Mike Manning, a Northeastern professor, served in the Iraq war zone in 2005. Later came a dangerous posting to Afghanistan—bookended with a mission in Kosovo, another theater of conflict early in his career.
In his previous life as a US Army colonel, Manning developed a range of leadership skills under pressure. Since 2020, when he became professor of engineering leadership, Manning has been applying those lessons to help graduate students explore and discover their potential.
Manning is a professor at the Gordon Institute of Engineering Leadership, a one-year program that annually trains 45 Northeastern students in team-building and leadership skills. Applying his experiences in a new way, Manning—known among his students as “Colonel Mike”—is endorsing the vision of Bernard M. Gordon, a Navy veteran and tech entrepreneur who, in 2007, The institute was created to identify and train the next. Generation of engineering pioneers and leaders.
“Bernie Gordon sees the Army as the premier leadership learning organization in the country,” says Steve McGonagall, a retired Army colonel who recommended Manning as his replacement when he retired from the Gordon Institute two years ago.
After leaving the Navy and earning an electrical engineering degree through the GI Bill, Gordon is known as the father of high-speed analog-to-digital conversion, leading teams that built a variety of high-tech equipment. Design and make. Gordon, who is 95, started three companies along the way, which convinced him to start institutes and programs at several universities, including at Northeastern.
“They found they were recruiting engineers who lacked some key skills to invent, innovate and most importantly implement,” says Simon Pitts, director of the institute. “So they’ve put a lot of money into fixing the problem, along with Northeastern and other institutions.”
One of the institute’s goals is to help broaden the perspectives of engineers and technical experts by taking into account the views of colleagues representing diverse disciplines as well as customer needs. Students are placed in groups so that each is focused on supporting their half dozen peers.
“Our premise is that leadership is a skill that can be taught,” says Steven Klosterman, a professor of engineering leadership who helped design the institute’s curriculum, which is offered by the College of Engineering, College of Science, and Khoury. is integrated with the ongoing Master’s degree. College of Computer Science. “A second lieutenant in the U.S. Army at age 23 is able to command tens if not hundreds of people in mission-critical situations with accuracy, poise, and competence — and they teach those skills during their training with the military. as officers.
Rather than waiting for engineers to develop leadership qualities the hard way through years of on-the-job training, the institute focuses on those skills through what Klosterman calls a “one-year boot camp.” The program culminates in a challenge project – the equivalent of a thesis – in which each student identifies and solves a problem within their current organization with the help of teammates and mentors.
Half of the institute’s graduates earn company promotions within one year, and three-quarters of them are promoted within two years. The students represent a highly diverse group of life experiences from around the world – which makes Manning feel like home.
“The military has to be the most diverse secular organization in America,” says Manning. “I’ve learned this idea of bringing people with very different perspectives and backgrounds into the military and creating an opportunity for them to use their voices.”
Manning applies his military experiences in antagonistic ways.
“Leadership is about caring for people and it’s about loving people,” says Manning, who avoids discussing the dangers faced in war zones. “It’s about empowering people. The best leaders I encountered had the ability to create conditions of safety and trust where everyone had a voice. There was a deep recognition that leaders do not create greatness. ; they unlock the greatness that exists.
“They invite their people to share ideas, to challenge each other,” says Manning. “‘Don’t rest on your expertise,’ you hear these leaders say, because you have an obligation to contribute to the team’s mission.”
Manning had taught occasionally in several university settings when she was recommended to Northeastern by McGonagall, who was preparing to retire from the Gordon Institute. The two veterans taught a class together in 2020 before Manning took over.
Courtland Chapman, a 2021 Gordon Institute graduate who works as a technology and innovation engineer for Saint-Gobain Research North, “draws on the empathy that he has experienced for more than 20 years in an uncertain, difficult and developed core groups of peers in foreign conditions.” USA, a multidisciplinary industrial research center near Boston. “This allows him to quickly bond with his students. He is extremely compassionate and listens carefully to responses and actions specific to the student and the situation, rather than canned coverall statements.
Manning approaches the classroom from an unusual perspective, says Amy Manley, the institute’s director of admissions and marketing.
“It’s not lecturing,” Manley says of Manning. “He’s having a conversation and they’re talking about how things are done: ‘How did it make you feel when you had that conversation?’ ‘How can you change it and make it better for next time?’ He is very accessible.
It works because, in part, the students see their professor expanding his perspective—from the military to the larger world—even as he’s asking them to expand theirs.
“We give our students the opportunity to grow, to stretch themselves, to be comfortable with being uncomfortable—and it is a place that I have had the distinct privilege and honor to be in as a soldier,” says Manning. “During the year, we change the group [of students] In a high performing team.
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