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Name: Rick Hefner
Title: Executive Director
Organisation: Caltech Center for Technology and Management Education
Rick Hefner, PhD, serves as the Executive Director for Caltech Professional Education, where he teaches and designs professional education programs for technology-driven individuals and organizations. He has over 40 years of experience in systems engineering, project management, and corporate management and has worked with over 30 companies in the aerospace, communications, electronics, and health sciences industries. Dr. Hefner is credited with over 200 publications and presentations, and is active in several professional societies. He has a BS and MS in Interdisciplinary Engineering from Purdue, and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from UCLA.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance. There is always more to do at work and opportunities for personal growth.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I grew up as the oldest in my family, so I was used to leading. Throughout my early career, I looked for and enjoyed leadership opportunities.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I rise at 6:00a and eat a healthy breakfast. At 7:00a I start each day by prioritizing my work, deciding what is most important to get done that day. I mix work and personal to-do's. I use my commute time to connect with clients, staff, and colleagues. I have a full schedule of email and meetings, and change activities often to keep myself energized. I have a mid-morning snack and 12:00 lunch. Mid-afternoon, I often take a 90-minute nap. I stop working at 6:00p, and spend the evening with friends and family. I often work in a structured way on personal growth on the weekends.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Your staff should feel empowered to make decisions without you, and understand which decisions they can make without you, which they should make and inform you about, and which they should bring to you to decide.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Crucial Conversations (Third Edition): Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, et al. (and the other 2 books in that series). This book provides practical skills for discussing challenging subjects, and emphasizes the importance of practicing your soft skills.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Being a leader requires dealing with unpleasant and uncomfortable situations (negative feedback, angry customers, etc.). Face those situations head-on, with humility, honesty, and a focus on the long-term outcomes you want to achieve.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I was elevated to a mid-level management position early in my career, and had to manage a more experienced employee who thought he should have gotten the position. I listened calmly to him describe why he was more qualified than me, and then offered my help in his career development. Over the next 6 months, we worked together to build his skills and image, and he procured the position he truly wanted.