Leadership lessons from IEEE ILC (International Leadership Conference)

I was fortunate and grateful to attend the 2021 IEEE WIE (Women in Engineering) Leadership Conference. It is an astonishing experience for me as a professional coming from a technical background. It provides an incredible opportunity of connecting with peers and learning from technology leaders about their vision and insights on leadership. I feel empowered and inspired after this 4-day program, and would like to share the lessons I learned to facilitate more people.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

2021 IEEE WIE ILC has over 120 talks given by executives, career coaches, and researchers. Here are the three most important keywords I learned, which were mentioned and emphasized in many talks.

  1. Curiosity

Curiosity is vital for research and innovation. It is the power that fuels scientific breakthroughs and technological advancement. In fact, the evolution of human history is facilitated by curiosity. Meanwhile, it is important for career development and growth. You need to be curious about a task or role in order to do it well and excel. A growth mindset motivates people to consistently learn and improve, who in the end achieves more. Curiosity is also essential to build connections with people. Communication is a two-way street. Most of our work requires interacting and collaborating with other people. If we stick to our own opinions or assumptions, it is possible no alignment could be made and work progress will be affected. However, curiosity lets people keep open-minded and use questions to facilitate more efficient communication as well as higher productivity.

Photo by Joseph Rosales on Unsplash

2. Empathy

Empathy is a magic power that can be useful in various scenarios. The key to empathy is to put oneself in other’s shoes and create common ground to facilitate efficient communication. Imagine you need to present to an executive and you get nervous (very common) and prepare a lot of technical details which the executive could not understand. If we apply empathy here, we imagine ourselves as peers of the exective and think about the most important questions the executive may be interested in then we may have a better strategy for how to prepare for the meeting. Another example to apply empathy is when you have to collaborate with a colleague you don’t agree with. In this case, break the ice by thinking about what you have in common, try to understand what affects the colleague’s decision, then search for an alternative solution.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

3. Influence

Good leaders don’t give orders but influence their followers to lead. My mentor once told me “leadership is taken, not given”. Having a management or lead role does not necessarily mean having influence or impact. Then how we can influence other people effectively? First of all, you must understand them in order to influence. Listening and knowing what other people are interested or thinking create a bridge to communicate. You can only influence another after he/she opens up, and that requires trust. Then think about what we can do to achieve win-wins where everyone comes out feeling like a winner. If you want to influence a peer, think about how this task could improve his/her performance or development. If you want to influence a supervisor, work on how this ask could improve the team’s performance or productivity. And, always remember to give recognitions.

Photo by Tudor Baciu on Unsplash

A final thankful note to the women in engineering and technology community. As a female scientist working in engineering field, I deeply understand the challenges and obstacles a girl has to overcome to chase her dream. “Don’t doubt. Dare” is the title of the keynote given by Former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison and I want to pass that to all the readers, especially women. I hope every one of you has the opportunity, courage, and strength to unlock your potential and fulfill your dream.

ML scientist