Karine Leblanc, sales engineer with U.S. Air Conditioning Distributors, helps busy consulting engineers with HVAC design projects by supporting them with various system ideas and efficient equipment solutions.
Leblanc served on the ASHRAE society board of directors from 2014-2017 and became the first female Region X Director Regional Chair since 1959. She is now serving as the president-elect of the National Speaker Association’s Los Angeles Chapter. She has received the ASHRAE Distinguished Service award and was awarded an honorary medal as part of the 50th anniversary of the University of Quebec for her exceptional contribution to the university.
Not your typical engineer, Leblanc is passionate about helping engineers step up their leadership skills by learning how to build lasting relationships, communicate effectively, and become an influencer without relying on any title. Leblanc recently conducted a number of interviews with HVACR engineers. Here is Part 3 of that series, featuring Brittany Dianat, LEED AP, founder and principal of Infrastructure Factor Consulting Inc.
To see Part, 1, featuring Erin McConahey, principal, ARUP, click here.
To see Part 2, featuring Angie Simon, president, Western Allied Mechanical, click here.
Leblanc: Please introduce yourself
Dianat: I grew up in Overland Park, Kansas. Our MEP firm is located in Los Angeles and focuses on infrastructure projects in the health care, mission critical, and other technically savvy projects.
Leblanc: Now let's talk about your career for a bit. Are there any defining moments in your career that you can recall?
Dianat: Yes. When my first boss told me the reason they hired a female engineer was to meet a quota! Back in the mid-1980s, our field was 99% male dominated. It was then that I knew I had to work much harder than my male counterparts to prove that women in our business are not just there to meet a quota. Opportunity should be given based on qualifications and not gender, race, etc.
Leblanc: How about specific instances that urged you to make pivotal decisions? Have you experienced something that fundamentally changed you? If yes, how did it transform the way you think in business?
Dianat: The list is long. Where do I start? Our life experiences and lessons learned constantly changes us as individuals, hopefully for the better.
Leblanc: We all know that talent alone is not enough to enable us to reach our full potential. To be a successful leader such as yourself, you have to bring more than just talent. Can you share what it was that motivated and pushed you to meet your potential?
Dianat: Staying focused and working toward what you want to achieve. There will be plenty of distractions along the road that might take your focus away but don’t give into it. Stay honest with your clients, tell them the tructh even though at times they don’t want to hear it. In the long run, they’ll appreciate it. Build a strong trust with your team. Surround yourself with members that are better than you. Collaborate and work as hard as your team.
Leblanc: There is a lot of talk in leadership about time management. With the understanding that we all get the same amount of hours per day, how do you manage this yourself?
Dianat: I wake up every day thinking my day will never turn out as I planned it the day before. There are always surprises that pop up during the day that could derail my plans for the day. That’s just life. I learned early on to focus on the most important tasks and prioritize in terms of criticality – the 80/20 rule.
Leblanc: Was this something you had to learn, or were you always good with time management?
Dianat: I learned fairly early on in my career to manage time and stay focused. I have refined it throughout the years to suit my nature. Every person is different and they need to figure out what works best for them.
Leblanc: Successful people don’t reach their potential by accident. What is your secret to success?
Dianat: Don’t dilute your brand. Stick to your core expertise versus grabbing on to any and all types of projects out there. Stay in tune with the evolving world, ever-changing technology, and how businesses are changing. As engineers and consultants, we need to be doing the same. You can’t stay stagnant. Listen to your clients and what their vision is. You must adapt and tailor your approach to the market and the clients you serve. One size doesn’t fit all. In today’s world, we can’t just be engineers and give clients a few solutions and say, here you go. We need to truly understand their vision, business model, challenges they face, their budget constraints, and put ourselves in clients’ shoes. Be a great listener, help them achieve their goals through creative solutions to meet their needs.
Leblanc: Is this something you do daily?
Dianat: Yes, it is.
Leblanc: What do you think is the biggest driver in your success?
Dianat: A few things come to mind, such as having passion about what you do. Do right by your clients even if there is not revenue in it for you. Great relationships are built on trust. Make sure your clients trust and respect you as an advisor. Same with your team. Good karma goes a long way.
Leblanc: Leaders distinguish their success during tough times. What advice do you have to offer during a crisis, such as the current situation with COVID-19, where tough calls have to be made?
Dianat: COVID-19 is for sure like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life and career. We carefully watched the signs and the science behind it. Ignoring the signs or being in denial about a situation whether change in markets, economy, delivery methods, health crisis like COVID, etc., doesn’t benefit you. Closing your eyes to issue will have an adverse effect on our team and clients. During COVID, safety of our employees and their wellbeing was our priority. Everyone was setup to work from home in the first week in March and we have all been working from home, very effectively, so far. It’s always good to be proactive rather than reactive. None of us need the added stress if it can be avoided.
Leblanc: What are some practices that you use to shift things around?
Dianat: Virtual meetings, virtual site visits, and lots of Zooms to stay connected.
Leblanc: What are the obstacles and challenges that you face as a leader?
Dianat: A couple of things come to mind. First, the young talent that enters the industry: How to keep them engaged and excited about how wonderful our industry is and to have a little bit of patience. Second, speed to market, the exciting changes in our industry, and how to achieve them effectively and efficiently.
Leblanc: Are there areas that you feel you are still working on?
Dianat: I’m always working on these areas. I never feel I can ever say I’m perfect.
Leblanc: What is the best leadership advice you have gotten from someone?
Dianat: To my female colleagues, don’t play the woman card. Do the hard work and stick to it. Don’t give up and you will succeed. To all my colleagues, don’t dilute your brand or your reputation. Stay focused and be true to your clients and team. Pick the battles you want to fight. You can’t win every battle but you can win the war. Always be respectful and kind.
Leblanc: In your opinion, what is the "secret sauce" that younger engineers or managers miss in leadership?
Dianat: I truly believe our young generation of engineers are fantastic, very forward-thinking, with great ideas and ambitions. However, time and patience are still virtues. You don’t wake up one day and know everything – well, at least it didn’t happen to me that way. You might be great at certain aspects of the job but not everything. Determination, focus, and time/patience are essential ingredients to get you there.
Leblanc: Take a look into your crystal ball: What does your next level of success look like in your position as a leader?
Dianat: All of us have an obligation t the society to mentor, guide, and empower our people to become better than us. Their success whether they stay with us or not will always go a long way. Nothing makes me happier to see one of my younger colleagues become my boss.
Leblanc: Tell us something that not a lot of people know about you.
Dianat: I’m a Cleveland Browns fan.
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