pace of engineering innovation by giving design teams a better way to work. As an engineering leader, you know it's crucial to empower your team to do their best work. Let colab help you achieve your goals with our web based tool that makes it easy to share and review cad files with anyone, so you can focus on the work that batters without missing a beat or a bolt. Learn more at Colab softwarecom. You've been listening to pure check, a Colab podcast. Keep connected with us by subscribing to...

...the show in your favorite podcast player, and please leave a rating on the show. That helps us keep delivering conversations about how the engineering world is changing and how you can challenge a Status Quell. Until next time,.

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