ENR Top 20 winner: ‘Achievers leverage adversity’ in quest for success

IMEG Lead Bridge Engineer Yanling Leng of Sioux Falls, SD, one of ENR magazine’s 2023 National Top 20 Under 40, recently joined the other honorees for a conference and conversation about the AEC industry’s top issues. Yanling shares her experience in the following Q&A. 

Q. What was it like to be part of this distinguished group of Top 20 Under 40 professionals from the AEC industry?

A. I felt very fortunate and humbled. It’s truly an honor to have been named one of the top 20 young professionals from the AEC industry. Winning this award also brought a credibility that allowed me to trust in myself, and I became more confident with self-advocating and expressing my expertise.

Q. Besides the honor you all shared, were there other career or personality traits the group had in common?

A. We are a very diverse group, and we have different career paths and perspectives. However, we each have shown great passion and dedication to lifelong learning, improving our organizations, enriching our community, and moving the industry forward. 

Q. What were some of the key topics discussed at the conference? Did any stand out to you?

A. The core of the conference was regarding building strong foundations for successful careers. We discussed the key challenges facing the professional workforce development in AEC and possible ways to mitigate them. One interesting topic was “Harnessing Our Differences for Success.” Most everyone has some burden to carry along in life. Achievers don’t use the obstacles of race, profile, gender, age, connections, or education as excuses—instead, they leverage adversity to become the most successful version of themselves. 

Q. Did you share any IMEG initiatives for the benefit of the group?

A. I shared IMEG’s employee engagement strategies, such as strengths-based development and engagement surveys. IMEG offers employees the opportunity to find our strengths using the Gallup StrengthsFinder, which offered a deeper understanding of who I am. One strength that surprised me is significance. People with exceptional significance strength want to make a big impact. I wasn’t aware I have that trait, or that I’ve tried to hide my ambitions in the past, but I have been intentionally working on the skillsets and confidence to harness my significance strength. 

Q. What key take-away did you bring back from the conference that will have an impact on your work at IMEG, either internally or with clients?

A. The biggest takeaway for me was a better understanding of relationship building, which includes creating meaningful relationships internally and with clients and breaking out of typical work circles to partner with others from various industries and career stages to organically expand my network. Networking is multi-faceted, long-term, and strategic. We can accomplish more as a result of the learning, support, and cooperation we receive from other people.

Q. Any advice for future engineers who aspire to one day be a leader in the industry?

A. I would recommend strategic volunteering. If you aspire to be a leader, but don’t feel like you are there yet, you should look for opportunities where you can build the skillsets and confidence to be a leader. Volunteer work can help you develop leadership skills and at the same time build confidence in a supportive, low-consequence environment.

Read ENR’s report on the 2023 Top Young Professionals Conference.