Leah Burns is VED Hydraulics Engineering Manager for Continental Automotive Systems, Inc. Continental’s Chassis & Safety division develops and produces integrated active and passive driving safety technologies as well as products that support vehicle dynamics. In the following Q&A, Leah shares with us her valuable insights on the topics of leadership and success.
TBR: What is your current role and area of responsibility?
LB: I am the North American Mechanics Engineering manager in the Electronic Brake System segment of the Vehicle Dynamics business unit at Continental. I have a team of designers, design and test engineers, and technicians in both the U.S. and Mexico. We are responsible for the application, integration and testing of the mechanical and hydraulic portions of the brake control module for North American customers. Beyond customer support, I am responsible for guiding the professional growth and development of my team.
TBR: How would you describe your leadership style and why has it worked so well for you?
LB: I have a transformational leadership style with the belief that being a leader is about your people – not yourself and your agenda.I have a transformational leadership style with the belief that being a leader is about your people – not yourself and your agenda. Click To Tweet
I work with a very talented and dedicated group in various stages of their careers. We are all very passionate about what we do. As a leader, I am always willing to jump in and get my hands dirty for my team. That being said, I also know when I just need to provide guidance and have my team figure it out. Honesty and transparency are very important in leadership. I am better able to motivate and earn trust as a leader when I give it.
TBR: What do you see as your biggest challenge right now?
LB: The automotive industry is always changing, and right now it is focusing on software and mobility. With all of the new technologies coming out with digitalization, and working toward smaller and lighter mechanics, I am constantly looking for ways to keep my team engaged and innovative on a shorter schedule than what we’re typically used to.
TBR: What do you look for when evaluating top talent?
LB: Something that is very important to me in evaluating top talent is someone who can exhibit passion for their job and has a sense of personal responsibility and ownership for what they are doing. Those people are the ones who come in and really give it their all, who want to learn from everyone around them, and always find success in what they do.Something that is very important to me in evaluating top talent is someone who can exhibit passion for their job and has a sense of personal responsibility and ownership for what they are doing. Click To Tweet
TBR: What was your first job in Industry?
LB: I began my career in a co-op role as a manufacturing engineer at General Motors. After graduation, I came to Continental as an application engineer in the hydraulic brake department.
TBR: What is the best career advice you have been given?
LB: To be OK with being uncomfortable.
I see a lot of people question themselves when deciding to take a new opportunity. The questions of whether you have the right skill set or knowledge can instill doubt and may result in you ultimately let the opportunity pass. Be OK with being uncomfortable, and you’ll surprise yourself with how far you can go in your career.
This also ties into the recent women’s movements of girls joining the automotive and STEM career paths. When I was younger and decided that I wanted to be an engineer and work in the automotive industry, I just did. I understand that some women can feel uncomfortable with it, but just know that you can do it, and you should not let your fear hold you back.
TBR: Name your favorite / recent book(s) you have read:
It is a great book for young professionals trying to bridge the gap between who you are and who you want to be professionally.
TBR: What is your favorite quote and why?
LB: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”
My track coach used to say this all the time before a meet, but it makes sense for all aspects of life. If you are not willing to challenge yourself, you are not going to grow or make it to the next level.“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Click To Tweet
TBR: How do you see the industry evolving over the next 5-10 years and do you have any bold predictions for us?
LB: It is a very interesting and exciting time to be a part of the automotive industry. There are a lot of different regulations and standards that are pushing new advances. These are all forcing a shift in the industry and current supplier focuses.
With autonomous vehicles coming along, different companies and suppliers that were never thought of as automotive suppliers are starting to make their moves in the industry. The competitive landscape is changing rapidly and it makes for some very challenging, but exciting times!The competitive landscape is changing rapidly and it makes for some very challenging, but exciting times! Click To Tweet
TBR: Tell us a something that most people might not know about you or your organization.
LB: Continental is one of the largest international technology companies that continues to make an impact on the automotive industry and the future of mobility. However, working here, I have never felt as if I was getting lost in a large corporation. The company does a great job with forming tight-knit communities with different focus areas. There are so many opportunities available to each employee. We have a small company feel, with a huge global network and being a part of an organization that offers so many opportunities – is simply put – is great!