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Challenges for engineering leaders in 2023

In my career I’ve changed between a variety of individual careers (culminating in management consulting), and along the way was an engineer, lead, architect, and engineering leader for seven years as I ran an office for a boutique engineering consultancy.

The years as leader were the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. In addition to delivery skills (leading engineering projects and delivering instruction), sales responsibilities, and P&L, I got to manage some brilliant consultants. It was thrilling and at the same time incredibly challenging work.

As difficult as it was moving into a leadership role just as a major budget implosion hit – the Dotcom crash and Enron collapse resulted in years of belt-tightening in IT – the current situation is probably as challenging for engineering leaders. As you’re going through your day-to-day, here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  1. Leadership skills > technical skills. By now you’ve figured out that you cannot out-code your organization, but coding isn’t the technical skill I’m talking about. I’m referring to the technical skills of managing an organization: budgets, deadlines, and functionality. It’s not that those things are unimportant, but you don’t have direct control over them and they’re secondary to your leadership: maintaining morale, setting priorities, and developing your people.

  2. Focus on what you control; delegate or forget the rest. Your plate is already too full, your calendar resembles a brick wall, and the list of things you need to get done is getting longer by the day. Critically examine the tasks in front of you and push them down into your organization wherever you can. Having a detailed understanding of your team’s individual skills is critical to doing this with a high success rate, so trust your people to do their best and escalate what they need to. Push back on all but the must critical escalations unless you happen to have the time.

  3. The most important leadership skill. Far more important than the rest, great leaders take great care of themselves. This means the basics: getting enough to eat, sleeping, spending time with friends and family. This will dramatically improve your leadership performance and ability to handle the stresses that come from work. The economy isn’t going to recover overnight, and you working into the wee hours day after day is only going to make you worse at the important part of your job. A side benefit is that your people will see how you’re handling yourself and will instinctively follow your lead, increasing their performance along the way.

I don’t want to make it sound easy; the things I’m suggesting are all behavior changes that will feel very uncomfortable. If you or your high-performers are struggling with these ideas, let’s have a conversation. I have direct, actionable advice that’s tailored to individuals that makes tremendous impact.