Engineering Leadership: 9 Books Every Engineer Should Read

/ August 9, 2017 in 

We’ve all heard the old adage that “Leaders are Readers.” And while it certainly feels a little cliche to say it, that doesn’t make it any less true. In fact, at BTI360 we are often asked, “As an engineer, what books should I read to be a better leader?”

So that’s what I want to share with you today. By no means is this list exhaustive, but these nine books have had a tremendous impact on my life, as well as many others in engineering leadership roles I know, and therefore is a great place to get started on your own journey to understand what good and true leadership is all about.

Engineering Leadership Step 1: Leading Yourself

At BTI360 we have a saying that each of us as teammates should seek to “Grow Each Day.” That’s the premise behind Leading Yourself. Before leading others we must start with leading ourselves well. We should each ask ourselves:

  • Are we a leader worth following?
  • Do we lead by example?

As engineers, the following books teach us to take extreme ownership of our craft, serve the engineers around us, and approach our craft with passion. These three concepts will transform your engineering leadership and influence with those around you.

  1. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
    Willink and Babin share war stories as U.S. forces secure Ramadi, Iraq, a city deemed “all but lost” during the fight against ISIS. From these war stories the two Navy SEALS have taken war tested leadership principles and have adapted them to the day to day lives of business.
  2. The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. Hunter
    In this fable, we learn “Leadership is not about what you do, it’s about who you are.” Engineers follow men and woman of character. We also learn that leadership is about service. Great leaders strive to not think less of themselves but to think of themselves less. As Hunter states, “To Lead is to Serve.”
  3. The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary by Mark Sanborn
    engineering leadership bookThe Fred Factor is a story of a mail carrier named Fred. Fred loved his job and cared deeply for those he served. The Fred Factor inspires others that are passionate about their work to go the extra mile. The Freds of the world seek opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those around them.

Engineering Leadership Step 2: Leading Others

Leading others requires us to understand leadership. Leadership expert John Maxwell states “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” If leadership is influence, how do you gain influence?  Influence is achieved through relationships.

As engineers we must understand that leadership is a relationship. This doesn’t always come easy for us. With practice, we can learn how to develop relationships just like learning a new programming language. The following books will teach us how to “Lead with Love,” understand what motivates others, and equip us to engage in crucial conversations.

  1. Love Works:  Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders by Joel Manby
    engineering leadership book Love WorksLove Works shows leaders how to lead with love. We’re not talking about romantic love. We’re talking about leaders truly caring for their people. Leaders that want what’s best for their people and that will make personal sacrifices for their people. Leaders that do the right thing even when it’s hard. You will never look at leadership the same after reading this book.
  2. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
    engineering leadership book DriveDaniel Pink details what motivates knowledge workers. It’s not perks, bonuses, and late night pizza. Knowledge workers are seeking Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose in their work. Creating an environment where teams can pursue these values will then take your team to new heights you could only dream of.
  3. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny
    engineering leadership book Crucial ConversationsLeaders are willing to have hard conversations. Therefore, leaders know that without these kinds of conversations they are not helping their co-workers get better. Crucial Conversations helps make conversations you’d typically avoid less scary.

Engineering Leadership Step 3: Leading Teams

To effectively lead engineering teams a leader must understand and recognize the ingredients of healthy teams, great team players, and effective communication. These ingredients are the foundation to being able to improve team dynamics and mentor other leaders. I have found the following to be the most influential books when it comes to working with and leading engineering teams.

  1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
    engineering leadership Five Dysfunctions of a TeamTeams must work well together to deliver results. Therefore, in this book, Patrick Lencioni uses a leadership fable to define the five dysfunctions that prevent teams from achieving their potential. After reading this book, then you’ll be able to quickly identify what is holding your team back from reaching its true potential.
  2. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni
    engineering leadership book The Ideal Team PlayerPatrick Lencioni followed up the Five Dysfunctions of a Team with another leadership fable that teaches what it takes to be a great team player. The fable is a strong tool to share with your teams. It illustrates what it takes from each individual to make a great team.
  3. Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds
    engineering leadership book Presentation ZenGreat leaders are great communicators. In today’s world too many presentations have speakers reading bullets from text heavy slides. Garr Reynolds details how to construct a presentation, design the slides, and deliver inspirational messages to any audience. If you are giving presentations, then this is a must read.

I hope this blog proves to be a valuable resource for whenever you’re looking to take your engineering leadership skills to the next level! Remember, after you read any of these books, don’t let the leadership ideas that you learn collect dust. Experiment with what they say, then try the ideas out. Once you see what works best for you, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better leader.


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