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Leadership and Communication: CELC 2023 Highlights

CELC stands for the Canadian Engineering Leadership Conference, so naturally, an entire stream of sessions was devoted to leadership development. Here are some takeaways!

Gord Aker works with high-ranking executives, who can spew the company mission statement, purpose, and values without a blink. When Gord asks them about their own values, he’s met with a “deer in headlights” look. These are busy people, who don’t “have time” to consider their internal purpose.

Engineering students are similar, Gord told us: we balance heavy course loads and leadership positions, and we probably have lives too (though a monotonic no from the audience suggested otherwise, and although we all laughed, we knew it was partly true).

Your purpose in life does not have to be Mount Everest. It doesn’t have to be one thing or a big picture. It’s good to just start thinking about it and trust the thinking process will help serve and advance you.

Gord Aker

Shanleigh Mckeown, past Canadian Federation of Engineering Students president and probably the nicest human being ever, led a handful of sessions on leadership and empathy. She emphasized how rarely can a response make something better. What makes things better is a connection. Sometimes, the fair response isn’t the kind response, but we need to remember to prioritize our values.

We brainstormed how we wanted other people in conversations feel. The trend was generally positive, with the exception of “feared”. We’ll just ignore that answer.

At the end of tough conversations, people should feel relieved or ready to move forward. Shanleigh shared her tips on how to succeed in uncomfortable situations:

  • Know your goal, try to identify the root of the problem, and think about possible solutions beforehand
  • Start from a mutual perspective, and don’t assume what happened
  • Don’t center blame: use phrases like “this happened, and I felt this way as a result”
  • Say “I know you can do better and I’d like to see you do better” to provide an opportunity to grow

Erin Thorp, a leadership coach, talked about tackling tough conversations as well, and focused on the fight or flight response. While the option we choose depends on how much power we have (we usually fight with our siblings, but not with our boss), neither response is right or wrong.

“We don’t react to the words that people say. We react to why we think they said them.”

Erin Thorp

She underlined the importance of stating our intent up front. What is easier to hear?

  1. “We have to have a conversation about your performance.”
  2. “We have to have a conversation about your performance because I’m invested in your work and in your future at the company.”

The second statement is much less threatening, right?

Another takeaway from Erin’s session was to always have a glass of water with you, especially during tough conversations or job interviews. Your body can’t be in fight or flight mode and consume at the same time. Why don’t we learn this in class?

This is just the tip of the iceberg; we took a lot of notes throughout the week of leadership sessions. Don’t worry though – all the presentations are available in the CFES public CELC drive. Explore away!

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