Wisdom Through Adversity: Situated Leadership Learning of Engineering Leaders

This month for the ILead Research Team (IRT) Archives, we feature a deep, qualitative exploration of the workplace struggles of 29 senior engineering leaders, examining how adversity has taught them to lead. If you ever wanted a window into the challenges that senior leaders experience day-to-day and where the value of those challenges lie, Wisdom Through Adversity: Situated Leadership Learning of Engineering Leaders, you won’t want to miss putting this new addition to the archives on your reading list.


Key takeaways for students:

1. Relying on your own strengths is fundamental to navigating experiences of failure. In their analysis of interview data, the authors identified the most common strengths that engineering leaders drew upon. These were: inquisitiveness about the situation; personal integrity to do what you think is right regardless of external pressure; self-trust and belief in your own vision and believing in who you are. Ensure that part of your own education involves developing self-awareness, an understanding of what you stand for, and identifying your personal values and how to act on them.


2. Struggle is key for inclusivity. It’s well-know that failure as part of the engineering process of iteration can lead to eventual improvement of the product or process at hand. However, the authors also discovered that failure can also yield awareness of issues related to inclusivity and equity, catalyzing change. Failure can be a critical element of fostering a more inclusive future in the profession.


3. When reading this paper, or if you’re inspired to seek out failure stories from leaders, remember that organizational culture, or the context within which a leader fails, will influence that leaders’ reaction and response. If stories appear contradictory, consider that the accepted norms, values and behaviours within the organization are shaping leaders’ failure experiences and their decisions about how to move forward.


4. You must train early so that you build up the coping skills required to be an experienced failure-navigator later on. One of the authors’ recommendations to engineering educators is to expose students to senior leaders’ stories of failure, to normalize and de-stigmatize the inevitable and important experience. Ask to discuss this in the classroom as part of this learning. Check out “Failing Well” and the “Resilience Project,” as examples of  failure education.


Read the full article on the ILead TSpace site.

Citation: Chan, A., & Rottmann, C., & Reeve, D., & Moore, E., & Maljkovic, M., & Macdonald-Roach, E. (2020, June), Wisdom through Adversity: Situated Leadership Learning of Engineering Leaders Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Online. 10.18260/1-2–35583