Lunch @ Edgbaston

The holidays are over, a new year has begun and with that comes a variety of new resolutions and aspirations. For me though this year stands as the clear point in transition from an undergraduate with a generally very laid back lifestyle into a professional aspiring to build a successful career in the built infrastructure industry as a civil engineer. Should the applications and assessments I am currently in the process of completely pay dividends, I will be starting on a less clearly defined path, where choice plays an even more significant role and the layers of safety nets put in place since birth get thinner.

Academic capability or technical expertise inadvertedly at this level is a given to a large extent and where it isn’t, there are clearly defined pathways or research methods which help in gaining the necessary knowledge. For me then my discussions with my mentor have focussed on the importance of the soft skills which are needed in hand with technical capability to ensure success. Over lunch, we focussed on building effective working relationships and the skills and competencies needed in this pursuit. We talked about empathy with clients. Yes there may be four or five products offered which meet the client’s specification but listening to the client and trying to understand what their end goals are(both short and long term) significantly impacts on the final sense of satisfaction both you the service provider and the client take away from the business transaction. Highlighted though was the fact that at the very top level, the difference between organisations can be extremely marginal and, thus, the key impact of personality and a character which is consistent. Into this ties in the importance of long term relationships where you look to build a sense of respect and trust with clients. This can sometimes mean you tell them a competitor offers a better product for the service offered but I guess the lesson here really lies in building effective working relationships through consistently providing services simply based on connecting what you have to offer with that which is desired by the client.

It was also interesting to explore the concept of leadership and managing others, leveraging their relative abilities set against the different tasks which need to be completed to ensure success and the team dynamics as one progresses through an organisation. Plucking an individual out of a team of 10 and making him/her responsible for the final product delivered by the team inadvertedly creates challenges. Trust and respect between you and your bosses for believing you are capable of the new role, trust and respect between you and your colleagues at the new level and trust and respect between you and those who used to be on a level playing field but now report to you are key factors which will determine success or failure. That to a large extent determines whether you stay on with the firm or go on to do something else and coupled with that is also an element of self-knowledge and an understanding of the priorities which an individual sets for him/herself because some compromises will have to be made and you will have to judge whether you can live with them.

My mentor has so far been a great sounding board and it has been good to explore different concepts and ideas with respect to the working world but it is interesting to note that the basic principles which underline our conversations – trust, respect, adaptability, the importance of personality, a sense of identity, prioritisation, having fun – for me are the basic principles have been promoted since birth.

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