The Discussion continues: Today’s Leaders have an obligation to the future of our profession.


Dean Ford: Leaders are obligated to the future | ISA.

The article above begins a discussion based upon my thoughts on the responsibility and obligation that today’s leaders in ISA and the Automation Profession have to the future of the profession.  In reality, the ideas set forth apply to anyone in a leadership position.  Many of you have probably seen me on the various blogs and LinkedIn groups defending and supporting the International Society of Automation, the Automation Federation and the Automation Profession in general against attacks that are meant to do nothing more than create controversy and some make the critic more relevant to the conversation.  The fact is, these critics are relics of a time gone by and have unfortunately missed the opportunity to join the new movement that will propel our profession into the future. 

Being a leader is a great responsibility. One that is not shared by pontificators or followers. Being a leader is living in a glass house, setting a direction and following it even when it is not popular in some circles. If it is the right thing to do, you know it and you must follow that instinct.  I believe that if you are not upsetting someone, then you are not being effective.

I came to the conclusion in the article based upon the experience I had specifically in IEEE and ISA.  My IEEE experience was that of a student leader at my college and the ISA was a professional leader.  Simply put, I cannot rationalize how a vital profession like automation is such an unknown given two professional orginzations exist that could serve it.  After spending the beginning of my career in both IEEE and ISA, I quickly figured out that IEEE was too broad to effectively support the automation profession, my profession.  I then focused on ISA. 

I here rhetoric that the ISA was so well managed during the 90’s and had such large cash reserves.  I hear that and also say to myself that a lot of companies with no vision or leadership were started in the 90’s and made a lot of money but never really provided value.  Just about anyone could have raised money in good times such as the bulk of the 90’s.  I also see that other professions really took off in the 90’s.  Project Management, Information Technologies, Computer Science, etc.  Where was the Automation Profession during the period of tremendous growth?  Why did it not seize the opportunity to make a place for itself?

I can only draw conclusions based on what battles, walls and mountains we must overcome today.  Certain factions in the automation community don’t see a need to have a presence in government.  That baffles me as I cannot identify a single profession that does not have a government relations person, association or group of some sort, except of course the Automation Profession.  We solved that with Automation Federation.  Today the Automation Federation is the Voice of Automation.  We have taken our message to government and anyone else that will hear us.  As many of us have learned, it is shocking how little is known about our profession and the importance of it in the future of society. 

The Federation built the Automation Competency Model that defines our profession to use as a jumping off point with the public, education, government, end users.  Anyone and everyone that is somehow connected to our space.  It has taken on international appeal as many other countries are looking to adopt it to solve their own problems with the lack of understand of our profession.

I also cannot believe that the ISA is so disjointed and the governance was allowed to become so crippling.  The last several ISA Presidents and the current ISA Executive Director have made very tough and strategic decisions to lay the foundations that have gotten us this far.  All the while having to deal with the old guard that just wants to maintain the status quo.  How can you claim to have been such a great steward of our society and leave it in such a disjointed, non communicative mess?

And I really don’t understand the necessity of some of our volunteers and volunteer leadership to treat the dedicated staff of professionals that we have so poorly.  I have seen some egregious e-mails and witnessed some very disappointing conversations by members to our staff.  I am quite certain these same folks would not treat peers or subordinates in their own company this way but maybe they do.  Either way, I won’t tolerate it and you will know it when I learn of a line you have crossed.  I am very proud of the staff we have and the dedication they show me every day.

And finally, there is a major issue of accountability, or the lack thereof, in our volunteer leadership, members, senior members and fellows.  Being a part of this society requires commitments and those commitments are made to the membership.  We will be working to hold these folks more accountable for their actions and to live up to the ISA Code of Ethics.  I am a proponent of having metrics for our volunteer leaders and the membership should demand that these people meet the minimum expectations of the roles they fill.  These roles are not to populate your resume. 

Now is the time for action to turn the society into what it can be, not ponitification on what the society should be or what is was during a different time and different world.  We already know the answer to that problem.  Either helps us move these mountains or go find something else to do and keep your mouth shut.  Armchair quarterbacking serves no use and only hinders our progress. 

As automation professionals, you really just have two options.  Sit on the sidelines and watch others control your future or join the fight and help us get this profession moving forward even faster.