Tech Leaders

Keeping the Bridges Intact While Blazing Your Trail

Millennials, loosely defined as individuals born between the 1980s and 2000s, now make up the SPE young professional demographic. We are known for many things, both good and bad, but perhaps most notably, we are not satisfied with putting our heads down and waiting our turn to climb the corporate ladder. Millennials desire challenging and impactful careers. We have come to expect exceptional reward for exceptional work. As a result, we are rarely satisfied staying in one role or at one company for too long. So, the question is, how do we keep our careers exciting and dynamic? Kim McHugh, general manager of drilling and completions for Chevron Services Company, and Jake Howard, operations supervisor for Chevron, weigh in on how to manage these transitions gracefully and strategically.

What was the motivation for your transitioning of roles?

Kim McHugh (KM): Operations is such an exciting part of our business. I love being a part of the day-to-day operations at the rig, delivering production for the business plans, all at a very fast pace. That being said, the motivation to change to a corporate role is that I get to know what is happening around the world for Chevron. This is a role of influence with industry interaction outside of Chevron. Being able to travel is also a plus, as I get to visit operations around the world.

Jake Howard (JH): I have always been excited to take on new challenges. Moving into operations as a production team lead, then as an operations supervisor presented a number of new development opportunities.

With prior engineering experience in carbon dioxide flooding, waterfloods, and heavy-oil steam floods, this move gave me an opportunity to learn the frontline challenges that come with our modern day unconventional tight oil play. This transition would also give me the chance to learn the core of the business from the ground floor, spending time at the wellhead learning. Yet, the biggest opportunity I saw was to begin expanding my scope within a technical role to a leadership role.

Being responsible for a team to accomplish results through motivating and developing others was the biggest driver for taking on this transition. Being able to do so in a company such as Chevron, knowing I would never have to compromise my integrity or values, made the opportunity even more attractive.

What steps did you identify to enable your transition to a new role?

KM: When moving to a new role, you need to have a clear understanding of what the expectations are of that role from your supervisor, because you cannot deliver nor set strong goals for your team until you know exactly what is needed. You need to know who the customer is and who the important peers are so that you can focus on building those relationships.

This works when transitioning into any job, whether it is your first leadership role or an executive management position. I continue to work on them as I move through my career. Find people whom you trust to give you constructive feedback as you go along. And you have to seek it out. People are not just going to volunteer it.

As you move into leadership roles, you really need to think about the people that have led you, and decide which traits they have had that you would emulate. The best book I have read before going to a new job is The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. It will give you some great strategies for getting up to speed faster and being more effective quickly. I reread it before every new job.

JH: Find the balance between learning about the operations and becoming an effective leader as quickly as possible. I learned early on that it is not only okay, but imperative, to ask questions. Many times, this includes direct reports in addition to peers and other team members. The key behavior I had to learn to implement was the ability to ask questions while still coming across in a trusting manner. Also, learning how to slow down around my new team and realize what drives others to want to achieve results was another critical step I had to learn. Identifying which methods of motivation work for various personalities was the next step in the journey.

Often, people are afraid to embark on a career change, especially early in their career. What challenges or obstacles did you encounter during the transition, and how were you able to overcome them?

KM: First, not everyone is always going to think you are the right person for the job. You have to be mindful of that, but do not let it keep you from taking the job. I think the hardest part of a transition to a new role or new career is the self-doubt that will come with it. Have faith in your strengths and understand that your gaps are just that. They are not weaknesses; they are just gaps. You need to be actively aware of them, then take the challenge, and just do it.

At one point in my career, I went from working for a major to working as a consultant. That was a big change, but it was one of the best decisions I had made. It opened a lot of doors and gave me a lot of exposure overseas that I would not have gotten otherwise.

Another challenge you may face is that as jobs change, your time commitment changes. This is especially true if you are progressing up your career and the company becomes more demanding of your time. I have been very fortunate that my family has been able to talk about these challenges and come to agree and support each move. If you do not have that, it can make the strain of a new job or career change very difficult.

In the oil and gas industry, which is highly technical, is there a time frame in which a technical role has to be mastered before transitioning into a management or business role?

KM: I do not know that there is a specific time frame such as 5 or 10 years. I do think the company sees the potential in people and will know when that jump needs to take place. My feedback would be that when you are in that technical role, focus on it and be really good at it. Do not rush to get out of the technical role, because your performance in the role will be a strong decision point on any potential promotions in the future.

Your ability early on in a technical role to see the bigger picture plays a big part in that future movement. It is important when you are in these technical roles to make sure that you are taking advantage and really gaining the big picture—a strategic view of your business—which will help a lot in career progression. Again, I am not sure that I can give you a specific timetable for getting out of technical roles, but I do know that when leading teams later in your career, you do not have to be the smartest technical person in the room. You need to be able to lean on your technical base so that you can ask the right questions of your team.

JH: The decision of when to step out will be completely up to whatever you decide you want in your career. Unless you are working on a single asset or in a small company, I am not sure one could ever truly master all technical aspects of the industry.

While having a strong technical foundation is obviously going to add significant value, many of the great business leaders throughout history have had minimal technical abilities in their given field. Learning how to motivate and lead teams and individuals is equally, if not more, critical to being a successful leader. If one can truly buckle down with a couple of years in various assets and roles within the oil and gas industry, I believe that to be more important than achieving a set number of years worked.

I would definitely recommend to engineers to complete at least one full assignment in both production and reservoir engineering prior to stepping out into a leadership role. Once you have the basics down, it will not only assist your leadership role, but will allow you to learn some of the differences in each of the roles in the new asset.

If you do choose the expedited route, while seeking continuous growth through asking questions and learning through your new role, you must remember that your questions will be viewed differently as a leader than as a technical professional. I would encourage other new leaders to precede the questions with sincerity in your goal to gain a better understanding of your new area and its functions.

Is there a time when one has to say, “I am sacrificing technical expertise for management opportunities”?

KM: I think it is important to note that not everybody is cut out for the management side. We need technical subject matter experts and that is a valuable skill. So it is okay to not want to be on the management side of things and still be very successful. Sometimes, I think everyone thinks we should all be in management, but if we are all in management, we will not have the technical expertise to plan, develop, and operate large, technically difficult projects. If you really look at organizations, there are a lot more technical roles than management roles, and we really do value our subject matter experts.

JH: Absolutely. To maintain sanity and a reasonable work/life balance, while making the move to a leadership position, one cannot possibly hope to continue developing his or her technical expertise at the same rate. If you are continuing to gain technical knowledge at the same rate as a leader, then someone is feeling the sacrifice; it may be your team, family, or friends.

When our readership looks to move in and out of different roles, teams, or even companies, do you have any advice on how to properly close out their time with a team?

KM: You need to have a transition plan in place. If you are leaving the team that you are currently leading, you need to give your replacement the time to begin to take over that team and establish himself or herself as the new leader. Having a good closeout with your team and providing good feedback can help both you and your replacement have a smooth transition without any loose ends.

JH: Be humble, sincere, and show appreciation to the team for opening up to you, letting you in, and teaching you what you have learned. You have invested lots of time with your team. In some cases, more than what you spend with your family. Encourage your team to assist in the transition to welcome their new leader. Communicate that they are going to be in good hands with your successor and lift that person up to a realistic level, speaking only about the positives throughout the transition.

How can one maintain networks and communication with old teams?

KM: I use social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. I also meet for coffee and lunch, or make a phone call just to check in. The face-to-face interaction is the most important, but if you cannot do that, then you should make a phone call. LinkedIn and Facebook are good tools to stay updated with what is going on with different people, but it does not do much to build the relationship.

JH: Maintaining networks can be a positive thing, but keep the good of the corporation in mind and be cautious not to cross the lines of too much communication. Before maintaining frequent levels of communication or engagement with your old team members, put yourself in the shoes of the leader who is taking over when deciding the level of engagement with maintaining the relationship.

What is your advice on successfully integrating into the new team?

KM: The first way is to reach out to your new team and figure out what their expectations are for your role. Find out what was working and what was not, and understand how to continue or change those practices. Having one-on-one conversations with the people on your new team and getting their feedback is very important.

You do not want to change everything overnight. Integration will take time based on the previous history of the work group, and these one-on-one interactions should help you develop a strategy for that integration. You really have to have a flexible leadership style. Not one thing is going to work for everybody or every team. Integrating into a new team is when some of your soft skills can really become an asset.

JH: Stop and take the time to get to know the team on a personal level as well as understanding your team’s functions, strengths, and weaknesses. Show the team from day one that you truly are there to not just achieve results, but to get them in the right manner by truly valuing every employee. Show that you are willing to jump in and lend a hand in the dirty work. Never ask of others what you would not do yourself. Show that you are there to lead your team, not to push from above. Show enthusiasm for the team, yet remain cautious not to appear too ready for significant changes within the team unless previous conversations with your supervisor lead you to believe there is a need for a significant turnaround.

What are some ways to step into a leadership role for a team that is well established?

KM: The first thing is to identify what is working well and figuring out how to support it. In a well-oiled machine, you have to give it some time to identify areas with potential to be strengthened. There is always room for improvement. If you are making a move to a team that is not well oiled, you need to understand the strengths and gaps in personnel.

You have to talk to team members about what they believe they should be delivering and what the barriers to delivery are. Then you have to quickly line out what the expectations are going to be and get their engagement on how the team is going to be successful at attaining those goals. The most sustainable performance occurs when the team is helping to develop the strategy and metric that will be used to judge progress, so getting their buy‑in and support is crucial.

JH: Stepping into a leadership role on a well-established team is an interesting challenge. You are the new face. Every comment you make, every action you take or do not take is under a microscope. You will be the topic of conversation for months. This can work for you and the direction you want to steer the team, but it could also work against you. Until you are ready for the message to be delivered to all, do not deliver or even imply to any. Know the values of your company and make sure that every word you speak and action you take reflect those values in a positive way.

Kim McHugh is the general manager of drilling and completions for Chevron Services Company. In this role, McHugh supports the drilling, completions, and workover operations around the world, including technical standards, performance planning, drilling and completions  information technology, operations geology, subsea well intervention, and rig category management. She has previously worked for BP, Unocal, ARCO, and Vastar in operator roles and as a consultant. McHugh holds BS and MS degrees in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University.


Jake Howard is an operations supervisor for Chevron in the Midland Delaware Basin. He began his career with Chevron in 2007 as a production engineer in the Kern River field.  He then led the West Central California Lean Sigma program. In 2013, he became production team lead in the Midland Basin and later relocated to the Eastern Shelf of the Midland Basin to become operations supervisor for the Conger FMT. Howard graduated from Texas Tech University with a BS in petroleum engineering.


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