The Importance of Communication and Leadership Skills in STEM: A Conversation with Ahmad Burse 

 August 27, 2023

By  Lina Alexaki

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In this episode of the Tech Explorations Podcast, Peter discusses the importance of communication and leadership skills in STEM fields with Ahmad J. Burse. During his conversation with Peter, Ahmad shares how his military experience shaped his understanding of these skills and his approach to developing them. He also covers practical exercises for technical professionals who struggle with communication, how introverts can learn communication skills, and the significance of leadership in STEM. Peter and Ahmad also explore the essence of leadership and the opportunities available for developing leadership in a STEM environment. Finally, Ahmad Burse offers advice to our listeners.

Ahmad Burse is a veteran in leadership roles across the military and federal government sectors. With over 30 years of experience under his belt, Ahmad has developed expertise in fostering communication skills and leadership development in the STEM community. What distinguishes Ahmad is his emphasis on the importance of soft skills in complementing technical proficiency, stressing that to truly make a mark, especially in STEM, individuals need to go beyond simply being good at their job and become leaders.

Ahmad Burse’s approach to developing leadership and communication skills is based on his extensive experience and the universal importance of these skills. He starts by identifying the areas that require improvement. He notes that it is essential to help individuals build confidence and develop their strengths, rather than focusing solely on their weaknesses. Ahmad believes that excellent communication skills are essential for successful leadership across various fields, including STEM.

Ahmad currently offers training and coaching services designed to help individuals navigate professional challenges. He helps people in the STEM context and beyond by offering advice to find someone who is doing what they want to do and walk in their shoes. His contact information is available on his website and LinkedIn.



  • [00:00] Introduction
  • [01:02] When did Ahmad Burse discover the importance of communication and leadership skills in STEM?
  • [05:20] How did Ahmad Burse’s military background influence his understanding of communication and leadership? When did he join the STEM community and recognize the lack of these skills?
  • [09:04] What is Ahmad Burse’s approach to developing communication and leadership skills in STEM and beyond? How does he distinguish between these skills and how does he help someone who struggles with eye contact?
  • [13:26] External events may trigger the realization that one needs to improve their skills. Can both communication and leadership skills in STEM be developed simultaneously?
  • [16:10] How can introverts learn communication skills and what environments can be helpful in developing these skills?
  • [19:17] Practical communication skill-building exercises for technical professionals in STEM with poor communication skills
  • [22:23] How encouraging introverted engineers to open up, receive and analyse information, and offer results can help them effectively communicate with others in social environments
  • [27:06] In a post-COVID-19 world where remote work is prevalent, are there important differences that require a unique approach between offline and online communication?
  • [31:40] The importance of being thoughtful and truthful online
  • [34:32] Communication can take various forms depending on the context, ranging from concise to detailed. What are the core attributes of good communication?
  • [37:07] The key responsibilities of the initiator of communication
  • [39:21] Why is leadership important in STEM, and why do students learning technical skills need to develop leadership skills as well?
  • [42:17] What is the essence of leadership, particularly in relation to decision-making and the ability to implement decisions? Is this what constitutes a leader’s superpower?
  • [44:35] How can Ahmad Burse help STEM club students (ages 14–15) develop leadership and decision-making skills while working on Arduino or Raspberry Pi projects, to become future leaders like Steve Jobs?
  • [48:46] Opportunities for developing leadership in the STEM Environment through complex projects and competitions, and the value of failure in learning
  • [51:59] Ahmad’s advice for listeners and contact information


Read Full Transcript

Welcome to a new Tech Explorations podcast, everyone. Today, I'm joined by Ahmad Burse, a veteran in leadership roles across the military and federal government sectors. With over 30 years of experience under his belt, Ahmad has developed expertise in fostering communication skills and leadership development in the STEM community. Today, Ahmad offers training and coaching services designed to help individuals navigate the professional challenges.

His unique angle is the importance of soft skills in complementing technical proficiency. Ahmad stresses that to truly make a mark, especially in STEM, one needs to go beyond being just good at the job, they need to become leaders. In today's podcast, we'll explore these ideas with Ahmad. So Ahmad, welcome to the podcast. How are you today?

Thank you. I'm glad to be here. And I really appreciate you taking the time and allowing me to be on your podcast.

It's my pleasure, Ahmad. So you got in touch with me a few weeks ago, and said you'd like to join me on the podcast. I thought this is interesting, because when I looked at your profile, I saw these, these two, I guess, skill sets that are not so prominent in STEM circles. And that is leadership and communication skills. Typically, in this podcast, we're talking about technical skills, right?

So I'd like to ask this interview, this discussion, by asking you, how, why did you and when did you realize that communication skills and leadership development in STEM are just as important as programming and engineering skills?

Well, I think it's important to begin when I was in the military. And one of the things I found is, you know, successful leaders, it doesn't matter whatever level they're at, they can communicate effectively, communicate in a way in which the most senior person understands whatever their role is.

One of the things we had when I was in the military, especially when you're doing training or deploying was a mission statement. You got to know exactly the mission statements allows soldiers to go ahead and complete the mission regardless of what it is,

regardless of how many people are left. So I say early on, I realized that the need to communicate was really, was really needed. And in regards to being a good leader, if you can't communicate in a way that motivates and helps people want to do the mission, or want to do whatever is the required required of them.

That's a skill, that's a soft skill, because it requires emotional intelligence, requires reading a room. And these are things that can be developed, but for some folks, they might not realize how they're, the way in which they talk, the way in which they come across as impacting others.

When I left the military and started working for the federal government, I had the opportunity to work with the United States Army Corps of Engineers. And in working, I worked with a lot of engineers, folks that had advanced degrees in engineering, the professional engineering certification.

I'm not sure if that's what's available in Australia, but in the United States, the PE certification is like a really big deal. A lot of them had project management proficiency letters behind their names.

So in any instance, they're very good technically. I mean, they could do data analysis, they could set up, they could create, they could build something from the ground up.

They're extremely effective technically. However, the issue was, and that's where I came in, you would promote someone who was extremely technical, excellent at their job, into a leadership role, and then the team just falls apart.

Or they get into challenges with people and they're not able to do what they were hired to do. So at that point, the job I was at, I was like a mediator.

And I would come in and we kind of talk things out. And what I realized after seeing these incidences two, three, four times, it wasn't necessarily that they needed, they understood, it wasn't necessarily that they had problems with their job.

They just had problems communicating. They had problems understanding. And for a lot of engineers and people in STEM, it's black and white. There's no gray area. Either it is or it isn't. Two plus two equals four.

There's no way around that. And that's fine. However, when you're working with people, two plus two may not equal four, it may equal three.

So you have to understand where people are coming from. And for a lot of folks, if you've been successful at doing what you've been doing, and now you're in a leadership role, you have to be developed into that.

So then that's kind of where I began working with folks in STEM.

So I guess, if I understand correctly,

excuse me, you first came into contact with the culture of clear communication, clear lines of communication, goal orientation, obviously the military has got goals that must be achieved and very often they are high stakes goals as well.

So it's probably a good environment where you can understand the importance of clear communication, and obviously leadership.

There's got to be a very strong sense of trust towards the person that gives you a command or gives you an instruction. So all that happened in the military.

Could you help us understand when did you actually become a part or a member of the STEM community. Because I want to see, or I want to understand if you realized the lack of communication in leadership, I guess, objectives in the STEM community,

at that point, once you joined that community, you became active in it, you started training people in STEM, and then you realize that you can't really go too far without instilling some of these concepts that you yourself acquired in the military.

So, when did STEM become part of your life?

Well, interestingly enough, after I left the military I had several jobs. One of my jobs, I got skills that enabled me to teach information technology, and I became an information technology teacher.

Was it at school or a college, perhaps?

It was a local college, it was a college, it was a local college. I was an adjunct there, and in teaching these things I realized how technical it was.

And like I said the students could flourish on the technical aspect, but I also taught career development.

And within career development I taught skills like how to give presentations, got a goal setting, you know, a lot of career development things, such as interviewing skills and things of that nature.

And I realized, and this was before I went to the Corps of Engineers, but this, so then at that point, I started realizing that for a lot of young people, and when they were young people they were called non-traditional students, and non-traditional students being

like people who are going back to school, things of that nature, and they just didn't know how to do a lot of the things that they may have been required to do.

So then, hey, listen, you're excellent in the information technology field, but you can't do an interview. You don't know how to make that eye contact, because the things that are requiring you to be successful, you can do that, but outside of that.

So then when you say, when did I come into the STEM field, I say I dabbled in it, but then when I was in actually working with the Corps of Engineers, that's when I say the light bulb turned on.

One of the roles I had was I would sit on interview panels.

And sitting on interview panels, it's like someone comes in and they'll interview for like a supervisor job as an engineer, a supervisor engineer, and they come into the interview and their resume would look fine, but they couldn't articulate how they performed tasks.

They weren't able to kind of communicate to the hiring officials that they were the right person, the right fit for the job.

But there's a lot of aspects that those soft skills and developing, they play into how well a person can proceed throughout their career.

Yeah, I can identify with everything you said. In my training in engineering at university, I obviously was very deep into acquiring technical skills.

When it came to communications, my communication skills amounted to writing assignments and reports, writing in writing, basically handed over a report to my supervisor or to my teacher.

I may have done a few presentations like Keynote or PowerPoint presentations, but that was it.

So, yeah, my first interview to get a job, I remember articulation was a problem.

Why are you good for this?

I've got a degree.

That should be self-explanatory. No, but it's not self-explanatory.

So, I wish I had someone like you as a teacher to explain these things. So maybe we can dig into this now, Ahmad.

So now, can you tell us what do you do now?

How do you help people in the STEM context or outside of the STEM context?

Because these are, I guess, kind of universal skills that everyone needs to have, whether you are a doctor, university lecturer, business person.

These are, I guess, common denominator types of skills.

So can you explain your approach? How do you get, say, a student who clearly needs help in making eye contact with another person, whether colleague, interviewee, customer, but they don't know how?

How do you approach that with them? How do you help them improve on both?

I guess, actually, I won't say both because I think they're quite different leadership and communications.

You can tell us about how those are similar or different or whether you develop them together.

What's your approach? How do you go about it?

Well, you know, as a coach, one of the things is that unless you identify that there is a need, unless you identify, hey, listen, this is what I wanted, you know, I...

Unless you got the hard truth, like, hey, maybe you've given a presentation and you're giving a presentation to the audience that's full of leaders within the organization and you didn't talk to anybody about the presentation’s content.

And so no one understood what you're talking about. And so then the leadership says, hey, listen, you won't be giving any more presentations anytime soon until you figure this out.

So then at that point, that person says, hey, listen, I need to invest in a coach or someone is going to help me develop.

In regards to communication and leadership, in my mind, leadership is like influencing people, but you never stop communicating. You are always communicating.

And the most successful leaders are excellent communicators.

You know, and that's that. And I think the important thing about it is.


People have to understand that.

You don't have to be the same person that you were.

I mean, I understand, you know, you may have a background in this, but that doesn't mean you can't develop into something else.

Because a lot of people, you know, they want to influence others. They want to be a part of the organization.

And sometimes people have to sit down with you and say, hey, listen, you're great.

But you need to develop these skills because we want you to get promoted in the agency.

We want to see you grow. So then for a lot of time, for a lot of times, it's not me reaching out.

It's them saying something, some significant event ever occurred. They're like, hey, listen, I got passed over for promotion.

I got passed over for promotion. My leaders told me, hey, I need to work on the way in which I develop folks.

All my whole team has decided they want to quit and they want to go somewhere else.

And I'm the only one there. And as the story goes, the leader’s responsible for everything.

And if your team wants to leave, then that's you know, you got to look in the mirror and say, hey, what can I do to improve?

So there's normally some kind of, I wouldn't say climactic,

but there's some kind of event that occurs that says, hey, reach out to someone that can help me improve in my skills.

Got it. Yeah. So there's something, I guess, external that may trigger that realization that you need to get better in, in this case, communications, and then they can find you and ask for help.

Is it communications that comes like you need to develop your communication skills before starting working on leadership skills?

Or do you do both at the same time? What do you think?

I would say you have to do both of them at the same time, because if you're influencing someone,

regardless of what it is, you have to be able to inspire that person to do something.

But I think even more so for me, I think it's important that you have to find your voice, like who are you as authentically?

Who are you? Because even if you're an extremely technical person who speaks that way and you need to tweak things,

that doesn't mean you have to change who you are. But if you're going to be a leader,

if you're going to really impact change within an organization, you're going to have to change the way you do things.

I mean, that's the is of it. So a lot of it is, hey, John, what is it that you want to work on?

Well, where do you want to go at? OK, I want to I want to do A, B, C and D.

Well, where are you at? You know, I'm at D, E, and F. So we got to figure out a way.

How do we bridge that gap? Let's work together to bridge that gap.

Oh, you want to be a leader? I'm going to ask you, OK, have you volunteered for anything?

Well, no, I haven't. Have you? You know, one of the best tools that I've been able to use to develop my leadership schools is in Toastmasters.

I mean, you have Toastmasters in Australia. I know you do all over.

But Toastmasters, number one, Toastmasters helps you develop your speaking skills, but it helps you develop your leadership skills.

Because a lot of times there might be there's requirements of you within the club to do some things that you can't do by yourself.

So you have to ask for help. And if you've ever led a team of volunteers, I mean, that's like a leadership challenge by itself.

But that grows you as an individual. And then taking it back to your job, you know, what is there something that you can do?

Hey, is there something I can volunteer for? Because it's going to grow you.

So, I mean, like I said before, you don't have to be the person that you are. You can be this brand new person.

You can change all of whatever thoughts you've had about yourself. You can break that mold and become something different.

So then that's the way...

So, it really goes into core psychology, doesn't it?

As you said, you need to basically break the shell of a person that wants to grow into those leadership roles.

Communication is obviously key there. And that's a skill that if you understand, right, you're saying that it's a skill that can be learned.

So myself, for example, I consider myself a total introvert. I don't like talking to people very much.

I'm not sure if that comes across. But even for someone like me, like an introvert, the skill of communication can definitely be learned.

And there is a process, but it does require a lot of core psychological change and basically breaking that hard shell that most of us grow up with.

I guess Toastmasters would help there or any environment that requires the person to go out and communicate with other people and basically make things change.

Well, I mean, the terms introvert and extrovert, you know, the way I kind of look at things is whenever we put ourselves in a box like I'm an introvert.

Okay, I need to get away from people. I need to sit down and recharge.

However, I also realize that me doing those things that I like to do, just sit down and not be bothered with folks is not going to allow me to grow my business.

It's not going to allow me to help. Like one of my goals I have is to positively impact a million people.

I can't do that as an introvert. I can't do that if I'm sitting at home because, you know, and this is, I wouldn't say it's touchy-feely per se, but it's important that if you're a positive influence and you're leading people positively, people will want to be around you and people will want you to lead them.

I mean, there's more to this than that. So in learning to communicate better, you kind of change who you are.

It's possible. I mean, I've been, I'm not sure about you, but if you've ever been in a room somewhere and then someone walked in and sucked the oxygen out of there, it's like, man, this dude is here.

Really? Oh, man. Some people, it's that opposite. Someone will come in, everyone's whole demeanor will change. They'll be upbeat. They're smiling.

So there's a lot to this. And as I coach people, I want them to keep that in mind because, you know, what you do does impact others.

So as you're learning to communicate better, as you're leading people, you know, you'll feel better about yourself.

And that goes with the more competent you become in doing these things, the more confident you'll become in being able to take on other tasks.

Hey, I volunteer to lead this. Hey, you know, I'll do this paperwork, you know, things of that nature.

I'd like to switch maybe to a practical sense of, I'd like to switch our discussion to a more practical route.

So I'd like to ask you, let's focus on communication and then we can go to leadership after this.

What are some practical, I guess, communication skill building exercises that people can consider doing in order to become better communicators and maybe focus on STEM?

So, for example, I like building circuits. I'm very good at that, but my communication skills are bad.

What are some, say, three or four things that I can do to improve in that?

Well, one of the first things you can do is listen more.

And in listening, when you listen, I mean, but attentively listen, don't just listen to speak, but listen more, listen to what people say.

That's number one. Number two, observe. Was it 80 percent of communication is nonverbal.

So people are saying things. It's like reading the room. They're saying things, they're doing things that unless you're paying attention because you have to I mean, it's like anything.

You didn't learn it at first. So you have to study. You have to study people.

Just look at them. And in being an attentive listener, you can read people's non verbs as you know, as you're listening to them.

Are you are you giving them feedback to let them know that you are listening to them? Are you looking them in the eyes? Are you nodding your head?

Are you letting them know that you understand? And then at the end, after they've said what they've had to say.

Are you either parroting or paraphrasing what they said so that they understood that you said so they understood that you're heard.

Hey, Jim, I love eating cookies. Oh, from what I understand you to say, you love to eat baked goods.

So then that's not that's giving a person understanding that you're not even heard them, but you know, you're putting it back to them and you have to practice those things.

Because Stephen Covey and his book, The Speed of Trust, it says... Not The 7 Habits.

Him and his son wrote the book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey and Dr. Stephen Covey.

But anyway, he says seek first to understand, then to be understood.

And in communication, if I seek to understand first, I need to understand where you're coming from.

Then I let you know that I understand where you're coming from. And then I regurgitate or paraphrase it back to you.

That lets them know that you understand them. And so, you know, you're building a relationship off of that because that's all communication is, relationship. But I’m sorry, go ahead.

Yes. As you are saying that, Ahmad, as you're basically giving those, I guess, three or four exercises.

I was imagining a introvert engineer in a social environment, like in a physical meeting, I guess.

There are not that many these days, but in a room with other people.

In such situations, I remember from my own experiences, especially if the people there are not familiar with you.

You go to a new meetup, for example, you don't know anyone there. You do tend to be a little bit closed down.

And what you said about listening is that I realize you tend to be a bit closed down.

It means that you shut your ears, basically. You do not capture information from your environment.

And most important, you're not processing that information and therefore you can't communicate.

And if I understand right, what you're saying is that open up, open ears and eyes, receive information, analyze it like you do with a data sheet, right?

Understand what is going on around you and then offer your analysis results back.

And that will establish at least our first level of communication with other people.

And you can build from there. Am I understanding correctly what you're saying in this regards?

But, you know, there's nuances to it. You got to want to know.

I mean, honestly, you have to take a genuine interest. Like for me, I take a genuine interest in people when I'm talking to them.

I want to know, you know, hey, what's going on with you?

You know, where are you from? You know, where are some of the things you did?

I mean, and speaking of you, you said you're going to take that road trip. And it got me thinking like, man, I haven't gone on a road trip.

I bet you that's going to be fun. You want to stay at hotels. They're going to visit spots. They're going to see stuff they wouldn't see.

And so, you know, your energy transferred to me and me going back to you, it transferred back to you.

And we're even over Zoom. So this communication thing is not that challenging.

But you have to value that person. You have to hear what they're talking about.

Because like I said, when you're talking about a road trip, it's like, man, I haven't done.

And he's going to Canada. And all I need is a passport. Wow.

You know, that sounds really fun. Driving up to Detroit, because I live in D.C., so Detroit is like five or six hours.

And then stopping, going across the water, going to Toronto. I mean, there's just a lot of things that.

But for me, when I talk to people, I try and find out things about them that excite them because that energy excites me.

So if you're looking to really communicate with people, you know, as the saying goes, even as a team leader,

I always tell my team, you know, if I help you succeed, you're going to help me succeed.

So then I get to know, you know, for me, I just do different things. Like if it's their birthday, I send birthday.

I send birthday presents because we're virtual now. So I get their addresses. I send them.

If it's, you know, Christmas time, I'll send gifts. I mean, that's just you have to do.

And that's why I said it's important to find out what it is that you, you know, your authentic self.

Because for me to do those things, that's me being authentic. If I do something for someone, I'm thinking it through.

But that's my thing. So then that may not be your thing.

But I guess the whole part of it, if you aren't comfortable with communicating,

as opposed to thinking about the worst part about it is, oh, man, what if this person rejects me?

What if it says that opposite and you meet a friend, meet someone that can help you go to the next level?

So then I mean, that's I mean, that's the basis of it, you know, because for me as an introvert,

a lot of my introverting things began when I was in grade school, middle school.

And, you know, I was an awkward kid. I played Dungeons and Dragons.

— Dungeons and Dragons was the bomb.
— This is where a lot of damage is done.

Yeah, and it is that is, you know, we find ourselves as adults still dealing with things people have said to us as children.

So then, yeah, we're not children anymore. We're adults. And we can rewrite the future.

You know, you're not doomed to stay in it. So then without, you know, all those things being said, you know,

when you're looking to establish relationships of value, then it's easy to communicate.

It's easy to, hey, listen, when I ask a question, people are going to hear me when I say things.

People are going to listen to what I have to say.

Yeah, I guess the more you do it, like any skill, right? It does become easier because it does become more like second nature.

And you do get to enjoy it a lot more in communication and leadership, I guess, like any other skill.

That's also true for these two skills. Right.

So I've got two follow up questions on communications, then we can go into leadership, Ahmad.

So the first one is, is there any difference in your advice to people that communicate offline?

So in a room with other people versus especially in a post COVID world, online communication,

like what we are doing now through Zoom, but also through social media, through email, through discourse,

forum servers, it's still communication.

But are there any differences there that are important enough to require, I guess, a different approach?

So then I think it's important that whoever you are, you stay consistent.

And one of the things I learned when I didn't learn it in Toastmasters, but you know,

you're not supposed to speak on sex, politics or just in bad language.

Those three things.


Religion. Yeah.

And religion. Not unless you're a pastor.

Yeah, that's part of your job. But the point being is that.

You are I mean, you're publicly speaking all the time.

There's no time when you're especially nowadays when you can put something on, you know, someone can find you,

MySpace. Whenever I type information technology, I was like, OK, go on your—

And this is like 10 years later. Go on your MySpace. Google yourself. What's coming up?

You know, what is your brand? So then it's important that whatever your brand is, you stick to that.

And your brand is part of how you communicate with others. So if you have a brand that says stuff that's off the wall and all the rest of that,

then that's perfectly fine. But don't be surprised if you're not going to be able to grow whenever you decide to grow.

You know, I don't know. Nowadays, agencies are looking at your social digital footprint to see what you've been doing.

And, you know, there's been people that haven't been hired because they looked on there.

It's like, oh, you're part of this organization. We don't want that here.

So then I don't think, you know, the only thing that social media is, in my opinion, is an extension of yourself.

That's all it is. So then if your brand is one of, you know, integrity, you're someone that's a straight shooter,

whatever it is that you value, just make sure you're keeping that across the board.

And I think. So then when you when you are authentic, you don't have to worry about being something else.

And I think sometimes I think what we found is, you know,

people have used the anonymity of social media to become this different person to do this and do that.

And that's absolutely fine. But it always comes back to bite you in the behind.

So be whoever you are. And, you know, as you grow in and you communicate better.

You'll see that you attract those people that you want around you.

But so then I show up for an interview with a collared shirt and a jacket.

You know, I am a professional coach. So this is the way I show up for an interview.

If I was presenting a training, I'd probably be in a suit and tie and glasses because I really can't see that well.

But my point being is I'm keeping that persona, I'm keeping my brand.

And I think the thing about it is nowadays, more so than ever, people don’t ask the question about what is my brand?

Am I the communicator? Am I this? Am I that? And if this is my brand, I can rebrand myself.

I can become something different. I don't have to stay with whatever I was.

Yeah. Yeah. Got it. I guess be truthful in the way that you present yourself and be also thoughtful.

Like think before, especially on the Internet, the Internet does not forget.

So be a bit thoughtful about the things that you put about yourself on the Internet.

As you said, it will come back to bite you.

I'm always amazed by what people put on Twitter. For example, I'm just bringing up Twitter.

As if you would go to a busy marketplace and start yelling at people about something random that came to mind.

That's what Twitter is like. Why would anyone do that? I just don't understand it.

So, be thoughtful. Right.

Even greater than that, you know, as I look at.

So then, you know, the millennials are the first generation to have cell phones, Twitter, social media.

They actually grew up with this. You know, from me, I'm not outside looking in.

It's like the only reason I use my cell phone really is for business.

Bottom line, even my personal cell phone. I'm learning to build my social media presence.

However, you've got a generation of folks. This is all they've used.

And they've lost that communication ability. You know, when you listen to how people date, ghosting.

You know, if I don't want to be bothered with you, I'll just ghost you. It's like, wow.

I mean, it's like at least have the common decency to say, hey, listen, I don't want to see you anymore.

But in things, you know, even leaders firing people via tweet or firing people via text message.

It's like, really, how did we get here? So then it just kind of concerns me because if you can't communicate,

they're always going to need people that can get the message across to the masses.

Always. If you can communicate well, they're always going to need communication and leadership.

But as these young people, like my concern is they don't know how to participate in dialogue, just like, you know, me and you, I come on, we're talking back and forth.

We're just talking. It's not like we're just saying, hey, listen, I live in Australia.

Like, man, I am busy. And but they can't you know, they can't have those conversations.

And although it was like it was meaningful, it's like, man, you live in Australia and you came from Greece.

Wow. You know, you from one great place to the next. Man, I wish.

So, you know, those conversations, they kind of lost.

That's been lost. And you have a whole generation that's been lost on.

But I'm sorry—

I think. Yeah, yeah. So that was my question.

I guess just I wanted to wrap up the communication segment by asking one last communication question, because we're going to go into leadership.

So I guess my next question is just to wrap up communication. I want to talk about attributes.

So personally, I've got examples of really good communications that are very diverse.

So, for example, I'm an aviation buff. I like listening to air traffic control communications with planes flying overhead.

And communication’s there like bang, bang, bang, like a call sign. Where are you?

What are your intentions? Any special requests? Within, I guess, 10, 15 seconds

the whole story has been made perfect communication between two parties and off to the next thing.

Like the ATC, the air traffic controller will talk to the next plane, repeat that perfect communication.

Nothing has been lost behind. But then I look at how I communicate when I write the blog post and it's like a thousand words.

And I'm like, I look at it and I'm thinking, should I make it more concise? Maybe I'm just blubbing around too much.

Maybe I should cut something. And I think, oh, no, maybe the student requires more in order to complete their understanding.

So I guess communication attributes depend on the context.

But I wanted to ask you, what do you think are at least the core attributes of good communication?

That there's always the purpose, I guess, the purpose of why communicating is part of it.

But I guess maybe simplified, if at all possible, it's very complex. But if I'm asking the right question,

can you simplify communications so that we know at least what its core attributes for a good communicator should be?

You have your sender. You have your receiver and you have the message.

And those are the core attributes. I mean, like, what are you sending?

And then did your receiver get what you sent and was that message?

I mean, you know, you got to get it because it's a loop. You know, you sender, you send it.

They get the message, the receiver and the receiver sends the message back.

But, you know, they got it. So you just have a little loop.

A read-back. Yes. Read-back in aviation.

You know, it's interesting. When I was much younger, I used to play a lot of basketball.

And one of the things I remember from those days is that if you would pass the ball to another player.

But if the other player couldn't get it, it's always the player that threw the ball first that is to blame.

So the message, the person that formulates the message has to take care to formulate a message that can be received or understood by the intended recipients for the intended reason or purpose.

So you said sender, receiver and purpose.

But I guess the receiver needs to take extra care because the receiver is the initiator of the communication.

Right. So they need to just think before transmitting communication to make sure it's effective.

I guess everything else depends on the purpose. Right. Whether it's going to be a long message, short message.

And I mean, that was just a simple explanation. But you also got to think about your audience.

Like you say, you know, you're writing a blog. Who are you writing it for? Are you writing it for students? Are you writing it for folks that are on your level?

Are you writing it? So I think that's really important because in working in the tech, you know, folks can write some really high level information.

But, you know, your audience is for folks on your level.

But if you're trying to expand and maybe bring people into the fold, then you're going to have to I won't say I won't say dumb it down, but I would say simplify it.

You know, Occam, was the Occam's razor. The simplest way to do things.

Yes. So that is probably the right way. Yeah. I mean, that's I mean, awesome.

And I know whenever I speak, I always say, you know, a 50 cent word is worth a five dollar word.

Because anyone can understand it. And you want to make sure that your message is understood so that, you know, they can take it away and maybe spread it.

OK, let's switch. Let's switch to leadership.

So I totally get it. Communication for anyone is important, especially in the context of STEM, like an engineering principle that communicate, right?

What about leadership, though? Why? Why is leadership important in the context of STEM?

Like I'm thinking a student learning how to use an Arduino obviously needs to be able to communicate the work to others.

But why do they need to be concerned about building up leadership skills?

Well, because. Within STEM.

The way I kind of look at things is like this. You don't want to be.

You don't want to be on the outside. And a lot of times STEM folks are on the outside.

They don't have a seat at the table. And it's not because they don't have this.

It's not because they don't have the technical skills. But would you rather have a leader

that has a stem background that's grown up in it and is leading the organization, who can speak on your behalf, who understands the challenges that you have?

Or would you rather have to communicate that to someone who may or may not take an interest in it?

And so when you're talking about leadership, you have to develop those leaders so that they can lead other folks so that what's important to you gets put on the table.

Because for a lot of times in some agencies, the STEM programs don't get the money. They're underfunded.

You don't get a lot of the resources. So then, you know, you're important.

That's fine. But hey, hold on. If you don't have someone that is an engineer who has those leadership skills, who not only can talk the talk to the technical folks,

but also lead people who are non-technical that may be in the contracting realm or maybe in the support staff so that what you need is at the head of the table.

That's the one thing. When I was at the Corps of Engineers, right, one of the things they had talked about was building leaders.

And at the Corps of Engineers, you have a general. And a general is an engineer.

So because it's the Corps of Engineers, the engineers got all the money. The engineers got all the resources because he was an engineer.

So then that's just, it's not an anomaly, but you know, that's just one organization unless you're in an engineering firm.

But when you're in another place and you're a scientist or you're extremely technical, they kind of put you off to the side.

You know, they don't really, you're a member, but you're not a member. It's like, hey, you don't get to sit at the big table.

It's like, oh, yeah, you know, you stay over there. We're making the decisions.

So you need to develop these leadership skills because if you don't, you're not going to get heard.

The key word that you used is they make all the decisions, right? You said they make all the decisions.

Is that the key word or the essence of leadership? Is that decision making and then the power to implement that decision?

That's what a leader's essence is or superpower is?

So then the essence, I think the leader superpower is servant leadership.

And like I said before, is, you know, you have to put your employees above your interests. That's what you have to do with the leader.

You always have to do that. But like I said.

Unless that leader has that background, they're not going to understand some of the challenges that, you know,

their folks in the day going engineering department or research and development or wherever you have stem folks located within that agency.

They're not going to understand their causes. They'll hear it, but they can't really, you know, you know, have any practical knowledge.

So leaders, you know, as a leader, you like I said before, you have to be willing to sacrifice whatever you need to make sure that your team has that.

And then they'll make sure that you can get things done because as a leader, you're you're leading the way people want to follow you.

And that's that's the kind of leadership you want to develop that transformational leadership where folks say, hey, listen,

I'm going to stay a little later because I know that, you know, you're expecting me to get this done.

You know, that's that's the type of leadership you want to have for your for your team or for your organization.

One of the big things I always tell my teams, I wouldn't ask you to do anything

I wouldn't already, if I've already done it or, you know, I wouldn't ask you to do anything that I wouldn't do myself.

But as a leader, you have to say, I need you to do this. I can't do everything. So, I mean, being a leader of the organization, I mean—

Delegate because everyone is finite. Yeah.

Yes. But the other part about it is you have to develop other leaders. You may have to make little versions of yourself.

Having said that. Yeah, actually, that is a perfect lead up to my next question.

And that is like, OK, in my mind, Steve Jobs, leader. Right?

But let's backtrack about 20 years.

You are in charge of a small group of 14, 15 year old students in a STEM club and you want to instill some of those leadership skills.

You want them to experience what it is to be a leader, even if they don't realize that they are in leadership training.

How would you go about it?

They work on Arduino projects, right? Or on Raspberry Pi projects. And you work with one of those students.

For some reason, you have identified that they would be a good candidate to become a Steve Jobs in 25 years from now.

What are some of the experiences to trying to, I guess, help them experience, in lack of a better word, in order for them to start developing that affiliation with the ability to make decisions that affect other people as well,

not just themselves and also to carry them through again, 14, 15 year old kids.

I would say you have to challenge them. You have to put them in a space.

You have to put them in a space for them to be able to fail and then for them to be able to put back together and then learn what the right what right is.

And in doing so, you'll teach them to trust their decisions.

You know, Steve Jobs was effective because he didn't care about anyone else's decisions.

I mean, you know, he was that confident in who he was like, this is the right way to do this.

This is so then if you can help develop that confidence in those young persons, then that will get them through those challenging times when their backs against the wall.

They don't think they can. I think for a lot of, once again, going back to high school, going back to middle school, you know, that socially awkward introverted child, you know, it doesn't just start at 20.

It started when they are babies, you know, and people not mistreating them, but treating them differently and then realizing, hey, I may not be a part of this group.

And I think you have to catch them then and then help them develop their own confidence. And, you know, you may not be a good basketball player.

You may not be a good football player. However, you can design the hell out of model robot or, you know, you understand what I'm saying?

This skill set. You have to help, you know, because what is it, you know, you have to work on your weaknesses and develop, you know, no, the hell with that, develop your strengths.

Hey, you're good at that? Let that person know that it's okay to be good at that and develop it from there. I mean, if you could have gone back and someone was developing you in your strengths, would you be the same place now?

Not to say you're in a bad, but just saying that somebody is like, well, damn, you know, this is what you need to be focused on.

And just, you know, giving you that encouragement, giving you that hey, you got this, that confidence, would you be in the same place you are now?

I'm not saying that your trajectory can't get to. But what I am saying is if we're trying to help these kids, we got to stop putting them down for things that they don't like.

I wasn't an athlete in high school. I wasn't an athlete in college. That just wasn't my thing. Like I said, I read books, I worked on myself. I like the esoteric.

That didn't help me in the army.

The army got something else out of you though. In the army, you were able to explore other parts of your personality that you didn't know about. So, again, it broke part of your shell that you perhaps you're not comfortable with, but didn't even know about.

I guess, just to rephrase what you said, STEM environments are excellent for leadership development, because it is a place where you can make a lot of mistakes and learn from them.

And actually, it's something that is expected, like to make mistakes before something gets— before something works.

New gadget that you're building definitely not going to work the first time you assemble it. And the more complicated is like, I'm thinking of robotic wars now or robotic competitions where you've got big teams there because they are working on complex projects.

And in environments like that, failure is totally normal and expected, but there's also lots of opportunity to display some leadership aspects of all team member personalities as well because they all have their own aspect of the project that they're responsible for.

So there's plenty of opportunity. Is that what you were thinking, Ahmad?

Oh, yes. And I mean, I think those environments are fine, but you have to put some, there has to be a challenge in there. There has to be a challenge to, you have to be competition.

Competition. Yeah. Yeah.

And the reason why not to, there needs to be competition, there needs to be definitive success and definitive failure to build that.

The ability to measure the results.

Yes, they, you have to, they have to understand, hey, listen, jack this up. That's fine. Next time go round, we'll do this. And it's important because you know those were your life skills are built because you're going to have a lot more failures than you are successes, but you're just gonna have to pick yourself up off of there.

I mean, there's nothing, you know, one of the things that I was talking to someone, you know, there's no one to catch you. You're going to have to figure this out. And that's life, you know, you figure, you know, 100 years ago.

Hey, you have to walk like two miles to get water. You know, there wasn't, you know, I'm saying like, you have to grow your food.

I mean, could you imagine going out and slaughtering a cow? I mean, if you eat meat or whatever. I mean, there's stuff, you know, 100, 150 years ago, there wasn't any supermarkets, you had to do this on your own.

I’m glad I’m living in the 21st century.

There's no, I mean, I was talking to someone about, you know, you had chambermaids, because the chambermaids would come and take the chamber pots. And then, you know, in Paris or whatever they dump them into the street because they didn't have a sewer system.

I mean, it's like, wow, this, and hey, we're living in modern times.

There's so many, yeah, there's so many examples.

But unfortunately we are kind of out of time. So I wanted to ask you maybe if there's a couple of things you want to, to offer advice that you wanted to offer our listeners.

Now is a good time to do so. And then, how do people get in touch with you, like you got a website, a blog somewhere.

How do people get in touch with you if they want to talk to you?

Well then, if I were to give, if I would, the advice I would give, I would say, whatever you want to do, find someone who's doing it, and just walk in their shoes.

Because there's, I think, and there's going to be a time for you to put your head down and just work. There is, there's going to be a time.

And for some people that's, that's, that's their thing. But if that's not your thing, and you want more from your life, just go ahead.

I mean, what's the worst thing you do? You're going to fail. All right, it's okay, there's a lot of people fail. It's perfectly fine. That's part of the whole dynamic.

You know, excuse me, you go, you try, you fail, and then you do some more. That's just the way life is. So then that's what I would say to someone who, to anyone.

And if you want to reach me, if you have questions, you can, my website is www.burseconsulting.com.

Or you can see me on LinkedIn, at Ahmad J. Burse at linkedin.com. And I've kind of changed some things on my LinkedIn.

Because I've gotten more requests from veterans than I have engineers. So, but if you need some support, I'm here to help you.

Perfect. Thank you, Ahmad. It was a pleasure talking to you today.

Absolutely. It was great. I appreciate the conversation. I appreciate the questions. But you, I really want to come to Australia.

Anytime. We'll be waiting.

This is Tech Explorations Podcast episode 19.

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The Tech Explorations Podcast is a podcast produced by Tech Explorations, a leading provider of educational resources for Makers, STEM students, and teachers. Go to techexplorations.com to see a complete list of our books and courses covering the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and electronics.


Communication, Leadership, Podcast, STEM

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