Kathie Melde, ECE professor and associate dean of faculty affairs and inclusion for College of Engineering, recently wrote about effective leadership and the challenges women face in business for IEEE's Antennas and Propagations Magazine:
"My path to leadership has been bolstered by the experience and confidence garnered by chairing smaller committees and groups through my workplaces (in industry and in academia) and through hands-on involvement in many various organizations, such as the IEEE Antennas and Propagation (AP-S) Society. Leadership was not on my radar when I first started my career, and I turned down many opportunities. It’s okay to say, “no, not now.” I have been selective, and I understand the impact of timing.
The path started by increasingly taking on new roles: lead instructor for a course, faculty advisor to students, lead engineer on a design project, principal investigator on a larger proposal team (generally five people or more), chairing an IEEE/AP-S committee, and others. On this journey, I gained special access to different aspects of organizations and worked on culturally diverse teams. With each rung on the career ladder, I gained greater access to how different people work and was, in essence, handed “the keys to the car” to drive the success of the project or organization.
Reflections on Effective Leadership
During my career journey, the following key lessons stand out:
Identify your strengths: You bring your uniqueness to the decision table. Effective teams need thinkers with various strengths. Strengths Finder 2.0 is my favorite resource because it identifies your unique top strengths and guides you on how to build a team to fill in gaps with people with other strengths. My top strengths? Context (i.e., I look back to understand the present), relator (I enjoy turning strangers into friends), individualism (I identify unique qualities in team members), learner, and responsibility. Finding my strengths has led to less frustration and helps me understand that we all have a different lens to the world. It is fun to try to guess who has particular strengths based on how they interact with the group.
Identify your blind spots: Find teammates who fill in these gaps. We all have blind spots. They come from our upbringing and personal experiences. Decision making for a diverse population involves decisions that affect a wide net of people and circumstances. Filling in your blind spots early avoids having to revise decisions down the line.
Master crucial conversations: You will have many high stakes (i.e., stressful) conversations and learning how to successfully have difficult discussions is imperative. Difficult conversations range from pointing out a colleague’s mistake, standing up to an adversarial supervisor, terminating an employee, or letting someone know they did not receive a much-coveted award. Mastering crucial conversations will provide the tools needed to manage the tension you may feel and to focus on collective problem solving. I have found that in many cases, your colleague or perceived “adversary” is relieved to get through the crucial conversation just as much as you are and you actually gain more trust.
Listen to quiet and talkative people equally: Extroverts have no problem controlling discussions. The quiet people often have excellent ideas to contribute but are just waiting their turn (this could be cultural or just someone’s nature). Ask them what they think, take a moment, and then listen to a new set of ideas. This takes practice and a few pauses, but the results can be a game changer."
This article appears in full at: IEEE Antennas and Propagations Magazine