Engineer, inspire, empower, lead

Think Again: Leaders in automation and control engineering need to focus their time, about four to one, on leadership, rather than management because of a long-standing bias toward managing. See tips, benefits, and examples showing why agile leadership tops traditional management.
By Mark T. Hoske November 13, 2016

Leadership is the name of the game; the speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack, and leading means engaging the head as well as the heart, according to Tom Flick, a former NFL quarterback and authority on leadership, at the Emerson Global UserMost people learn early that leadership differs from managing, and that agile leaders have some clear advantages over traditional managers. Companies generally are over-managed and under-led, according to Tom Flick, a former NFL quarterback and authority on leadership, who presented advice to engineering and instrumentation specialists at the Emerson Global Users Exchange-Americas on Oct. 24.

Flick spent seven seasons as an NFL quarterback and was a college All-American. He said he was knocked out five times, and after concussion examination, the doctor pointed out that head X-rays revealed nothing. "So if I wander during the presentation, just bring me back." 

Leadership, speed, heart

Flick’s leadership advice follows, paraphrased, including three key points about leading.

  1. Leadership is the name of the game. Most companies are over-managed and under-led.
  2. The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack.
  3. Leading means engaging the head as well as the heart. Feelings can be more important than thought.

Quarterbacks are taught to do two things. Look over the defense and locate danger. Blitzes are bad, but they create opportunity, because a quarterback can lead the team to win 70% of the time in one-on-one coverage. Focusing on the game can be overwhelming with too wide of a focus. Winning the next play is the sole purpose.

When I was brought into my first NFL game, 4 yards across the line of scrimmage was Jack Lambert, a large linebacker with four Super Bowl rings and a smile with few teeth. He looked straight at me as we lined up, pointed, and yelled, "Hey, who are you?!" My front line turns around to look at me, which didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. I was able to hand off to a running back, eventually scoring, but it wasn’t enough. After the loss, it was somber on the plane home. Leaders hate to lose. 

Path, motivation

Lambert’s question was in my head on the plane, and it made me ask, "Who am I? Where am I going? Where will I end up? And what is life all about?" These four questions are noble and knowable. Consider the following.

What motivates you? How do you lead during troubling times?

How do you focus your energy? On the field, I was called to lead players of different backgrounds and different levels of understanding and had to focus them to win the next play.

What is it that you do, really? Ritz Carlton employees each carry a card they’re asked to read daily before work. It lists three steps of service, model, mystique, credo, and service values. In part it says, "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."

Enable people

Empower people to do what needs doing. Because we’re over-managed and under-led, the distinction between them is increasingly important. Leaders take complexity and make it simple. Management isn’t designed to move us forward; it keeps us the same. We need to operate effectively and efficiently. Leadership is vision and strategy, communicating, removing barriers, getting buy-in, motivating action, and creating the environment that allows for innovation, opportunity, and growth.

Because of a natural tending toward management, emphasize leadership by four to one, for balance. Focus on what and why to be agile and fast, to take you where you need to go, and to create change. 

Two challenges for leaders

Dr. John Kotter, a Harvard professor, talked about two challenges that leaders have in their businesses. The first challenge is complacency. People think what they are doing is just fine, which leads to self satisfaction, even in the face of danger, as in: "I’m OK the way I am. I have this figured out. We’re doing fine." Complacency is based on past success.

The second challenge is a false urgency. That’s the meeting where everyone’s hair is on fire, based on anxiety and fear. False urgency creates a burned-out feeling, when people operate in a survival mode. 

Moving out of comfort

Moving out of comfort zones and taking steps required for change also cause stress and anxiety. Do this exercise. Close your eyes and fold your arms in front of you. Then fold them backward, the other way. [People struggled.] See how even a simple change makes the brain feel funny.

Now close your eyes, put your palms together, and intertwine your fingers. Now switch your fingers so your other thumb is on top. Awkward?

Here are other simple things to introduce your brain to change.

Brush your teeth using your other hand.

Move a garbage can to the other side of the desk.

Sleep on the other side of bed. (This is especially fun when your spouse harrumphs with hands on hips). You can blame me for the resulting discomfort.

True urgency for rapid change includes when real opportunities appear or when there’s a need to avoid real hazards at work. Be ready. 

Live consciously: Five benefits

By living consciously, with purpose, it’s possible to:

  • Constantly look for ways to grow and get better
  • Empower and inspire others through your actions
  • Purge nonvalue-added activities from your schedule
  • Refocus from what you cannot do and look at what you CAN do
  • Catch people in the act of living company beliefs. 

Make progress, daily

Be exceptionally alert and relentless, aiming at winning and making progress daily. Purge low-value activities. Win the day. Here’s a way to refocus.

Start your day with 10 minutes without electronics. Think for 4 minutes about one to three opportunities that will ensure you will win the day. These are not tasks or errands. Then consider one to three dangers or hazards in the way that would prevent your success today. Try this for 10 days.

Consider leaders and look at their actions and words. My heroes are Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln. We especially need Lincoln-level leadership for today’s challenges.

Leaders speak differently, offering hope, optimism, courage, and a better way.

Consider the power of words. Close your eyes again. Envision the Grand Canyon. See all the changing shadows and colors?

Now think of 1 million. I’ll bet you didn’t think of a million chickens.

Words create pictures in the mind. Pictures create emotions. Emotions create attitudes, which permit behaviors and habits that turn into reality.

Great leaders use descriptive language.

Use words to push the frontier to seize the big opportunity. But be focused. If everything is important, nothing is important. If you have 17 priorities, they’re not priorities.

Reverse engineering

When President John F. Kennedy said in 1961 that we would send a man to the moon and bring him back safely by the end of the decade, that inspired action. Engineers used those words to inspire them. They gathered diverse teams, including from IBM and MIT, and considered the challenges. Thinking differently, they looked at the challenge in reverse, considering first what they would need to get from the moon to earth safely. One immediate requirement they discovered was the need to develop new metals.

Consider what challenges you’ll need to face 8 years, 3 years, and 1 year from now. Take an hour and consider how those projects will look, visualizing with pictures created from descriptive language. To create a brighter future, we must look ahead of ourselves and navigate a path to get there. 

Inspired determination

Mary Lou Retton was told at age 7 to quit gymnastics. In 1984, at 17, she did what never had been done by anyone by scoring a perfect 10, winning gold for the U.S. for the first time in the all-around gymnastics competition in the Los Angeles Olympics.

Until that point, 9.86 was her highest score ever, and anyone who knows gymnastics know there’s a huge gap between that and 10. In addition, the springboard she was using was poor; a protest was filed that was ignored. There was an East European judge, historically harsh in judging Western gymnasts. And just six weeks prior, Retton had knee surgery.

Later, she was asked what she was thinking before that vault. She said she wanted to do what her friends were doing: win the gold. Great job up to now, her coach told her, but we need a 10, and you can do it. She dedicated the vault to her Mom, who always encouraged her. She needed a 10. She had prepared. She believed she could do a 10. And she took off. When she stuck the landing, she raised her arms to the world.

Discuss winning with those around you. Leaders know humility and appreciation are very important. Call someone you love and tell them so. Then call someone on your team and say, "Thank you. You do great work. Thanks for all you do." 

Awareness, action

We are more alike than different and know that life is not easy. I get it. Some days you need a 10. Some days you only have a 2. But when you have awareness, there is action and accountability. With what matters most, be truly urgent, with a leader’s voice.

Sir Ernest Shackleton reportedly placed a want ad in a 1914 London newspaper. I imagine some read it while looking at snow, in pajamas, by a warm fire.

"Men wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." He wanted 23 men; 5,000 were said to have answered the ad.

Leaders are honest with their people from the start and always exercise ethics. Principles trump technique. If you don’t have an answer, say that. Those around us can sniff out inconsistencies. If you put a microphone on me and recorded what I said on a three-day fly fishing trip, my daughter would not blanch if she heard what I said. 

Always inspire

Unleash energy and lead the way. You don’t have to be the person in charge to be a leader. If you ever have the chance to stay at a Ritz Carlton, be sure to ask for a wake-up call.

A live friendly voice person told me good morning, reviewed the local weather forecast, reminded me I was checking out today, and said the temperature was expected to be quite cold in my home town, if that was where I was headed, so, "Perhaps you’d like to stay another day?"

What a wake up! If I could have stayed, I would have. I asked who was on the phone. She told me and said housekeepers volunteer for wake-up call duty. I told her she did that very well and had inspired me. Go inspire people. Explain, briefly, what needs doing and say, "We need to do this."

I lead about 65 meetings a day as a quarterback on game day. During my meetings, 60,000 to 85,000 people were talking, yet my team in the huddle wanted to be inspired, wanted to be lead. With preparation and strategy, I worked to inspire the team to pull it off.

Team leader mastery

Take the time to get to know a little bit about those around you, so the message is more effective. View yourself as leader who serves those you lead, as resource, mentor, and coach.

Establish strong relationships, consistently take action to help, know that the more you help others get what they want, the more you get what you want.

Our leaders make it easier for us to lead others courageously, help us seize opportunities, focus on what needs doing, and inspire those around us.

Go first and lead first. Whatever your title is, put a slash after it and add the word, "Leader."

In Seattle, one Special Olympics holds the record longest time for a 100 yard dash. Nine kids were in the race, and, if you’ve ever seen it, these kids have a relish to win. The stadium was electric. The gun went off. One boy falls and skins his knees and starts crying. The others, one by one, slowed, stopped, and all eight went back. One girl bent over and kissed the fallen boy on the head, saying, "This will make it better." Then they all walked together, with locked arms, to the finish line.

Winning is great. Something even better than that is helping others to win. While analytics are needed for many things, use of analytics doesn’t drive people. Know what to do to lead; connect the head and the heart. Lead change successfully by thinking about leadership in your head, but feeling leadership in your heart. If those around you win, know that they won because they work with you.

Thank you for your respect. Be safe.

Take advantage of accelerated learning offered and think again about how you can be an inspirational fire hose to others.

Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

ONLINE extra

This online November Think Again column contains more than four times the information than would appear in print. Find more at other engineering inspiration links below, as well as at and

See related articles on leadership linked below.