Econtalk, my all-time favorite podcast, had an episode in July with guest Ryan Holiday that talked about the need for humility and a recognition that others contribute a great deal to what we are able to accomplish.
After I heard that podcast I resolved to regularly think about and recognize how others have helped me be successful as a land surveyor (which is how I provide materially for my family). I hoped this would be a concrete effort on my part to cultivate a little more humility, which is a quality I could certainly practice more. In my last post on this topic, I recognized my dad Randy Blake for the training he gave me. In this post, I'd like to thank and recognize my friend and land surveying mentor Brent Boitano.
I started working with Brent as a rodman on a 2 man survey field crew right out of college. I was eager to learn and wanted to work hard, but I didn't have a clue about how to do my job. Brent was an outstanding survey party chief. He was also a hard worker and had high expectations for me. His high expectations were tempered with a willingness to teach me. Everything I have learned about being a good field surveyor, I learned from Brent Boitano. This includes the simplest things, like how to paint and flag stakes, to the complicated, like how to select the best control layout and survey method to execute a field survey. Brent also taught me how to search for property corner monuments, a skill that is easily underestimated by people outside of the land surveying profession. As a property corner monument hound, Brent Boitano is second to none. He was always willing to dig that hole in 105-degree summer heat to find the monument they needed back in the office.
My CAD skills and comfort with a computer meant I had less time as Brent's rodman than I should have. I was quickly moved into the office, or running a field crew of my own. I wish I could have benefited from more time as his rodman.
Almost a decade later, Brent and I had the chance to work together again. He joined my team as my field crew coordinator at O'Dell Engineering. It was a tremendous pleasure it was to have an old friend at my side once again. I'll never forget that.
Brent has always put my interests ahead of his own. He has also always offered honest advice. I've seen him willing to risk his own life to save mine in dangerous situations. I'll be eternally grateful that I had Brent as my first party chief. Many surveyors don't get that type of privilege on their first gig painting stakes, charging batteries, and pounding wooden hubs.
If you are a party chief today, follow Brent's example. Work hard. Set high expectations. Patiently teach. Put the welfare of your coworkers ahead of your own. Most importantly: Be a good friend. Your rodman will never forget that, no matter where he ends up in life or career.
I recently took on the role as chairperson of the ACEC California Land Use Committee. I'm looking for a volunteer intern that can help me run the committee. The intern would assist with the following tasks:
This would be a great position for a land use planning, land surveying, or geography student that wanted a bit of practical experience with public policy and research. If you are interested in volunteering, please send a resume and short cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
A few days ago I attended the February meeting of the Western Region Height Modernization Group. Here are some highlights from the meeting:
I hope you enjoy the links. I'll post more information and links from the Western Region Height Modernization Group as appropriate.
The September/October 2015 Issue of ACEC's Engineering Magazine has an article entitled "Successful Firm Growth Starts With Cultivating Leadership". (The article was written by Douglas Reed.) The article offered what I thought were some key insights into securing the future growth of an engineering company, and what makes growing and engineering company different from growing a business like a manufacturer. Here are a couple of quotes from the article I wanted to share:
"When looking to expand their operations, many firms immediately seek out acquisitions...An acquisition is risky since a firm is essentially purchasing intellectual capital, as opposed to a manufacturing plant. Since these are people, not machines, many acquisitions fail or under perform because firms are not ready for the people adaption needed."
I've personally seen the truth of this quote demonstrated over and over again. I'll watch one of my large competitors gobble up one of my smaller competitors. After the merger, I see the top talent at the acquired company leave because of a clash in company cultures or a failure on the part of the purchasing firm to really take care of their new employees. The purchasing company is left with some desktop computers and a storeroom of old project files that are cataloged or indexed. Everyone loses in this scenario.
Because acquisitions are so tricky in the engineering industry, organic growth becomes even more important. The article continues with this important concept:
"The key to a firm's successful growth starts with growing its leadership...This can be particularly challenging in an engineering environment. Leaders typically began their careers as engineers and worked their way up the corporate ladder. While many go to business school to learn to be more effective leaders, the vast majority learn as they go, imitating their superiors, who themselves are often not students of business science. This approach is limiting and doesn't necessarily foster excellence. It requires leaders to have natural leadership skills rather than providing an ongoing opportunity to develop them...Too many firms struggle because, while their leaders are excellent engineers, they have a difficult time handling balance sheets, developing market strategies, or mentoring the next generation of leaders."
This quote almost brings me to tears. Finally another individual recognizes the painful truth about many surveyors and engineers that own (or like me: help to run) surveying or engineering companies. We may be people with great technical skills, but our people skills and business skills often stink. This is another pattern I've seen over and over again during my career. I can't tell you how many times I've watched a good employees walk out the door of a company led by a civil engineer or surveyor who doesn't know how to lead or motivate their team. Once again, everyone in this situation suffers. The company, the company's clients, and the employee.
I'm trying not to make this same mistake myself. I've been reading (and listening) to everything I can about business strategy, business management, and the leadership of talented professionals. I can't even begin to tell you how much I've learned in the last 3 or 4 years that has helped me be a better manager and land surveyor. I want to talk more about this topic in the future, and in the next few days I'll try to post a list of free online learning resources that have helped me be a better businessman.