• Leadership
April 17, 2016

13 Leadership Lessons From Famous Engineers

If you’re a leader who’s dangerously close to burnout, it’s time to get inspired. Being a leader is hard work, but it’s even harder when you feel unmotivated. Let’s change that.

Because many of my clients are engineers, I’ve compiled a list of useful advice from fellow engineers who know what it takes to lead. But, you don’t have to be an engineer to glean valuable insights from these leaders. I’ve also included powerful takeaways to help you turn their thoughtful wisdom into actionable advice that’s applicable to any industry. Let’s go!

Would you like a printable list of leadership quotes to hang on your office wall? Check this out!

Don’t place blame.

Don’t find fault, find a remedy.
Henry Ford

Takeaway: As a leader, it’s your job to find a solution that works for your team. Assigning blame is often a waste of time. It can turn into an endless pursuit of who did and didn’t do what. It can also damage the morale of your team.

What matters most is identifying where you went wrong and creating a solution to get back in line. If you need to counsel privately, use it as an opportunity to instruct, not to berate.

Embrace innovation.

Our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation.
Satya Nadella

Takeaway: As an engineer, a big part of your job is find new and fresh ways to tackle problems. That should extend beyond product development and into team dynamics, too. Use your engineering mindset to adopt new ideas for pushing your team forward.

Don’t be afraid to change.


If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.
Charles Kettering

Takeaway: Piggybacking off of that last point, you know, better than anybody, that just because it’s always been doesn’t mean it should always be. Some of the ideas I share with you on this blog and during our coaching sessions may not be familiar, but that’s precisely why it works.

You’ve got to push past what a lot of people accept as fact to create a stronger product and team.

Challenge the status quo.

To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

Takeaway: Search for opportunities to reduce redundancy in your team. If a certain communication scheme isn’t working well, don’t be afraid to switch it up and do something totally different. It may not work for every team, but if it works for you, it doesn’t matter.

Be a problem solver.

As an engineer, I’m constantly spotting problems and plotting how to solve them.
James Dyson

Takeaway: Keep your eyes open for potential problems, especially during the project planning process. Plan for all contingencies.

Wake up every morning with this thought:

I wake up every morning and think to myself, ‘How far can I push the company forward in the next 24 hours.’
Leah Busque

Takeaway: Always start off your day with hope. The best way to do this is with an enthusiastic mindset. What happened yesterday is over, but today’s a new day and it brings with it new opportunities to do better and be better.

Practice the behavior you want others to follow.

As a leader, it’s a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behavior you want others to follow.
Himanshu Bhatia

Takeaway: Never be harder on your team than you are on yourself. If you want team members to come in on time and give it 100%, you’ve got to do the same yourself. In fact, you need to be the first one to arrive. You must model the behavior you expect from others, or else it’s not authentic leadership.

Here’s the secret to tackling emergencies:

To be a good professional engineer, always start to study late for exams. Because it teaches you how to manage time and tackle emergencies.
Bill Gates

Takeaway: Although Gates’ advice was probably shared tongue in cheek, there’s a nugget of wisdom there. A leader must be adept at time management and graceful under pressure.

Lack of time and an endless stream of emergencies are constant companions for any leader. Smart leaders plan ahead for emergencies (although you won’t be able to predict all).

They also understand that not every emergency is an emergency. Some things can wait until Monday morning. Understanding what to do immediately and what can wait will help with your sanity, and prevent a potential burnout.

Would you like a printable list, so you can read these quotes anytime you wish? Here you go!



The most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing.
Donald P. Coduto

Takeaway: Start every project understanding your main objective (there’s always only one), and then create a plan than gets that objective accomplished. Stepping away from project management, you can also prioritize goals for your team, but don’t focus on too many tasks at once. Accomplish one goal before moving on to the next.

Go out of your way to motivate.

Management is nothing more than motivating other people.
Lee Iacocca

Takeaway: Always remember to motivate your team members. A leader is one who inspires others to be the best version of themselves.


Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.
Alexander Graham Bell

Takeaway: Approach all things (project management, team management, passion projects) with a game plan. Set up S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Be a connector.


The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Takeaway: When your team members approach you with problems, connect them to the answer. This often means surveying your team to find the perfect team member who can assist them.

Create a feedback loop.

I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.
Elon Musk

Takeaway: Last, but not least, question yourself to see if there’s any way you can improve your leadership skills.

Don’t just do this with your job, but take an internal audit also. Is your work-life in proper balance? Do you need to pay more attention to your diet or exercise regimen? Are you neglecting your hobbies, family, or friends?

If you’re struggling in that area, be sure to subscribe to my blog, where I share weekly tips to help you overcome burnout and develop a healthy balance.

Over to You

There you have it, 13 lessons from some of the all time greatest engineers. A little inspiration is always necessary to add some fuel to your creative fire and problem solving abilities. What’s your favorite lesson on leadership? Share it the comments below.


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Teresa Wallace
President, Agility Leadership Coaching
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