Jessica Leigh Jones – Engineering Leader & Astrophysicist


How would you advise someone to stay ahead of the game?

The world is changing politically, technologically and culturally. People are speaking out, creative start-ups are defying conformance, the established landscape of influence is crumbling and social media is becoming a fair-game platform for facilitating mass change. We are living in a time of great opportunity and exciting uncertainty but we must not become complacent or stand still, for the world will not wait for us. It’s coming. There is only really one decision to make, do you want to create the change or be changed in the process? Are you a driver or a passenger?

What pressures remain for women when it comes to succeeding in the corporate world?

I’ve never perceived the lack of women in senior roles or technical roles as a barrier to my own career progression. However, I would admit that being the only female around the table can sometimes feel like being a lone ranger. For corporates who have low numbers of women, it is often expected that you will fit into a particular mould, cast by the values and legacy of a majority-male leadership team. Occasionally I have experienced a conflict with these values.
I once read that life is only 10% what you experience and 90% how you react to it. I do whole-heartedly buy into this. What I’ve learnt over my career is that you can see this conflict as a barrier, or you can use it to your advantage. In every setback there is an opportunity, not only to adapt your approach and overcome, but to blaze the trail for the many ambitious and talented people who will follow. Embrace your differences and use them as a catalyst to progressing your organisation.

How do you approach leadership development for yourself and your colleagues?

Nobody is a finished article; leadership development works most effectively when it’s timely. Depending on where you are and what challenges you are facing will highlight what your development needs are. These must be evaluated continuously and acted upon as early as possible to ensure that healthy habits and practices are formed. People learn from error and from dealing with unfamiliar and challenging situations so it’s important to allow these scenarios to play out in a safe environment, such as within your team.
I maintain a dynamic model of my team, identifying strengths, weakness and most importantly potential, of individuals and as a collective. I map this across to our vision, the key deliverables we are aiming for and the values we strive to exude.

What challenges do you expect for the industry this year?

Manufacturing is about to enter a fourth industrial revolution driven by Big Data and the Internet of Things. Henry Ford once said “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”. Since then, the industry has accepted that the most profitable and successful way to make things is by mass manufacture.
Enter Mass Customisation – The next generation of manufacturing driven by a rising consumer demand for highly personalised, often unique goods. Dependent on flexible automation and end-to-end supply chain connectivity, the desire to make any product, at any time, in singular quantities whilst still achieving a worthwhile profit is likely to test the innovation stamina of even the most successful manufacturers. Whilst the technological advancements required to achieve this are no mean feat, the real challenge will be migrating age-old cultures to a new post-Fordian way of thinking. This will require strong but supportive leadership and a clear vision for the future.

What is your performance philosophy? (maintaining high levels consistently)

You have to be intrinsically motivated, and you achieve that by doing what you love doing most. Assuming you were absurdly rich and didn’t need to earn a living, what would you be doing with your time each day? If you can do that same thing and
get paid for it, you’ve achieved intrinsic motivation, and the by-product of that is consistently high performance. If you’re not doing the thing that drives you, focus on what you need to do to get there; that in itself will give you the motivation you’re looking for to achieve great things.
I am honoured to have been recently elected as the Vice Chair of an approval panel for Manufacturing and Engineering related apprenticeships in the UK.
But more than this, there should be opportunities for bright young people to contribute to solving problems that actually affect the community in which they live. It is my mission for 2018 to establish an organisation that facilitates these kinds of opportunities, linking together organisations and institutions with local schools and universities to build relationships, mutual understanding and work-readiness.

What do you think are the essential traits of growth for individuals and teams?

I take an ‘AAA’ approach to recruitment: Attitude, Aptitude, Ambition.
First and foremost is Attitude, because ultimately you have to work with this person on a day to day basis. Research suggests that the two things you look for in a colleague are whether you can trust them, followed by whether they are competent at their job. I use a similar philosophy. I assess characteristics like work ethic, ability to work within a team, and general fit with organisational and team values. These are all pretty standard things but you should never underestimate the importance of getting this right. Human beings are vibrant bundles of emotion and you get the best out of your team when the personalities balance and complement each other. Just one pirate in your team can sabotage the climate and have a damaging impact on your team’s results.
Many interviews these days are competency based, but at least in my line of work, it is difficult to conduct such an interview and make it meaningful. We are engineers, architects of the future, and no one really knows what the future looks like. It would be short-sighted of me to hire someone based on experience or competence. Instead I prefer to measure Aptitude. Does this person have the ability to learn what I need them to in order to progress our agenda, often independently? Are they creative, forward thinking, do they challenge the status quo? Of course I’d like them to have the foundational building blocks, in our case software programming skills, but do I care what languages they can write? Of course not, I just care that they have the aptitude to learn and adapt to the demands of the job.
Finally I try to assess their Ambition. To build a team of A-players you need to locate people with ambition. Although, not the kind of cold ambition that drives people to trample over their peers to get to the top. I look for ambition that will propel the team and the organisation forward. Someone who really cares about their work and is dead set on seeing their ideas make it from a concept to reality. This kind of ambition is very inspiring for teammates, and more often than not encourages the whole team to grow together.

What personality trait or skill do you think tops the list when it comes to creating success?

Resilience. Aim for success, but be prepared to fail and use it as a learning opportunity. Take time to reflect, introduce measures to prevent the same failure from happening twice and bounce back. Create a culture with your team that values failure and accepts it as part of the development process. Operate in a mindset of high risk – high return. Not everything will work but remember you can never truly be successful until you’ve experienced what it is like to fail.