#MyGrowth: “None of us are as smart as all of us.”

“None of us are as smart as all of us.”  

By: Darwin Newton, Head of Operations, Electrical Services, Smart Infrastructure   

Back in 2000, when I was a controls software engineer, I was involved in one of the most difficult yet gratifying challenges I’ve faced in my 20 years with Siemens. The company had acquired most of Westinghouse in 1998, but we didn’t acquire the Westinghouse controls division or technology. When my control automation team was tasked with running Westinghouse turbines on a Siemens control platform, we faced the extreme task of creating code based on just the process diagrams and then applying the new software using manuals we were translating from German to English. 


Undaunted, my team built a complete simulation model on the shop floor in the Alpharetta, Ga. factory. We simulated start up, cool down, and multiple failure modes until we were finally able to go on site and apply everything we had to the hardware and go commercial. We overcame language barriers, different nationalities, and time zones and brought all the inputs together in a testimony to teamwork and diversity. 


Seeing my team help accomplish that made me realize that when we use all our Siemens resources correctly there is no challenge we can’t face and overcome. I also learned firsthand  the reality of the famous quote by Ken Blanchard and something one of my mentors, Michael Gruenwald,  Order Manager in the Industrial Services Division is fond of saying: “None of us are as smart as all of us.”


I began my career at a utility company in the Virgin Islands, where I’m from originally.  My family has been there for generations, from back when the islands were known as the Danish West Indies.  At the utility I worked alongside several Siemens field representatives on substation and plant projects, and then went to work for Siemens in the U.S. in 2000. 

When we use all our Siemens resources correctly, there is no challenge we can’t face and overcome.

In those early years, I benefitted greatly from a number of mentors. I learned to be a leader from Jeffery Miller, who is now General Manager of Service Controls & Digitalization at Siemens Energy. He took me under his wing when I was very new to the country, very green in many ways, and led by an example that I’ve relied on throughout my career: a democratic approach to leadership.


That approach starts with knowing that none of us have all the data points—again, none of us are as smart as all of us. So, the effective leader must create very clear dialogue with everyone on the team, or on a project, and then take ownership of every decision and get everyone on board with those decisions. The leader must make sure that everyone understands the end goal and what is necessary to achieve that goal: This is the plan, this is the path, and here’s everyone’s role; let me know what you need to be successful so you can implement your part of the strategy. 


With this approach, I have been relatively successful here at Siemens. I’ve always been in a Service role, and Service is really a people business because we don’t make any products. The quality of the deliverable is really the customer experience, and that relies entirely on people and relationships. As a leader, I must build relationships with technicians, field engineers, supervisors, project and operations managers, and customers so people know immediately who I am and what I believe. In this way, the people in these service relationships are vested in the mutual success and well-being of the customers, the employees and the company so we can find the path where we grow together.


That well-being and growth rely on six crucial elements about me as leader: transparency, accessibility, authenticity, integrity, accountability, and consideration. Being transparent with my colleagues, partners, customers, and superiors means that they know what I know, and that my day-to-day messages are consistent, so that my intentions are always clear. 


Accessibility means encouraging employees and customers to give feedback about what they are experiencing and know that they can do so without reservation. I’m not the guy at the customer’s site anymore—commissioning engineers, techs, and specialists are, and I want those personnel to know that they can and should approach me, because I want to hear if our strategy is working or not where the rubber meets the road.


Being my authentic self means that at work and in my relationships, every day, I make clear who I am, what I stand for and what goals I seek to achieve. That authenticity hinges on being consistent. 


Next, integrity is a core value that forms the bedrock of relationships. It means that a person can be trusted to do the right thing despite difficult conditions, whatever those conditions might be. People must be able to put their trust in you and not be left wondering if you’ll come through for them.


Partnered to integrity is accountability. No one is perfect, and when you make a miscue or an error it’s important to the team for you as leader to take responsibility for something and take steps to correct it, especially with customers when there’s a gap between expectations and the deliverables. 


Lastly, leadership must have consideration. Relationships are a two-way street. If the team must accept graciously an error I made then I must have some consideration and grace for them. As we develop a culture where we encourage people to take more risks, naturally there will be more mistakes, too. So it’s important that people know that they won’t be punished for taking risks for the right reasons.


Ultimately, I strive to be a mentor-leader—I want to align people with their purpose and empower them to achieve their potential. A lot of people did that for me along the way, including Jeffrey Miller back in Energy, Peter Busch, General Manager of Industrial Services in Siemens Energy & Automation, and Kevin Osburn, who recently retired from Building Technologies SSP. They were and continue to be my mentor-leaders.


As hard hit as we’ve been by the pandemic, I haven’t had to change my leadership approach much, because in Electrical Services we’re already set-up to address natural disasters. We’ve faced Katrina, Ike, and other hurricanes.  We’re always ready to go because we’re dynamic, flexible, and adaptive. We’ve long had protocols in place to deal with the many hazards that we face in the field.  Confined space training, hazardous materials, personal protective equipment are standard requirements in Electrical Services. We simply added the COVID-19 protocols to that and moved on.  


This is testimony to the dedication our field representatives have to our customers and the company.  Bottom line: there is a crisis somewhere every day in Service and that is central to our mindset. Our service techs, coordinators, managers, and I—we’re all sleeping next to our phones because they can go off at any minute. That’s life in Service.


Published: January 15, 2021

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