Your best day today - Engineers get advice on communication, leadership

Think Again: Engineers shouldn’t downplay their communication skills or abilities to be dynamic business leaders, said Michael Allosso, communication specialist, at the CSIA 2012 meeting. Living your best day can inspire those around you to do the same.

05/03/2012


Don’t live the stereotype that engineers cannot excel in communicating, said Michael Allosso, communication specialist, after his “You on your best day” instructional session at the 2012 CSIA annual meeting. In the two days prior to his presentation, Allosso got to know the system integrator crowd. The former high school drama teacher and college theater professor also is an actor (credits include working as maitre d’ with Steve Martin in “Pink Panther 2”) and director. He customized his message on the fly, according to audience needs.

Michael Allosso, communication specialist, actor, and director worked with engineers at the 2012 CSIA Executive Conference, helping them share advice so they can live their best day ever, every day. CFE Media photo by Mark T. Hoske

You owe yourself and everyone around you to be “up” every minute of your day, at work, at home—inspiring other and being inspired. And you can do it with talents you already have, cultivating them to improve and inspire. Leadership skills are infectious, he said.

After truthfully critiquing and praising an introduction* from Bob Lowe, CSIA executive director, Allosso said system integrator leaders and other engineers can effectively inspire those around them by removing a few impediments, internalizing a few tricks, moving a small bag of techniques to the forefront, and practicing just a little.

He asked the audience to improve how they interact by using, cultivating, and enhancing the following skills, offered by system integrators, with Allosso’s guidance: imagination and creativity, improvisation, confidence and courage, empathy, understand and connect with people, self awareness, perseverance, immersion, accept criticism and make needed changes as you go, and ambition and passion.

More top traits

Other useful traits cultivated by those at the top of their game include: intelligence, listening, willingness to take risks, and charisma (presence, owning a room, vocal skills, having “it.”) Body language also is important, along with believability.

More traits for better leadership in communication include:

- Energy and enthusiasm, often top of the list, make up the life force of leadership. If being “up” all day long seems counter-intuitive, remember how you have more energy at the end of your workout.

- Focus and concentration: Ensure that you’re in the moment, in the zone.

- Breathe, punctuating what you say with beat changes and adjustments, avoiding vocal homogeneity, with dynamics, as in music.

- Eye contact. No matter how large the room, you should make the effort to look at everyone.

- Micro-messages are the small things we do that can create powerful responses in others.

- Give feedback the right way to get positive results. Be truthful, specific, and positive (TSP)*. Don’t make praise overblown or out of context.

- Heighten your stakes—live like your life depends on it. Be excellent.

- Don’t just coast. Develop and use your gifts.

 Think again. “What tools do YOU need to be outstanding?” he asked.

- Mark T. Hoske, CFE Media content manager, Control EngineeringConsulting-Specifying Engineer and Plant Engineering, can be reached at mhoske(at)cfemedia.com.

ONLINE EXTRA - For a longer, more detailed version of this story with examples on each point, along with three specific tips for CFE Media engineering readers, scroll down.

Don’t live the stereotype that engineers cannot excel in communicating, said Michael Allosso, communication specialist, after his “You on your best day” instructional session at the 2012 CSIA annual meeting. In the two days prior to his presentation, Allosso got to know the system integrator crowd. The former high school drama teacher and college theater professor also is an actor (credits include working as maitre d’ with Steve Martin in “Pink Panther 2”) and director.

He customized his message on the fly, according to audience needs, much like working with the highly impromptu Martin. [See online extra below for more on that.]

You owe it to yourself and everyone around you to be “up” every minute of your day, at work, at home—inspiring others and being inspired. And you can do it with talents you already have, cultivating them to improve and inspire. Leadership skills are infectious, he said.

After truthfully critiquing and specifically praising* an introduction from Bob Lowe, CSIA executive director, Allosso romped through what an imaginary perfect day would be for him. This included a workout and steam bath, all those around interacting warmly because they love what they’re doing, his wife landing a six-figure job, his children calling with a genuine interest in explaining what they’re doing, and teaching his dog a new trick (with the dog getting it right the first time).

While we all can dream, system integrator leaders and other engineers can effectively inspire those around them by removing a few impediments, internalizing a few tricks, moving a small bag of techniques to the forefront, and practicing just a little.

In day-to-day interactions, whether we know it or not, we get and give impressions from those around us: verbally, nonverbally, by what they say, what they don’t say, how they say it, and via expressions. He asked the audience to improve how they interact, in just two ways: by using, cultivating, and enhancing the following skills, offered by system integrators, with Allosso’s guidance.

1. Imagination and creativity. He described a Broadway actor unlikely to make the big time, because when asked to expand on a new role creatively, she cried and asked to be told what to do.

2. Improvisation. I’d rather roll through broken glass naked, some actors say, than work improvisationally. Allosso said people’s fears are overblown, adding that he could teach anyone in the room to do improv within a couple weeks. Steve Martin is very good at improvisation, in some scenes changing Inspector Clouseau’s dialog with every take.

3. Confidence and courage. When it is time to do something, do so with confidence. Steve Martin, just sitting in a room, appeared shy, but when the director said, “Action!” he was a poster boy for courage.

4. Empathy. Allosso also directed George Wendt (Norm, of “Cheers” fame) in “Tip,” a one-man show about Tip O’Neill. Wendt showed tremendous empathy for the longtime congressman and for the audience.

5. Understand and connect with people. Those around you appreciate that one-on-one connection. Full attention (no looking at your smartphone) and eye contact are key.

6. Self awareness. If auditioning for a musical, an actor should have enough self awareness to know whether or not carrying a tune is among available talents.

7. Perseverance to the Nth degree. The best actors write a resume specific for each audition, emphasizing skills and jobs most appropriate for that role. On the back goes a head shot specific for “the look” called for in that role. They modify appearance appropriate to the role and take cabs so they don’t show up for an audition sweaty, or late because they were trying to find a parking spot. Then, from a room with hundreds of hopefuls, an assistant might pick six or eight based on perception scanning the crowd; others can go. Then, if lucky, the actor will get 120 to 180 seconds to audition to bored, angry, and apathetic faces who, without emotion, may say “thank you.” Or not. Then the actor may or may not (usually not) get a callback. Scores of auditions will happen before a callback or an actual role. If you’re not thick-skinned enough for that, go home.

8. Immersion. Become the role you’re in. Daniel Day-Lewis, winner of two Academy Awards (“My Left Foot” and “There Will Be Blood”), never broke character on the set of “Gangs of New York,” living the role 24/7 off-camera and on.

Michael Allosso, communication specialist, actor, and director helped engineers understand how they can communicate more effectively at the 2012 CSIA Executive Conference. CFE Media photo by Mark T. Hoske

9. Accept criticism. Smile and say “thank you.” Make the needed changes as you go. The best actors create a huge impact by asking for and immediately incorporating criticism. One who demands criticism is Meryl Streep, arguably the best actor ever, with 17 nominations and three Academy Awards [only five actors have won more than one]. People at the top of their games eat up criticism.

10. Ambition and passion. Ingrid Bergman, interviewed by Allosso during a project for the U.S. Office of Education, offered this advice to other actors: Unless you can taste it and nothing else can make you happy, don’t do it.

More top traits

Other useful traits cultivated by those at the top of their game include: intelligence, listening, willingness to take risks, and charisma (presence, owning a room, vocal skills, having “it.”) Body language also is important, along with believability.

“What tools do YOU need to be outstanding?” he asked the audience, noting that we are all acting, playing our role for our best day, from the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning. Actor Roy Scheider, playing the role of Bob Fosse in “All that Jazz,” turned it “on” when he looked in the mirror in the morning, proclaiming, “It’s showtime!”

Exercise: Allosso asked the audience to pair off in a listening exercise. One person was asked to tell the other ways in which he or she excels, in 30-60 seconds. Then they reversed. After the audience did that, Allosso asked for volunteers. Each volunteer was asked to role-play the person with whom they paired, in first person, saying what that person said, exactly as the other person said it. Then, they switched roles.

Participants accepted the challenge and proceeded with confidence and without apologies, despite a stereotypical view that engineers might be risk averse in public speaking.

Notes about the exercise: Sticky sentences, with unusual characteristics or wording, help people remember, along with poise and presence. Gentle parody and humor can help. Being believable, without pretense, helps an audience listen and retain what is said. “Pretending” delivers a forgettable performance rather than sincere communication. In such an exercise, many people are challenged, and more likely to be able to say where they need improvement rather where they excel.

An often-cited Albert Einstein quote explains that success in life requires work, play, and judicious amounts of keeping your mouth shut.

Sometimes saying little or nothing can communicate in powerful ways, Allosso said.

More communication tips

A few more secret weapons Allosso offered for better leadership in communication include:

- Energy and enthusiasm, often at the top of the list, make up the life force of leadership. Walk the talk and show it every minute of every workday. When each of you, many of you leaders or owners, enter your building, everyone around you notices. No one is perfect; we all have problems. But have them in private and close the door. People generally care most about what they need right now.

It takes more effort to hold your body in a slouched, grumpy way than in an alert manner. Exuberant behavior lubes the muscles to do more. Be energetic throughout the day and take home more energy for the family, because all God’s children are equally important. And, if being “up” all day long seems counter-intuitive, remember how you have more energy at the end of your workout.

- Focus and concentration: Ensure that you’re in the moment, in the zone. Allosso graded the crowd “B+” on focus and concentration. Most were staying connected. Several engaged their smartphones. Some stayed connected to the presentation the entire time, which translates into respect and dignity for those around them. As a leader, it is your responsibility to make others around you excellent.

- Breathe. You must breathe, punctuating what you say with beat changes and adjustments, avoiding vocal homogeneity and getting softer, louder, faster, and slower with dynamics, as in music. If rehearsing a script (as the speech therapist did for the king in “The King’s Speech”), draw slashes through where the punctuation is to note proper pauses. Also, sometime when people pause and breathe, their brain catches up and keeps them from saying something stupid. Pauses gather attention. You don’t always need to keep talking. Those in sales know this.

- Eye contact. Eyes are the gateway to the soul (said Herman Melville). No matter how large the room, you should make the effort to look at everyone; not over them, not sweeping past them like whitewash on a fence, and not just a few in a row or a table or an area, but connect with each one. Singer-songwriter Martina McBride is known for looking at everyone during a concert. For those in the audience, give the right micro-messages back by engaging with the speaker.

- Micro-messages. It’s not easy to have employees. No one teaches you how that works. Micro-messages are the small things we do that can create powerful responses in others. Leaning in, smiling, and taking notes shows interest and engagement. Leaning back with arms crossed says, “Just try to teach me something. Go ahead. I dare you.” A well-known television example, Simon Cowell, sets his visage to intimidate young singers.

Heighten your self-awareness so you recognize your own micro-messages, which could be conveying disdain, racism, ageism, and other negative connotations, even if you don’t mean to.

- TSP feedback: Use feedback the right way to get positive results. Be truthful, specific, and positive (TSP)*. Don’t make praise overblown or out of context. Truth must be delivered with specifics. Don’t give positive feedback only when you have something negative to say. Allosso noted that a prior audience member said, in a heavy Irish accent, “Aye, that’s serving up a sheet sandwich,” some good, bad, then more good.

Ken Blanchard’s “Whale Done!” book give the example of how whales are trained through positive reinforcement. When they do something right, the whales are rewarded. One leader lit up his whole workplace after he started using TSP. A coworker even shed tears of joy. Give TSP consistently and get more from your people. Before you can offer effectively received criticism, pay your dues by conveying, in a truthful, specific, and positive way, what’s good.

- Heighten your stakes—live like your life depends on it. Be excellent. Begin by saying, “I am going to be excellent today.” People will remember you, and it will deliver repeat business. Keep stakes high. People should be better off as the result of spending time with you. And you’ll sleep like a baby.

Irving Berlin said, “The toughest thing about be a success is that I have to keep being a success. Talent is only the starting point in this business. You’ve got to keep on working that talent. Someday, I’ll reach for it, and it won’t be there.”

- Don’t just coast. Sometimes, Allosso said, he prays, “Don’t let me croak until I use all the gifts you’ve given me.” Please, ask yourselves what gifts do you have under your Christmas tree that you haven’t opened yet?

A summary version of this article, part of the May 2012 print digital edition at http://controleng.com/archive, appears below.

- Mark T. Hoske is CFE Media content manager, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer, and can be reached at mhoske(at)cfemedia.com.

www.controlsys.org

http://controleng.com/integration

Learn more about Allosso on LinkedIn and YouTube.

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/michael-allosso/1/523/9ab

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=michael+allosso&oq=michael+allosso&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_l=youtube.3...13296.18865.0.19538.15.15.0.3.3.0.155.1154.8j4.12.0. 

ONLINE extra, with more advice, specifically for engineers

CFE Media asked Michael Allosso, after his CSIA 2012 presentation, for three pieces of advice specifically for engineers. He replied:

1. Engineers sometimes have the excuse that they’re not people persons. That’s not true. You are creative and dynamic, but might not be reaching for the tools that allow you to connect with people more easily and effectively.

2.  Never believe that engineers are not creative and imaginative. Engineering is highly creative, and the structure you bring to your lives helps liberate creativity.

3. Find a position in engineering that rocks you and allows you to be infectious in your excitement. 



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