Lessons in Leadership: Michael Lopez

January 9, 2023 | By: Michael Lopez

In October of 2022, four leaders across different sectors of the CRE industry were brought together to discuss and present on leadership.

This incredible panel spoke on investing in future leaders, growing teams, mental health, and much more. Here is some of what Michael Lopez, Group Engineering Manager with Cousins Properties, Inc., spoke on.

Building Engineering

I’ve been in this field since 1986. I came up through the ranks. And done the good bad ugly about coming up through the ranks and it’s something that we all do, and we’ve done it for decades.

In the engineering side we take great mechanics and we take very good technicians, and they do an excellent job for us. And then, the next day, we turn them into managers. Suddenly, they’re having to manage this team. And we go on about our job. We have not given them the training and the tools that they need to be successful. It’s been that way for years.

They’re running the team that they were buddies with two days ago and we just don’t support them as well. I came up through that, and everybody has had those managers, my way or the highway, you either do it the way I want you to do it or get gone. Or you have the other manager who really doesn’t care. Telling you “I don’t care, just go handle it. I don’t want to be involved, just take care of whatever it needs to be done.”

I’m a pleaser, I like taking care of everybody. I want to make sure everybody is handled. Everything is done. I can get stuff handled without a problem, but like they say, it drains you. It takes a lot out of you to do that over a decade. Over the last 10 years I have watched a ship through different styles of managers and leaders.

Growing Your Team

I’ve been very fortunate to have very good mentors and leaders take me under their wing and educate me on a positive way to do things with my team. In the last five years we have taken a culture that was very mediocre, and we have changed it. Now I can say we have 70 people on our team, and I don’t have one person on that team that I even have a concern about. There’s not a person on that team that you can’t go to and ask them what our core values are, and they can list them off in 5-seconds and tell you why they do it.

We’ve had teams go out there and take our core values and spray paint them on walls in their building areas just to promote it. It is fantastic. That kind of change comes from a lot of work from the leaders and the leadership. But my question is who are the leaders? Your chief engineer and your assistant chief. Those are the leaders. Those are the ones who really need to be supported. Those are the ones that are needing our attention. They need our help.

If you have not spent time in the last week with your chief engineer or your assistant chief engineer and had a 5-minute conversation on how their life is outside of work, why not? You want to build that relationship. You have to build those relationships if you want them to perform for you. If you want their loyalty and, more than anything else, if you want their respect, grow that relationship.

Goal Setting

Why are we doing this? What is our goal? What are we trying to achieve? Yes, we run Class A office buildings. We get what we do with the brick and mortar. We take care of all the electrical and HVAC, but what is the ultimate goal?

Are we responsible to our stockholders are we working for the CEO? If you can give your team a clear goal and be transparent as possible on how to achieve that goal that would be tremendous. If you can sit down with your chief and say OK, budget season’s come in, this is what we need to do.

And it helps them to be part of that and then they’re going to turn around and get their assistant involved. It gets other engineers involved and everybody takes a little piece of that pie and works on it, and they all feel like they’re part of the community and all part of getting that budget done.

Then in the following year when you guys are talking about OK, we have X amount of funds and we have to do it by this time, everybody understands what we’re trying to do and why we’re doing it this way instead of “Hey just get it done.” Getting to that end goal might not be easy, there might be a lot of roadblocks to navigate to get there. There might be financial obligations that may or may not be met. You’ve got customers in there somewhere that you have to deal with too.

Then you’ve got your engineering team; you have your management team. Are they on board? There’s a lot of moving pieces to achieving these goals, and I pride myself on one of my goals and one of my jobs as the group engineering manager for Cousins is my job is to remove roadblocks.


I know as managers we always cannot be as transparent as we can. We have to find that happy balance to be as transparent as possible. The more information they have, the more our teams feel included in what’s going on. That turns into more productivity, more loyalty, and more respect from them.

I always ask them don’t respect the position, respect me, and if you don’t respect me then I’m doing something wrong. I have been brought up through the ranks like that and one thing was always said years ago: “If you do your job and somebody can replace you, then you’ve done your job as a leader.”

And that is my ultimate goal. If I can find people at any point in time in my team that can take my job and I can move on to go do something else, I consider that a success.


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