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How's your emotional IQ?

Now more than ever, engineers need the emotional intelligence to communicate ideas and lead teams. There’s a class for that.

When Joe Mayer, PhD, started in engineering 40 years ago, engineers were widely seen as technical experts best left on their own. They worked in offices behind closed doors. Anyone needing a question answered would, essentially, slide it under the door and wait for a response.

Those solitary work days are gone.

“As time went by and our business environment got so competitive, businesses have had to rely on the ingenuity of more than one person,” says Mayer, a leadership coach and the founder and managing partner of the Mayer Business Group. “One person cannot have all the answers.”

So companies have come to depend more on teams and teamwork. Engineers who can lead a team, says Mayer, are engineers who can lead a company.

Mayer, a mechanical engineer, believes that so fervently that he designed a class to teach key leadership skills to scientists and engineers. Tops among those skills is “emotional intelligence” — generally defined as the ability to show empathy and communicate effectively.

“Leadership and Interpersonal Skills,” EPOM 400, will be offered again this fall through the online Master of Engineering and online Master of Science in Engineering programs at the Case School of Engineering.

The aim of the course, says Mayer, is to develop leaders who motivate and inspire others to work as a team toward shared goals. His focus on emotions and personality faces some resistance in a field known for its introverted practitioners, he said. He understands.

“Scientists, including engineers, are not known for being the most outgoing people,” said Mayer, who earned his doctorate in engineering at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. “And introverts are normally very, very measured in how we engage in communication. We need our facts. We have to think through issues before we give our opinion. So communication, the importance of communication, the way we approach and form networks and trust within them, are really key issues for scientists.”

In prioritizing communication skills, Mayer takes his students on a journey into their own personalities. People who are unaware of their own feelings, or who cannot manage them, are unpredictable and make poor leaders. And those who lack a good grasp of their own emotions often fail to recognize the feelings of others.

“If we are authentic leaders, we have to be authentic in a style that will really attract our followers,” said Mayer. “And we can only do that by having a lot of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is part of leadership. It’s part of communication.”

The good news, he’s quick to add, is that emotional intelligence can be taught. Not unlike other job skills, “We can practice and become better at it,” he said.

The first part of the class has students examine the different components of their personalities and leadership styles. The second part centers on their aspirations:

• How do they want their leadership style to be seen by others?

• What do they want to achieve?

• What are their values?

• How can they utilize those values to get to their ideal picture of themselves?

Mayer, an adjunct professor in the Weatherhead School of Management, developed the course several years ago and continues to refine it. Last year he introduced a peer coaching component, where students are challenged to help others look through their plans, question where they stand and develop better learning plans.

His favorite part of the class is the final paper — a cumulative summary that tracks students’ aspirations, personal assessments and plans for how they’ll move forward. He appreciates the growth that it shows.

“Each of us can be a great leader if we really are conscientious about who we want to be and how we want to lead,” he said.

To learn more about the professional training offered in the online Master of Engineering programs or online Master of Science in Engineering programs at Case School of Engineering, click HERE.

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