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Leadership Profile: Clay Daniels of U.S. Engineering Company

Learn & Lead Leadership
Learn & Lead LeadershipiStock

Clayton (Clay) Daniels is VP of Operations, Midwest Service & Solutions at Kansas City-based U.S. Engineering Company. He's also one of the area's most inspiring leaders.

The company was established in Kansas City in 1893 and is now one of the most experienced, diversified and respected mechanical constructors in the United States. It has three locations and annual sales of $270 million.

Daniels was a Major in the US Army, has an MBA from the Bloch School of Management at UMKC, and moved into his VP role at U.S. Engineering in November 2013.

Daniels recently shared his insights on leadership:

Question: As you move from Project Manager to Vice President, what do you plan to do the same, and do differently, from a management standpoint?

  • Daniels: Several project management skills translate to skills indicative of a Vice President. A VP is just managing and leading at a higher, more strategic level. Whether a project manager, or a VP, your primary responsibility is to provide clear direction to your teammates and to remove obstacles so they can do their jobs more effectively. In both positions, you are a servant leader.

Question: What primary leadership skills did you use as a Major in the US Army that you've transferred to your civilian business leadership role?

  • Daniels: All leadership skills translate. Loyalty, Integrity, Duty, Respect, Communication, Integrity, Selflessness, Decisiveness, Courage, Initiative, Accountability, etc… Obviously, the stakes are a little higher when leading soldiers in combat. However, the leadership skills necessary to motivate and inspire teams to accomplish their goals and objectives in the business world are relatively the same as they are in the Army.

Question: Why should a leader in business pursue an MBA?

  • Daniels: The MBA itself is an opportunity for a business leader to become more well-rounded and versatile. More importantly, a local MBA allows for business leaders to engage with each other, establish personal and business relationships, and to build off each other’s experiences. I personally have developed fantastic relationships with members of my EMBA cohort at the Bloch School of Management (class of 2013) that are going to last a lifetime.

Question: What are some of the best ways to network with other business leaders in the Kansas City area?

  • Daniels: For me, the best way to network is to participate in ‘extracurricular’ activities outside of business. I am a member of several groups, including the West Point Society of Kansas City and the Chapter 29 Special Forces Association. I also regularly attend other industry-related events and functions that allow interaction with my peers. One of the great things about construction and service is that our customers are typically from multiple industries. I do think it is very important to make an effort to build relationships and constantly expand your network. This can only help your company and you personally in your professional life.

Question: What was the process your company used to select your company's values?

  • Daniels: U.S. Engineering Company has been around for a long time. I was not a member of the management committee when our core values were created, but there is no doubt they were carefully selected. I am very proud of our values, but more importantly proud of my teammates that live them. Our core values are:
  • Exhibit integrity in everything we do.
  • Listen, identify and respond to customer needs.
  • Provide quality, on schedule, at a competitive price.
  • Respect, challenge and recognize each employee.
  • Ensure a safe working environment.

Question: Your company excels in community engagement. What are some of the most effective ways for Kansas City area companies to get involved in the community?

  • Daniels: I believe that everyone wants to help their community in some way. All it takes is for someone within a company to step up and take the lead; people will follow. U.S. Engineering is involved in many programs with local schools, the American Cancer Society, and Harvesters. However, my favorite program is during the Christmas season when U.S. Engineering employees and their families adopt children from the local community. We purchase Christmas gifts for the kids and deliver them in our U.S. Engineering 2-Ton truck. Throughout the life of this program, we have delivered gifts for over 400 kids.

Question: How did your views about leadership change from the time you entered the US Army until you exited 10 years later?

  • Daniels: I suppose I was a little naïve as a young, 2nd Lieutenant. At that point leadership to me was what I’d seen on the football field and at West Point. I realized that a true leader should be able to adapt their leadership style in the best interests of the team. For example, an infantry platoon leader’s style leading 19- to 24-year-old infantrymen was much different than a Special Forces A-Team leader responsible for 11 mature operators. Regardless, I learned that the most effective leader is one that clearly communicates the mission, establishes left and right limits, removes obstacles, and motivates the team. Finally, I learned that good leaders are humble. Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. A leader’s ability to accept responsibility, be accountable, and learn is critical to team success.

Question: What leadership skill did you learn as a teen that you still use today?

  • Daniels: Lead by example. I believe teens are developing leadership skills, but it is hard to expect them to completely understand the intangibles of leadership. However, teens can show leadership by making good decisions, having impeccable integrity, and working hard every day. When you lead by example, you don’t have to say much, but your teammates will follow.

Question: What single most important leadership skill did you learn playing football?

  • Daniels: In my opinion, there is no sport that teaches the intangibles of leadership better than football. The most important leadership skill that football taught me is toughness and perseverance. My defensive back coach at West Point once said – “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”