Building Leaders in Your Firm

The future leaders in your firm are cultivated in numerous ways — and one important resource is leadership training through ACEC/MA professional development programs.  As chair of the Leadership Education Committee, I am pleased to announce that we offer courses at five levels,  from just getting started through to senior principal.  Details and registration are available or by contacting Elizabeth at

Genesis:  for those with 3-5 years experience.  Understand the business-side of the workings of a firm.  Three classes in May 2013.

Emerging Leaders:  for those with 8-15 years experience.  Moving from management into leadership.
Seven weekly classes beginnng March 5, 2013.

Odyssey:  for those who are in leadership positions and want to refine their soft skills.  One class per month for 9 months.  The 2012-13 course is currently underway.

Everest:  for senior principals who want a forum for sharing ideas and issues to improve their firms.  Roundtable forum and dinner, held twice yearly.  Next is April 4, 2013.

Effective Writing:  for every level of engineer who wants to strengthen writing skills.  One half-day class held in fall and spring in Boston area and Western Mass.  Next is March 6 in Western Mass. and April in greater Boston.

ACEC/Massachusetts is taking the lead in building tomorrow’s leaders.  I am glad to be part of this effort!

Great Teams Can Implode. Are there prevention measures?

You may be working with a great team – the project is moving along, the firm is hanging on in this economy, the staff has good rapport, stakeholder relations are positive – so what could go wrong?

Even the most positive and productive teams can run into roadblocks that can disrupt performance and attitudes.  Sometimes these negatives can actually dismantle progress and cause the entire effort or the entire group to collapse into non-productive mode.

What do teams need to stay strong and move ahead?  Here are top tips:

  1.  Team culture requires a common vocabulary.

Make sure everyone is on the same page by establishing common understandings for terminology, expectations, and the decision-making process.  If certain words are often used, if individual members rotate on and off the team over time, if particular processes or approaches are part of the team culture but not everyone knows what they are, the team cohesiveness can actually break down.

It is helpful to start selected meetings with a review of certain terms and procedures, to prepare an inhouse glossary or even conduct a periodic mini-training seminar to prevent misunderstandings and clue-in all team members with the objective to strengthen commitment to the team goals through communication.

  1. Adjust definition of team success.

Success for a team is NOT just about getting tasks accomplished.  Winning teams need three components:  tasks, process, and relationships.  The tasks are the jobs, the “what” we do.  But, there are many ways to get the job done. Winning teams see a bigger picture that includes not only tasks, but alsoprocess; process is how we do it.

The team bonds and strengthens by engaging in discussion about options and approaches to best accomplish the task.  The activity of soliciting and evaluating information and ideas can unify the group and encourage buy-in for the agreed-upon solution.

Beyond tasks and process, teams must focus on relationships.  The formal and informal connections between team members affect how willingly and earnestly each person contributes to achieving the goals of the project, firm, meeting.  If team members are uncomfortable with the group, feel “left out”, or simply show up at meetings because they are required to do so, the entire team is affected.  Focus on building quality relationships among team members so each participant is motivated to contribute to the process and follow-through on tasks.

  1. When failure arrives, get back on track.

Failure?  Don’t punish, don’t reprimand, and don’t panic.  Two tactics become important to resurrect a team that experiences failure, defeat, or insurmountable obstacles.  The first is the hope tactic.   Whether your position is team leader or member, you can take the initiative to infuse the entire team with positive attitude.  Familiar, even cliché phrases are important when delivered with energized voice and motivational spirit:  “We can do this.”  “Let’s just concentrate and work even harder.” “We are success driven – we will succeed!”  “We’ll get through this and then we’ll be in good shape.”

Is hope enough?

No!  Hope must be coupled with tactic #2:  an action plan.  Channel energy into a practical, realistic, step-by-step plan for improvement, mapping out specific tasks, focusing on cementing the team’s quality relationships,and establishing do-able timeframes.  Create short-distance milestones that focus on “graspable” achievements – keep up morale and move the team in a new, highly focused, repaired direction.

Start with these three tips to keep your team from imploding.  Prevention is worth the effort!


Stage Fright: Joanne’s Frequently Asked Questions

What tips seem to work most often?

Stage fright happens at three different times.

  1. In advance, when you are preparing your presentation:
  2. Procrastination is a form of stage fright, just in advance.  Procrastination not only does not get the presentation written, it also does not get rid of stage fright.  Just sit down and get the content written and move on to what you need to do next to get the presentation done.
  1. It is HOW you put together the presentation that helps eliminate stage fright both in advance and later while you are presenting.  If you have control over your content, you will not feel as nervous or worry about forgetting.
  2. Use a format or outline that you feel confident about
  3. Select visuals that both capture the interest of the audience as well as remind you of what you need to say


  1. On the day of, while you are waiting for your turn to speak:
  2. Practice the opening 1-3 sentences in your mind so you know you can get up and start speaking with confidence.
  1. Hold your body with good posture and strong body language.  Look confident, even before you get up to speak.
  1. Take notes on what the preceding speaker or introducer is saying.  Just the act of writing helps you use your nervous energy.


  1. Approach the speaking spot (podium or front of room or whatever) with strong, confident strides.  Stand and walk tall.
  1. While you are speaking:
  2. Notice when stage fright hits you.  Tell yourself you are in control.
  1. Do not tell the audience you are nervous.  That might make you feel better, but it makes the audience aware that you are nervous and makes them feel sorry for you.
  1. Use strong, dynamic hand and arm gestures while you speak.  This uses your nervous energy and keeps your body from the jitters.  Tense your arm and hand muscles.


  1. If you lose your place, just finish the sentence quickly, skip over that part you can’t remember, and get to the next part you feel confident about or remember.



What are the main symptoms of stage fright?

Stage fright presents itself differently in different people.  It ranges from invisible where the audience cannot tell if someone is nervous, to complete collapse by the speaker where the audience feels sorry for the speaker and they all wish it were over and done with!

The most common symptoms of stage fright are:

blanking out and forgetting what you are going to say, sweaty hands, coughing while you are speaking, shaking hands and shaking knees, feeling like you are going to faint, laughing while you are speaking, stuttering or stumbling over words,  reading your notes when you really know what you are talking about, halting or slow voice, not being able to see the audience even though you are looking straight at them, not looking at the audience at all, holding onto the podium with tight fists for “dear life”, walking or pacing too much while you are talking, talking too fast, talking too slowly, not being able to sleep or eat the day of or the day before, sleeping or eating too much the same day or day before, generally having the jitters or a nervous feeling all day and during the speech, avoiding writing and preparing the presentation, procrastinating the preparing or rehearsing, rehearsing too much or rehearsing too little, . . .

As you can see, there are so many symptoms – and each person can have several of these simultaneously or can always have the same one symptom each time.

What main advice would you give to somebody who suffers from stage fright?

You CAN manage your stage fright.  You will never quite rid yourself of it completely – and that is good.  If you get nervous, that means you really care about how well you do – if you do not care, you will not be nervous – and you will not deliver a great presentation!  So don’t let it ruin your day, use the energy to propel you to greatness!