Welcome to the engineer interview portion of this module. Today we are fortunate to have two engineers with us in the room, and our purpose here is twofold. First, to emphasize the lessons that came out of the Engineer of 2020 article, and secondly to model the interview that you'll be doing in our second course. So today I'd like to introduce our two engineers. And if you would please give us a little bit about your background and experiences as an engineer, and particularly as an engineering leader in industry. And first of all before you start, thank you very much for taking time out of your schedule to be here. >> Glad to do it. >> Thanks. Tom? >> My name is Tom Phalen, I am a lecturer at Rice University and the Center for Engineering Leadership. Prior to that, I spent 38 years with Furor. Furor is an engineering construction company with revenues of about $30 billion a year, and about 45,000 employees worldwide. Most of my career was spent in project management. Started as a process engineer, chemical engineer, and eventually rose up through the ranks doing that. Managed projects of up to about 300 or 400 people. And for about three years, I was in charge of the project execution services in the Houston office which meant I was directly responsible for 2,500 people. So of course during that time, I do improve my leadership skills and learn how to interact with that number of people, so. >> Okay. >> So I'm Chuck Roberts and I also am a lecturer at the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership. I come to this job after 37 years with Exxon Mobil, all in the upstream with various positions. My last position was working on a reorganization of the upstream engineering business, which came about because of all of the many many jobs I've had. Like Tom, I managed groups of up to 1,500 which was fun, but also groups of as few as two or three. And in all you need leadership skills and you need to understand the various aspects that will get people to do what they need to do. >> Okay, well, thank you. Let's take a step back. How did you happen to end up in that leadership role? >> Well, actually it's kind of a funny story. As I said I started as a process engineer, and in the course of starting the engineering, I interacted with all the other disciplines, and started working with them, and helping them solve problems. And one day my boss, the project manager, came in and said you're in everybody's business. We're just going to put you in charge of things. [LAUGH] So I guess it was because I just got involved in everything, and I'd like to say it was a plan, but it really wasn't. It was just my natural curiosity turned into what put me in a leadership position. >> Okay. >> Kind of the same story for me. You just work hard and learn and expand your responsibilities. Push out into other areas of business so that you can integrate that into your assigned responsibilities. Did that as a drilling engineer, ended up in Alaska drilling wells up in the North Slope. And by doing that, understood and learned all of the parts of logistics and production engineering. And just like Tom, as you slowly but surely understand more and more of the business and spread out, the responsibility comes to you. And you end up being a leader somehow. >> So it sounds like there wasn't just a definite plan that you had going into it but that when the opportunity arose, you naturally stepped into that kind of role. >> That's quite a pretty fair statement. We all like to think we have a grand plan. >> [LAUGH] >> But usually we kind of just, we rock along and do what we enjoy and the next thing we know, that's the plan. >> It's kind of the journey, destination thing. Don't worry about the destination so much, just make sure the journey is of high quality. >> So that kind of begs the question of were you consciously aware of doing anything to prepare to step into those first leadership roles? >> I think the sort of the a-ha moment for me was I was on a project and it was this project where they had put me in as a project engineer for the first time And I was watching the project manager. And I thought that he was sort of old and slow and doing things all the wrong way, and I was very frustrated. And I stepped back and said, wait a minute, this guy's been doing this 40 years. Run some very successful projects. There's a lot of things he must be doing right. I just need to step back and figure out what he's doing. And, so, I think that was, sort of where I really sat back and said I need to start studying these various people in positions of leadership, and understanding how they're making their decisions. What are they doing that's making them successful? It's not obvious, and sometimes it seems magical. But it took nine months for me to figure out that some of things he did today he did because he was preparing for nine months from now. [LAUGH] >> Well in that vein, were there some role models or mentors that you had in those early days that helped you on that pathway? >> Definitely, definitely, there were people who along the way they took an interest and helped with certain skills and certain attributes along the way. It's important to look for those people and hopefully for them to look for you. I think, mostly leaders naturally are open to helping people if you go and sit down with them and ask for advice. And I think that's one of the great, sort of learnings. When I look back it helped is I tended to just go sit down in somebody's office and start asking questions. And let them sort of guide me along the way. You probably had a similar experience. >> Yeah good people will teach you. And if you ask to be taught, they'll be happy to teach you. To just add a little bit to Tom's response, there are role models that are positive and role models that are negative. And as a kind of student of the human species, you ought to look at both and you learn from all of them. And that's one way to grow as a leader. Just make sure that you see what impact others have on others, and what they have on you, and try to choose and pick your behaviors from that. >> Okay. We've recently, in this module, talked about The Engineer of 2020 article. One of the key themes in that is the pace of change in technology. And clearly your careers, like mine, spanned a period of dramatic change in the profession. Can you describe some of the challenges that you faced in dealing with that over the course of your career? >> You know, change is something that's going to be here, has been here, and will be here in more intensity. I think it's important to understand that and to not try to set your mind on some kind of a predetermined plan. You can move in a direction that's positive, and as you move in that direction, assess the situation at all times and accept the change that happens. If you don't, you are going to suffer, suffer some stress because you'll be in a place where no one else is. They've changed and you're not there. So be ready for it and accept it. >> Yeah, I think one of the things I saw through the course of that career was that the way people work and the way we interact with each other, changed quite a bit. I think today there's a lot more data available, and so the skillset to absorb and analyze that data is quite a bit different. We can get overloaded and get confused. One of the things I've found is that as you move along, some of those skills that you relied on early on and you thought were great, get overtaken by technology. And then all of a sudden you go back and try to do something and nobody needs a graph paper and slide rule anymore. And to all those skills that are kind of- >> What's a slide rule? >> Out the window. [LAUGH] So I did have that moment where I had somebody do some calculations for me. I went back and said, well where are all these charts and graphs? And they looked at me like, what planet did you come from? [LAUGH] >> Well that brings up an interesting question of, how do you keep up from an engineering skill standpoint with that pace of change? >> You just do what you've done all your life, you learn. >> You learn. >> On the job. >> On the job, every day. Technology changes, as we're engineers, we have got a skill set in understanding technology. And as the technology moves, move with it. >> Yeah I think the answer's almost in two parts. If you're in a technical role, and you're trying to lead there, you're going to have to do some studying and learn some new technology and learn some new tools and get into that. If you're on the other side, sort of where I got to be, more operations, overseeing big groups, then you're really looking at, how do I do that without understanding the underlying technology? You're trying to learn your skill sets learning how people interact in this sort of global environment. >> Yeah, it's managing the cultural shifts, not only technology change. But I agree with you, the way people interact and the way people do their business, the way people analyse, the way people create changes over time. And you have to accept the cultural shifts that are occurring and be part of them. >> I think that's probably one of the biggest challenges, at least for me, from an engineer moving into a leadership role. Is trying to use to the fact that you're leading a group of people and you're not the expert in whatever they're doing. You might not even be able to know whether they're right or wrong. And how do you figure out where you're going or what you're doing without actually being able to do the work yourself? >> Yeah, it can be limiting. Like you've seen I'm sure you'll find managers who try to understand everything and try to be the expert, when the experts are there with them. Just let it go. >> In that vein, as a manager, how did ensure that your staff did keep current with the current technology and how did you help them develop their skills? >> Most of the people I worked with and I think you'll find this to be true of people in general, want to be the best. >> And you just let them be the best. You give them the opportunities to learn, give them the opportunities to improve their technical capabilities. If they're not, if they're not doing that, you encourage them, in one way or another. >> Okay. >> I think typically, my approaches always, and I learned this from one of my early mentors, is asking the right questions. Asking a lot of very, leading questions, to make sure that they thought through all of the things they need to think through. And one question is always, is there somebody else we should be talking to? Who's looked at this problem in addition to you? Make sure that they're networking with other experts. >> What would be another approach to the solution that you've given me? Yeah, those kind of questions have got to be there. Just testing, test for solidity of the technical foundation. >> Yes. >> That's the whole idea. >> Okay, I'd like to take a step back to your beginnings as an engineer. Why did you choose to be an engineer? >> Well, I think at the end of the day, I started out in school as a physics major. And when I got there, I decided that was really going to be too theoretical. And so for me engineering was the ability or the opportunity to practically solve problems. Not doing it in space or in theory. >> [LAUGH] What's a wave? >> Yeah, but actually go out and solve real problems. So I think for me that's the essence of why I came engineer. Go do something, see the answer, see the result. >> Yeah. >> Get the feedback. >> We used to describe that as putting steel in the ground. >> Right. >> [LAUGH] >> That sounds like an upstream [INAUDIBLE] >> [LAUGH] >> For me, I love math and science. Physics was great, and math, theoretic mathematics was great, all that kind of stuff. And just couldn't quite figure out what I wanted to do with all that stuff. What I decided was I wanted to be able to build things. I wanted to, when I finished doing what I was doing I wanted to be able to point at something say, we've created something in this world. And engineering is that endeavor. So that's kind of how I grew into it. >> Once you got into your careers as engineers, what did you like most about it? >> I think the most exciting thing for me has been to pull the other group of diverse engineers and attack a problem, and come up with a solution that surprises the client. In other words, jeez, we never expected that. That's a lot better than we ever expected. So to kind of energize that group and get them to get innovative and bring out the best in each other. And so that's to me the most exciting. To go after something and come up with the solution that's better than anybody could have expected. >> Yeah. >> That's what I- >> It's hard to improve on that answer. The one thing you get it in that answer is, what's better? The thing I always enjoyed was, you can do a lot of things, you can make a lot of things. But the question is, do the things you're making have value? So the better question, what I always enjoyed in engineering, is can you get to a solution that really, really does have value? And the teamwork, technical challenges, all of the creativity's fantastic. When that solution has value to the world or value to us, then it's very enjoyable. >> Let's flip that question around. We talked a little bit about what you liked. What didn't you like about being an engineer? >> Go. >> Go? [LAUGH] >> [LAUGH] I'll go, if you want me to go, I'll go. >> You go first. >> I'm not sure it's about being an engineer that you don't like. I think it's the the day-to-day work environment that we all do. They pay us money to work. And there are times when you end up working for or with people that are just not very fun. And, the politics, big word, but the politics of the business can become tedious and distracting and frustrating. A solution for it is just to get engaged and make that stuff better, but it's hard work and that's why you get paid. >> So sometimes, it's a grind that you just have to push through. >> Absolutely a grind, yeah, it's a grind. >> I think the answer that's probably the shortest is people, right? >> Yeah. >> [LAUGH] But you know- >> Love them, love them. >> Right. >> Not all of us. >> Particularly when you get in a leadership position. At some point you're going to have to counsel somebody. And you know, I don't know about you, Chuck, but as an engineer, the reason I became an engineer was not because I wanted to do psychology and sociology and the soft skills. So sitting down with somebody and saying, things aren't going right, you need to do better, or behave better, or whatever, that was always a draining experience. >> Yeah, the discipline side is never fun. To counsel someone for improvement, one, there's a positive side. >> Yeah. >> There's two sides. >> Right. >> There's the good counseling and then the counseling that's discipline. Discipline's never fun. Just not fun to discipline people. It's just the way it is. >> Well, let's extend that discussion now into your leadership and managerial roles. What did you like most about being a leader? >> I'm going to kind of go back to the question, the earlier answer. I think the most exciting thing, when you're leading a group, is when the group's performance, and the individuals feel like they're doing better than they were without you, right? So I think the most rewarding experience has been when I've had people in my career come up and say, I really enjoyed working with you. I felt like I've done the best I've done during this period. And I'm going to miss you now that you're moving on. And so that's, to me, really gratifying. And I think that's the role of a leader, is really to facilitate everybody else being the best they can be. >> Yeah, if you break it down into leadership, management, and supervision. Supervision being the counseling and discipline. Management being, what are we going to spend our money on? When and how fast are we going to go? And then leadership, setting direction and empowering people, clearly is just an enjoyable thing. Where are we going? We're going here. How are we going to get there? Well, you're going to take us. And empowering people to do that and letting them grow and be as strong as they can be, better than they think can be. That's pretty, pretty, pretty exciting. >> So what do you think might have been the biggest challenges that you faced as a leader? >> You know, one of the big challenges I remember was at one point in my career I was managing a pretty big project, and it was one of the early project management positions. And the first time I had to manage-manage it.. And so that's a whole, it's a big step change, because before, you were managing the small group. And they all are pretty much looking for leadership. And all then all of a sudden, when you start to lead leaders, the roles have to get defined better and you're just moving that much further from the work, right? And that's always a challenge, because you're completely relying on these people to do the right thing and go in the right direction. And what I find is that when you're in that position, that you have to convince them that you're going in the right direction. >> This is the right way. >> This is the right way, because if they don't believe it, they won't follow. >> And they can be disruptive. >> That's right. >> Yeah, that's tough. I agree with all that, but I'll take a technical tack. The challenging thing, when you're a leader, is if you are a member of a group of leaders that are trying to accomplish something and the direction of the team, of the organization, is not right, having to stand up and change the direction can be extremely challenging. Rewarding, but extremely challenging. Standing on your principles, standing on your values, standing on the technical merit. Whatever the reason is that things aren't going in the right direction, moving a large organization off of the momentum path that they're on is truly challenging. >> Again, as we did with the engineer questions, flip it around and talk a little bit. What was your least favorite part of being a leader? >> That's a difficult question to answer because I think if you're in that leadership position and you enjoy it, I mean there's a lot of people. I think for me, I kind of went to work in the morning to make decisions and lead people. I mean, that's what I did. But I also knew people who, that was the hardest thing about coming to work is that they were in charge, right?. They didn't want to do it. So I think if it's something you want to do and you enjoy, even the hard parts are fun and they're a challenge, right? And if it's not a natural thing and it's something you're just there to do, and we all get into those positions where somebody asks us to do something we're not excited about, then that's probably the most. Leading a task that you're not committed to is probably the hardest thing about being a leader. >> Yeah, convincing yourself you're committed to it. I think for me, the hardest part in a leadership role, you're responsible for the ethical, moral honesty of your organization. And when someone is not ethical, moral, or honest and you have to discipline them, that's difficult. It's necessary, but it's, you're right down there at the human interface level and it can be very, very, very challenging. You have to do it, but it's difficult. >> So thinking back to, how did you prepare to deal with those challenges? Was there anything in particular that you did in your personal development or preparation for those roles to be prepared to deal with those special challenges or difficulties? >> Well, the discipline thing. I'll go first [LAUGH]. >> [LAUGH] Good. >> The discipline thing, the preparation is, just do a gut check. Are the values that you are espousing for yourself and for the organization for the, whoever you're working with or for, are they consistent? Do they apply to everyone? And if this person that you disciplining is gone outside of those set of values, be comfortable in your skin. But in the discussion and the discipline and the correction, whatever it is that you're going to undertake in the disciplinary action, make sure you're comfortable that you're coming from a place that is strong and consistent. >> I completely agree with that, and what I've found Throughout my career is that I'd say training. There are, I took some courses in, similar to this one, that talk about how do you coach, how do you counsel? >> Right. >> What are the right mechanisms? And there's some things that you can, I think, back to the point of always learning, you really just need to go out and figure out where your weaknesses are. And seek some training around those things. Because yes, it's difficult, and you have to have the right moral compass. But then, you also have to learn how to approach that problem. [LAUGH] >> How to do you do it? Yeah, sure. >> Well, Chuck, from what you were saying, it sounds like it's really important that wherever you are, that your personal values need to align pretty closely with corporate culture and values that you're working in. Otherwise, you're not going to be happy. >> It adds stress. There are times when it won't. I think to the point of your values and the cultural values or corporate values, you need to understand both. And if there's a necessary reconciliation, seek that reconciliation and understand it. Generally, well at least the corporation I worked for, huge corporation, had pretty consistent, universal values that were aligned with mine. At times I had people within the organization that didn't have values aligned with mine and I had to do some reconciliation. And that's not always easy, but it's necessary. >> As you look back at your experiences of leaders, what would you point to perhaps as the most important skills to have? >> Jeez, people skills. >> People skills? >> Yeah, yeah. >> That's, yeah it, I think, calls for communication. Because at some point, I mean, a key for me in terms of being a leader is creating a vision, communicating that vision, getting people to accept that you have a plan and that the vision makes sense, and then accepting to follow it. Which, all of that requires a whole raft of communication. >> Yeah. >> And being able to communicate, I mean I've seen a lot of people that were very good at what they did. And they were excellent in terms of thinking and innovation, but they could not communicate or convince people that they had the answer. >> Yeah, couldn't explain it. >> And so I think that's probably a key skill. >> Good point. There's two, I mean, there's always two sides to communication. Convincing people that the direction you're going is correct and explaining their work is all good. But the other side of the listening to people, especially people who may be not the best at explaining what they want to do. But listening and pulling value out of what people can give you is critical. So it's again, communication, both sides. >> I think the other thing is organization, being able to organize the group and put together a reasonable plan that people can understand and they can follow. I mean, we've all been around those charismatic leaders, right, that get up there and they make a great speech. And you say, okay, now what are we going to do next? Well, I don't know. Go figure it out. >> [LAUGH] That's your job. >> [LAUGH] >> So is there anything in particular that you did to to develop those communication skills? >> Again, I think there are classes and courses out there that give you some techniques. It's a matter of really kind of getting out there and practicing and getting feedback. During my career I was lucky in that I had, at one point when I was leading a large group, I had some coaches that used to give me feedback every time I got up and did something. >> Yeah, that's nice. >> And so that's, I think getting those mentors and seeking that feedback on how you're doing. We even, if you're going to your subordinates and saying, did you understand what I was talking about? It's important. >> Well, that brings up an interesting question. How did you go about providing feedback to your staff? >> Daily. I can't remember who it was, I think one of the great football coaches says, never miss an opportunity to coach. You've always, always, always got an opportunity to coach. If you're- >> There's always that coachable minute. >> Coachable minute always, and that's daily. And then informal, you give you a formal review. You say, let's schedule some time and talk, and lay out kind of the dimensions that you're going to be discussing. And ask them to think about it beforehand and follow up with the communication. It's just, I said it before. There's really three things you do as leaders. You got leadership, management and supervision. And supervision is the part where you're forming and helping people grow. And you just have to do it all the time everyday, in all different kinds of ways, from very informal to very formal. >> I can't really add to it. I think it's just important that you take the time to just probably as much informally sit down with people. And make sure that they know you have time. >> Yep. >> I think one of the keys that I've found is that,and that people have taught me is, when somebody comes in to ask a question, take the time to set aside whatever you're doing. And visit and understand what they're saying and take the time. I mean, people don't like to come get coached. If you say, well I'm busy right now. Come back in two hours, right? >> [LAUGH] Yeah. I'll be ready to coach you then. >> I'll schedule you. >> [LAUGH] >> One of the things that I found quite frankly was to go be in their workspace instead of mine as a way of facilitating and providing some feedback. >> That behavior, like Tom was saying, the behavior of making people important all the time, and individuals feeling that they're important, they are. You'll never do anything without people, is key. So you just, there are folks that you'll deal with in your life that think the technical side is the most important thing, and it's important. They'll think the money side is the most important, it's important. And the people side, they kind of ignore. Well all three of those things need to be right at the top, and people will understand. If you don't think they're important, they'll understand you don't think they're important. >> I'll share with you a trick that this senior VP once told me that he did. And actually, it had a huge impact on the teams, when you're leading a larger team where you, multiple layers. He told me that he had a goal and he actually measured that he spent four hours every week visiting or talking to somebody who did not report to him directly. >> Yeah. >> So, and so I listened to that and said okay, I'm going to try this. And the impact of going around your direct reports and going and visit with the people just out there in the team, and sitting with them several times, all of a sudden the whole group feels like they're part of the game. >> That's important. >> And so that's something that people, when they get into those. They start moving up where there's multiple layers. So, I would challenge people, go out and spend time with, let's say, people you don't have to. >> Yep. >> And they're going to help you, and you're going to help them. >> Yeah, check your message, did your message get there? >> Okay, I'd kind of like to approach a close here with one last question. And that is, given your experience looking at engineers over the last 30 plus years, what advice would you give to a new graduate engineer coming into industry who's contemplating moving into a leadership role? What kinds of things should they be thinking about, and how should they prepare for that opportunity? >> Their number one challenge, I think, today, and we talked about the change in technology, is that when I started my career, the only way to communicate with people is to walk around. Email and all that didn't exist. And today, I think the biggest challenge, the thing that people can do, is get out from behind their computer and actually walk around and do what we're talking about, sit down and visit with people, and actually do the face-to-face, ask questions. I think one advice that the CEO of the company gave a young engineer two, three months out of school was, he said, what can I do to get your job? And he told him, he says, do the best you can at your job and go out and learn as much about what the company does and what other people around you do. And that's the best thing you can do to prepare yourself, and I would agree with that, and part of that is you can't do that electronically. You have to go out and do that face-to-face. >> Yeah, great answer. It's kind of a trite comment, but the advice I would give is, don't look at the destination. Do the journey, do the work, work hard. Apply all the skills that you've gotten technically. And from this course, I mean, the stuff that's in this course, you're going to learn all kinds of things about how to interact with others. But do the work, work hard, enjoy it. Do the best you can at the tasks that are assigned to you. Ask for more, see if there's more that you can do, expand your responsibilities. Always go out and try to make new friends of all different types, and understand how everybody interacts in the company. And just enjoy the journey. The destination will come to you. >> I think that's great advice, because that's what I tell people all the time. Work on the skills that you want to have. Don't aim for a position because I know in my career, nobody could have charted the path that I took [LAUGH] to get to where I got to. >> It would have been questioned. >> There is no standard path, and I guess what you're saying is consistent with what I've observed over time, is that if you're a good leader, or you have the right skills to be a leader, the positions will find you. You don't have to go find them. >> Yeah, expand your, what is it, the circle of influence? >> Yes. >> Continue to expand what you control in your circle of influence, and move into the circle of concern. And do a doggone good job of all of it, and things will find you. >> Well, I'd like to wrap up now, and start by saying thank you very much for taking time and for sharing your thoughts and your experiences. You combined over 70 years worth of engineer and leadership experience, but thank you for sharing those thoughts with us. >> Thank you. >> Thank you. >> It's time to wrap up the module and move on, thank you.