Canadian Consulting Engineer

Conversations: Doug Reeve on Leadership

Professor Doug Reeve, P.Eng., is the founding director of the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) at the University of Toronto. The Institute was established in 2010 and is growing fast, with over 240 graduate and...

June 1, 2014   Canadian Consulting Engineer

Professor Doug Reeve, P.Eng., is the founding director of the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) at the University of Toronto. The Institute was established in 2010 and is growing fast, with over 240 graduate and post-graduate engineering students taking its courses, and hundreds more attending its workshops and events last year. Professor Reeve is in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and served as its chair between 2001-2011. He also has worked as a consultant internationally for many years.

Q. Does everyone need to be a leader? Don’t some engineers feel more comfortable working in the background?

I believe that to fully realize ones’ potential, one needs to develop personal and interpersonal skills that will lead to personal fulfilment and success. If we do not cultivate our inner life and our relational life, then we will be missing out on the happiness and joy and success that will flow from our work.

Where the idea originates from is a belief that engineers should use both sides of their brain, if you like; that engineering education tends to develop students’ technical abilities, sometimes at the expense of their interpersonal and personal abilities. Our belief is that everyone has a responsibility to be a leader. But there is a difference between a leader and a boss. We see leadership as a process, rather than as a position.

It’s easy to grasp that a CEO or a president is a leader. But our notion is that everyone must behave in a leaderly fashion, and if everyone behaves in a leaderly fashion, then you can be the CEO, you can be a junior process engineer, you can be somebody on the shop floor, you can be a draughtsman, you can be a cleaner, you can be a secretary, and still behave in a leaderly fashion and be a leader.

The example that I use: the first day on the job, a young engineer goes into the company and he or she is the lowest person on the totem pole. The person has no authority, no person reporting to them. They walk in the door and there’s trash on the floor — a newspaper, paper, coffee cup, whatever. The leaderly behaviour is to pick it up. Or there is somebody on a stepladder behaving in an unsafe fashion. The leaderly thing to do is to speak to the individual.

We’re not looking to give people an education just so that they can be CEOs. We’re looking to give people an education so that they will be able to create a vision based on their values that will lead them to responsible and positive action for change that inspires others.

Q. Don’t leaders have to have charisma?

Charisma is only one very narrow dimension of leadership. Will I ever be as compelling a speaker as Barack Obama? No. But can I learn to be better? Yes.

Q. What are some of the practical steps

for students coming into the class?

There is a very simple but very effective analysis of how people function that was developed by Bolton and Bolton. It’s not perfect; there are many ways in which people operate. But it is a good beginning and a practical tool. It divides people up into Analytical, Driver, Amiable, and Expressive. Say I’m an Expressive and I’m working with an Analytical. I just want to wave my hands and talk; the Analytical wants to see the numbers. So if we both understand those differences then we can moderate our behaviour and can function better as a team.

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