As an engineer preparing to pivot into entrepreneurship, you already read about the importance of standing out from the crowd of emerging engineering startups. You understand that your online marketing efforts need to be solid from the get-go and that you need a powerful team of engineering talent to support you. However, something we didn’t cover in our last post — and something that definitely affects how successful your startup will be — is your ability to lead.
As a startup owner, you aren’t just the lead engineer; you are the business leader, in charge of making close to all the decisions for the company. That means you need to be comfortable as an engineering manager, a marketing manager, a finance manager and an HR manager. If you aren’t exactly a people-person — and few engineers are — here are a few tips to help you become the best manager possible and lead your startup to success.
Go Back to Engineering School
Engineers think they know everything in the world — which is exactly what makes them such a unique management challenge. While you should be taking courses (online, formal or otherwise) to gain management knowledge and skill in areas like marketing, finance and HR, you probably wouldn’t gain much from a typical MBA program. Instead, you need to enroll in an online master’s in engineering, which will equip you with the tools and techniques for leading a group of engineers to entrepreneurial success.
During and after your pursuit of this online engineering management degree, it might be wise to spend some time in a management role at another engineering firm. Doing this will give you more exposure to real-world engineering dynamics, so you can practice what works and what doesn’t before you launch your startup.
Practice Being an Excellent Follower
While you will truly be an engineering leader, engineering managers have the skillset of followers. A good follower:
- Knows their role. They don’t try to extend themselves too far; they recognize their responsibilities and stick to them.
- Knows their vector. They know why they work and what their end-result should be, so they can anticipate needs and generate solutions in advance.
- Knows how to listen. They pay attention, so they don’t miss crucial instructions or feedback that could improve their performance.
- Maintains honesty, integrity, respect and loyalty. They don’t try to cut corners or dissemble, and they require the high regard of others and strive not to lose it.
Leaders follow their teams, their clients and others to success, so having the mindset of a follower is a must.
Because engineers always work in teams, communication is essential. However, few engineers have mastered the art of communication. As a business leader, this is not an option; you must be able to communicate well with everyone via any platform — in person, over the phone, in letters and emails or through short-form messaging. You will practice communication in your engineering management program, but you should also practice on your own, at your current job, with your friends and family and with strangers in places like the grocery store or public transit. The more you engage your communication skills, the better they will be.
Research, Research, Research
You might often hear of mega-successful entrepreneurs trusting their gut instincts — but their gut instincts only work after they review massive amounts of data and spend their whole careers gaining industry experience. As an engineer, you shouldn’t be in the habit of guessing; you should be comfortable with accruing information and making educated decisions. You should apply the same techniques to your business. There is hardly such a thing as too much research, especially in the early stages of your startup, so don’t be afraid to gather data before you make any business- or engineering-related steps.
Be a Good Person
This is a tip that is often overlooked, in business and in engineering. The saying “nice guys finish last” is false; people prefer to work with good people, they prefer to be around good people and help good people succeed. By being kind and considerate, by being inclusive and accepting, you will generate a positive energy that helps your business succeed. Though your industry might be competitive and cutthroat, you should try to avoid acting rudely or burning bridges. By being good, you will build your business up in ways you might not believe.