Secrets of Leadership Success that Every Engineering Manager Should Know

 By Todd Vanek

Maya Angelou’s famous quote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” resonates strongly in the context of the Leading People and Organizations graduate class taught within the Engineering and Technology Management (ETM) Program at Washington State University. The recurring stories of ineffective management that are frequently recounted in the class underscore the enduring truth of Angelou’s words. These narratives often elicit memories of both negative and positive leadership encounters, highlighting the lasting impact of such experiences. It raises the question: why is it that we tend to remember extreme cases of leadership, yet often overlook the everyday leadership exhibited by our supervisors?”

If Angelo’s statement rings true, maybe we can assume lasting memories, and the lessons born out of them, come from the relationships and situations that stir emotions. And might that suggest that to be an effective leader, we must recognize the impact of our decisions and actions on the emotions of others. Enter the concept of Emotional Intelligence.

In a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, “Why Emotional Intelligence is Important in Leadership,” EQ was referred to as the “ability to understand and manage your own emotions” and to “recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.” And as much as we want to point to success and productivity in employees based on a leader’s ability to “motivate” employees, what is motivation but stirring emotions in others. Considering the emotional impact we have on others’ is key to successfully empowering employees to lead themselves. And great leaders model that behavior by first understanding and managing their own emotions.

In the Leading People and Organizations class, a leadership framework that supports both leader development and empowering others is used. The SOS Leadership Framework includes the dimensions of Developing Self, where we can see a direct link with the first two components of Emotional Intelligence as defined by Daniel Goleman.  Self-Awareness and Self-Management. Leadership begins with understanding and developing oneself.

Self-awareness and self-management as part of Developing Self are especially important in the Engineering and Technical trades. Education programs in technical fields are still catching up to teaching essential, or “soft,” skills. Engineering Management education programs, like the ETM program at Washington State University, are designed to help technical managers learn to apply concepts, tools, and techniques in essential skills to lead people and systems in technical organizations.

So, what is your EQ? Considering taking one of 4 tests (3 of them are free) that the Harvard Division of Continuing Education love. “Assessing Your Emotional Intelligence: 4 Tools We Love.” Post thoughts on your results in the comments below.


Why Emotional Intelligence is Important in Leadership, Harvard Business Review, 2019,

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman, 2005.

Assessing Your Emotional Intelligence: 4 Tools We Love, Harvard Division of Continuing Education, 2016.