Leadership in the Engineering Workplace

by Ron Yannone



            My experiences with leadership in the engineering workplace has been generally very rewarding.  I began my career in 1976 at General Electric Company Aerospace and Electronic Systems Department in Utica, NY.  I was hired into the GE Advanced Course in Engineering (referred to as the “ABC Course”) – where I went through several 6 month rotational assignments.  The first assignment involved analysis – and of particular interest was to develop a Kalman filter computer program in BASIC programming language.  Jack O’Leary was the lead systems engineer – and always had a pipe in his hand – whether he was actually smoking it or not.


            Jack was interesting.  He knew I was a new engineer hire – yet he treated me as if I had been there 10 years!  His leadership style was sometimes too assuming – yet because he was patient – I always felt that I could come through for him.  I had made good friends with Tom Chen – an engineer 1 year ahead of me on the ABC Course.  Tom had exposure to Kalman filters via the “B-Course” and introduced me to BASIC and Kalman filters.  Tom was aggressive and yet very understanding as a friend, co-worker and student.  Both Tom and Jack had common leadership traits – patience with a strong positive zeal to succeed and to learn.


            In the January 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR), “leadership” is the theme.  In the article “Leadership by Feel,” eighteen leaders and scholars explore how to manage emotional intelligence.  John D. Mayer (psychology professor at the University of NH) and Yale psychology professor Peter Salovey are credited with first defining the concept of emotional intelligence in the early 1990s.  They define “emotional intelligence” as “ . . . the ability to accurately perceive your own and other’s emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and other’s emotions.”  Throughout my 15 years at GE, the technical leaders I had were very adept in “emotional intelligence.”  They could do this because they came up through the same ranks as I did.  Namely, they were novice engineers who through experience, learned that productivity in engineers in a hi-Tech area was in part due to sensitive, emotionally intelligent, leadership.  Back in the late 1970s, no one was familiar with the term “emotional intelligence.”


            I like the input in the above HBR article brought out by Andrea Jung (chair and CEO of Avon Products – based in New York) – to “seek frank feedback.”  GE, and even here at BAE SYSTEMS – Information and Electronic Warfare Systems (NH) created the environment where “emotionally intelligent” leaders thrive!  Andrea mentions: “Emotional Intelligence is in our DNA here at Avon because relationships are critical every stage of our business . . . . We incorporate emotional intelligence education into our development training for senior managers, and we factor in emotional intelligence competencies when we evaluate employee’s performance.”


            I know GE and BAE SYSTEMS leaders have emotional intelligence characteristics because they deal with hi-Tech work, have advanced through the engineering chain, and are empathetic to what it takes to maximize the performance of the people they lead – in order to provide the best products for our Nation’s warfighters here in the U.S. – and abroad.