An Interview with
Harold Pangilinan, PE
Mr. Pangilinan is a Mechanical Engineer by trade. He obtained his BS in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. His MS in Aerospace Engineering was conferred at the University of Texas at Austin. His current responsibilities include heavy duty compression ignition engine development and testing of displacements beyond 6 liters. These tests are dynamometer mounted tests. On occasions, responsibilities can include full vehicle testing in controlled environments. Mr. Pangilinan is employed by the Army Research and Development Command.
Question: As an experienced leader, what do you believe is the most important element of leadership?
PANGILINAN: What little I know of leadership can be summed in a single word:
The concept of integrity in an engineering operation drives many of the other leadership qualities that embodies the popular Army acronym. It reinforces personal courage in one’s engineering judgment when popular science meets the reality of the physics. It promotes honor and a sense of duty as your projects and assessments are challenged especially when engineering calls are wrong. Selfless service is always a byproduct of integrity. Compromises in ones integrity eventually leads to degradation of self respect and respect of others.
Question: How is the structure and management of teams similar to that in the Army?
PANGILINAN: Industry teams and Army teams have vast differences in their structure and distribution of responsibilities. Industry teams and Army team rarely have similar goals. The underlying force that causes dissimilarity is funding. All teams run on funding. The availability of that funding drives how teams execute their missions. The teams in US Army in particular have the ability to request funding on a yearly basis. The liability to execute a Army team’s mission is far more important than extracting the best value which involves compromise. Industry teams are faced with these compromises everyday. Engineers on industry teams are always forced to balance performance, durability, and cost. Engineers on Army teams have a different mindset, performance and sometimes durability are their priorities.
However, Army teams tend to have missions that are long term and can last for several years sometimes decades. Whereas, industry teams are usually disbanded at the completion of the program or project. Disbanded teams then form new teams thus allowing team members to garner different experiences.
Question: What are your experiences with “Shared Leadership” (FM6-22, 3-58) and the keys to its success?
PANGILINAN: Success is never a word used in this concept, at least initially. Success invariably comes at a slower pace. On long term engineering projects, success ebbs and flows when one party leaves the project and the sharing process begins again. Shared leadership is easily executed when areas of responsibilities are simply laid out in advance and prior conflict of interests are nullified. When not addressed in advance, at the working level, this concept turns into a “two horse wagon” concept. A two horse wagon never goes in a straight line. One horse will always pull harder than the other, sometimes in reverse. As an engineer, the solution to this is to take on the responsibilities that are not claimed or performed. Eventually, as more of the responsibility becomes yours, success will come a little easier. Remember the second horse is still tied to the wagon, so it is far easier for the second horse to match speed in the same direction than drag the wagon.
Question: What approach do you suggest that a new engineer take as he or she starts a new job in relationship to the concept of serving as a responsible subordinate, or good “followership”?
PANGILINAN: First make friends with the janitor and the admin person. They know how things get done and who gets it done. Most importantly, learn from your coworkers. The most productive ones are always eager to truly help and answer questions. Most large engineering organizations will have some level of “lab/shop” where testing, fabrication, or production either contracted or hired in-house. A new engineer should never pass up an opportunity to work in or work with these areas. You will look like a fish out of water, even more so if you are a clumsy. Get over it, because the level of understanding of the physics behind the product you support, test, fabricate, or produce, can never be duplicated within the walls of your cubicle. It will add volumes to your competency and years to your experience “portfolio” in a few short months.
New engineers should always take the initiative to learn the function and responsibility of their organization in detail. Try to be acquainted with projects your coworkers are involved in, but do not interfere.
If there are projects you are interested in, ask to be involved. If possible, it is better to add to your workload with projects that interest you, rather than wait for one to be assigned when you are not busy. An interesting heavy workload is far more easier to do than a boring light workload. Acquiring and accomplishing difficult jobs early, sweeps away any reservations your supervisor or coworkers may have.
As an engineer in today’s team-like organizations you will encounter far more non-engineer people in the engineering decision process. Hence, it is more likely a new engineer will not have very many opportunities to be mentored before taking on large responsibilities. It is imperative that a new engineer take the technical learning initiative upon him/herself. Any anybody can tell you on a powerpoint chart that a $1000 X transmission is better than a $1500 XP transmission. But only well a prepared engineer armed with a calculator and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, will be able to say to the same chart-jockey at the same meeting that X transmission requires a $1000 cooling system when installed in a vehicle to have the same performance as an installed XP transmission.
Question: What advice can you offer to a new engineer in dealing with “leadership without authority” when faced with having to take “initiative to alert superiors of a potential problem or predict consequences if the organization remains on its current course?”
PANGILINAN: Remember the term integrity. You will be questioned on your judgments and will encounter resistance. These types of dilemmas arise with underlying reasons in an engineering program. It is never a choice when engineering problems arise, you must act. It may lead to safety issues or compromise the overall health of the organization. It will always be your responsibility to justify your decisions, so it is imperative that your actions be supported by your own justifications either by calculation or by supported facts for your own origin.
Question: Character development is an important part of an Army career as “becoming a person of character and a leader of character is a career-long process involving day-to-day experience, education, self-development, developmental counseling, coaching and mentoring.” (FM 6-22, 4-55) In your experience, how does industry mirror this career process?
PANGILINAN: This process is always true until one retires. This process is really a “life long learning experience” for an engineer. An engineer always learns in many ways. An engineer is paid to solve problems. More often than not, those problems are always changing. If your organization’s problems never change then they don’t need an engineer. Learning throughout your career is your first and most effective weapon in solving these different problems. School only provides the basic tools and a procedure for learning but it is your learned experiences that will bring wealth to an engineer.
Question: What are your methods for motivating and inspiring those with whom you work and lead in industry?
PANGILINAN: Cash sometimes works in the short term. The best method is – by example. Engineers are usually a hard crowd to inspire. As true with many types of human organizations, long term motivation and inspiration cannot be brought by beautiful powerpoint charts and aggressive nagging. Technically adept engineers are motivated and inspired in the long term by the confidence and competence of their own peer engineers or leaders who achieve goals and receive the respect of other colleagues and equals inside and outside the organization for their work.
Question: How do these compare to Army methods?
PANGILINAN: Very dissimilar, motivation and inspiration are expected to come from within a unit or team. Motivation also comes from peers and leaders. But, rarely does inspiration originate from outside the organization that does not include antagonistic reasons.
Question: The Army has a body of knowledge in CALL in which they document mistakes as “lessons learned”. How important is this in industry and can you provide examples of how this is done?
PANGILINAN: In engineering, documentation systems of problem/solution “vignettes” like CALL is a pathway to mediocrity. Reports, academic papers and texts are the primary documentation methods for engineers. These technical engineering documents rarely cite specific solutions instead they convey results, trends and more questions. There is some value in documentation, but problem vignette collections like CALL usually cause an engineer to start down a path of least resistance – a despicable human trait. To introduce a different solution or a variation thereof to a documented problem will always be met with resistance and doubt from leadership and as well peers, thus subjugating budding ideas in fear of this resistance. There is some value in documentation of problems and the solutions used in order to prevent repetition of mistakes. However, it is easy to place too much value on the solutions presented. Again, if your problems and their solutions never change, why hire an engineer?