A leadership style grounded in caring: meet Kyle McConnell
Whether volunteering in the community, trouble-shooting problems, or supporting office initiatives, Kyle is the ultimate team player. Approaching every task or challenge with his calm and kind demeanor, he brings the same unwavering dedication to deliver his best work every day, for every project, and for every client.
Driven by a deep sense of commitment to the team and with a reputation for demonstrating excellence in everything he applies himself to, everyone who knows Kyle agrees his ACEC-New Brunswick Future Leader award was well deserved. As someone who welcomes new responsibility and seeks out more ambitious work assignments, he is willing to put in the work needed to ensure a successful outcome. We had the chance to catch-up with Kyle to talk more about how his passion for teamwork has informed his thoughtful approach to leadership.
Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q. What is an area of leadership that you are most passionate about?
I really enjoy the project management side of leadership and feel most comfortable when managing large-scale, multifaceted projects. I do my best work when I am part of a team working towards achieving a common goal. For me, leadership is not about people management, it’s about teamwork and how you help to foster a strong, safe, positive team environment. Trying to work out a problem and move it to a solution relies on listening, asking questions, trying different things, and sometimes it means failing. Ultimately, working together requires a deep sense of trust, understanding, and respect: trust that we will figure things out, understanding when things don’t go as planned, and respect for different ways of doing.
At the end of the day, I think it comes back to loving the work. The projects that we work on are interesting, they are never the same, and they make communities and cities better and more sustainable. At least that’s the hope! Often, it doesn’t feel like work for me.
Q. Who is a mentor that had the greatest impact on you?
There are many people who have supported me to take risks, or leaps of faith, and who have challenged me to be a better engineer and leader.
When I first started working at Englobe, I was part of Peter Allaby's team. At that time, he was the Team Lead for our 10-person team and today he is the Vice-President of Operations for Ontario and Atlantic Canada. He has advanced quickly in his career for good reason, he’s a fantastic leader. I am thankful to have had the chance to work with him, learn from him, and see his leadership style in action.
Others who come to mind are Geoff Flanagan, Scott Rogers, and Bruce Baird whose mentorship has been so meaningful. The biggest impact was how they treated me as a young professional and how they made me feel capable. They made time to teach me, answer my questions, and gave me the confidence to manage bigger, more complex projects. They were so immediate with their response, no matter how busy they were, they always replied promptly. I have committed myself to being that way, too.
If we boil it down to the basics, they taught me the value of respectful communication and how it builds trust. I trusted that if I went to see them, or emailed, or called they would be there for me when I needed them. You develop that trusting relationship and once established you are a formidable team that can accomplish anything. Trust is critical and goes both ways – they trusted that I had the ability to lead bigger projects and I trusted that they’d support me to be successful.
The fun part is that today I share a wall with Bruce, so we’re wall mates. Often instead of calling or emailing, I give a knock on the wall and pop-over to talk things out in person and nothing beats that comradery and teamwork.
Q. What do you do to improve yourself as a leader?
This is simple actually: I continue to surround myself with fantastic leaders. I am always learning, always listening, and always saying yes to challenges. I realize that there can be negative connotations to being a ‘yes person’ but for me it’s the best way to learn. I really try to get exposure to different types of leadership and projects and to do this, it usually means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Again, coming back to the wall-sharing office dynamic I have with Bruce, I knock on the wall, have a conversation, and always come away having learned something.
I would also highly recommend the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. This book had a huge impact on me and it would not be an understatement to say I think about parts of the book weekly. The one piece that has always resonated with me is the concept of the ‘emotional bank account’. I think about this so often. The idea here is that every time you interact with someone, whether a colleague, friend, family member, you either make a deposit or a withdrawal. Sometimes you take too much from a relationship and you can see the negative impacts. But, in contrast, if you make tremendous deposits to the people in your life, at work, at home and in the community, those people are fulfilled. I try to bring this concept into my work and personal relationships and know that it informs my leadership style.
Q. What currently motivates you?
That is a good question. I am motivated by the type of work we do, the types of projects, and I am motivated by my team. I am motivated to continue to grow in my career, and to continue developing the relationships I have with my colleagues so we can work on more challenging projects together. For me, the reputation that we are trying to build is really motivating: we want to be reliable, it is important for me to be reliable to my team and clients.
Q. What advice would you have for students interested in becoming an engineer? What about for young Kyle?
I think the advice I would give students is that an engineering degree is extremely valuable and that they should really consider this as part of their career path. With an engineering degree there are so many different career options after you complete your degree, and many do not include being a professional engineer. I was fortunate to have such a wonderful education experience with many mentors who supported me – many who still do. The basics of engineering is identifying a problem and finding a solution. This type of logic and training is transferrable to any profession and to life in general.
And, what I would say to young Kyle - you're not making the wrong decision. You are making a great decision. This is a really great way to build transferrable skills, both personally and professionally, and you’re going to love being a professional engineer. This is the right path for you.
Q. What is the final word you would like to leave on the topic of leadership?
Trust. Trust is where we started, and it is where I would like to end. You need to build trust with colleagues, trust with clients, and trust within yourself. It is hard to be a successful leader without trust.
Kyle’s Picks! As an outdoor enthusiast with a predilection for a ‘suffer-fest’, it’s probably not a surprise that Kyle spends his time outside of work trail running, road biking, hiking, etc. He doesn’t necessarily have a podcast or show to recommend as his pick, but rather he’d say pick-up a bike or your running shoes and head outside for an adventure.