Lead with Passion

By: Robert D. Atkinson Jr., P.E.
Senior Vice President | Co-Practice Area Leader - District Services

As a little kid, I spent my weekends roaming the offices of where my father worked.  My father often worked seven days a week as the Planning Director at a company named Edminster Hinshaw. He was passionate, engaged, enthusiastic, charged and knew that he was changing Houston and the counties around it.

At 10 years, old I would get official survey drawings of properties and design my own land plans. I learned the symbols on plans and profiles and discovered what was really happening on paper and on the ground.  My land plans usually consisted of a square block of lots that looked similar to the Houston Heights. Everything outside of that block was a park to fill up the property boundary. I was proud of my work and kept every piece, but when my dad pointed out a better way, I wasn’t afraid to change my plan. As I worked with him more and more, I too became passionate and engaged.

At 14, all my enthusiasm for what I had spent years learning vaporized in less than an hour. I took one ride in a Cessna 172-Model M and after that ride, all I did was look, read, touch, and dream of flying airplanes. At 17, I was a freshman at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas officially studying to be an Aerospace Engineer.

In the middle of my junior year, I decided Aerospace wasn’t for me. Civil Engineering was my calling and airplanes were better left as my hobby.  However, I did not change majors. I was laser focused on graduating, getting a job and buying a Camaro with a fin on the back.

After graduating college, I accepted a position as Truman Edminster’s EIT and enrolled in a flight school.  I spent the money I’d saved for the Camaro on flying lessons. About two months into flying lessons, I was doing solo touch-and-go landings and overlooked a control panel switch. My error caused me to run through a ditch at 80 mph and almost kill myself, as well as others on the ground.

For weeks, I had deep thoughts about the events of that day. I owned that error; I did it, and it was 100% mine. But I also owned the successes I had made in flight training and in earning my Aerospace Engineering Degree. Eager to get back on the horse, I confidently returned to flying.

As a leader, it is imperative that you own all of your failures with all of your successes—both at work and in life. Successes teach you a lot of things, but our failures teach us the most. Your passion and engagement shine through your work—something I learned from my father those years ago. I periodically return to the projects that I’ve produced in the past and admire the people in their homes with pride. My personal favorite is “The Traces.”

Often times, we get so accustomed to doing the same things over and over that we subconsciously start to simply go through the motions. Take it from my experience, never become too comfortable or overconfident with an airplane or a project. And in a similar way, do not be afraid to ask for help when you feel you need it.

Lastly, persevere because success and leaders are not made overnight. It takes passion, drive and finding what is best for yourself. This life is yours and your sole responsibility to achieve from it all that you want.