What It Takes To Become Better Managers and Leaders

New IEEE E-book outlines what engineers need to know

6 January 2012

Most books on effective leaders focus on CEOs, presidents, and others working at lofty levels. But the important role of managers is often overlooked. If portrayed at all, managers are shown as administrators—moving paperwork along to ensure a company runs smoothly. But a new IEEE-USA E-book, Developing Leaders and Managers, challenges the assumption of blandness. According to author Gerard H. “Gus” Gaynor, effective managing cannot exist without some level of leadership, a trait that, he says, is not restricted to top executives.

“We tend to glamorize leading and denigrate managing,” Gaynor says. “A manager who only manages, without leading when necessary, fails to meet the basic requirements of an effective manager. Likewise, leaders who only identify their vision without managing it are of limited value.”

This is the second in the Leading and Managing Engineering and Technology E-book series from IEEE-USA. The first book, Perspectives on Leading and Managing, was released in June. Also by Gaynor, it provides a historical overview of leadership and deals with attributes of effective manager-leaders and the skills and training they require.

read Image: IEEE-USA

Gaynor’s new book builds on the first and examines how managers at all levels can become better leaders. He covers the challenge of supervising workers from different generations, and he explains how the engineering manager fits into the organization and why individual engineers, scientists, programmers, and technicians must take leading roles.


According to Gaynor, each of today’s four engineering generations has been taught a completely different engineering curriculum. Gaynor divides them into Traditionalists (those born before 1945; although most have retired, quite a few work part-time or as consultants), Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964), Generation X (1965 to 1980), and Generation Y (after 1980).

Dealing with the different work ethic and engineering background of the generations can be a management challenge. Gaynor says Traditionalists tend to be loyal employees who believe in job tenure, follow the rules, and put great faith in institutions. Baby Boomers generally believe in growth, change, expansion, and working long hours. A Gen X employee likely wants a fast track to management, exhibits an entrepreneurial streak, is well educated, and focuses on balancing personal life and work. Gen Y is technically literate, looks for immediate feedback, is impatient for promotion, and wants to be involved in an inclusive style of management.

“Managing these four generations requires a significant amount of tolerance,” Gaynor says. “Each generation carries its own baggage—which can cause conflicts. I don’t want to exaggerate the differences, but they do exist, and managers must learn to deal with them.”

Also causing conflict are the differences in engineering curricula studied by the groups. Engineering education for the Traditionalists and Boomers was based on learning the breadth of engineering principles and understanding fundamentals, with grounding in mathematics. Generations X and Y tended toward courses related to digital techniques, and they were encouraged to specialize in a single discipline.

“While the general philosophy of Traditionalist engineering focused on the basic tools needed to do engineering in its broad sense, the field today is very specialized,” Gaynor says. And specialization, he adds, affects how one manages. For example, a software development project requires a manager to meld the skills of several people. That complicates the development process and can cause communication problems because each specialist is using different terms.


Where should an engineering manager fit into the functional scheme of an organization? Everywhere, Gaynor says, and that can be the problem. Budgeting, procuring materials, public relations, and understanding patent and contract law are among the possibly unwanted challenges for engineering managers. “For them, it’s not engineering and therefore unimportant,” Gaynor says. “But that’s engineering myopia; it’s disregarding what engineering involves. Engineering managers should not work within technology alone in isolation from other areas.”


Engineers and technicians generally don’t involve themselves in managing the activities of others, nor do they see themselves as performing management duties. But that’s shortsighted, Gaynor says. He defines managing as being responsible for contributing to the results of the entire organization. Therefore, he says, individual professional contributors (IPCs) need to change their mind-set from just providing information to taking a leading role as a contributor to their organization’s success.

He offers examples of how to make the transition, including recommending new technologies or processes, being innovative, challenging decisions, and forming cross-functional teams to tackle engineering-related projects.

To be effective, however, IPCs need more than technical competency, Gaynor says. They also need decision-making skills and the ability to advocate and influence, and they must feel comfortable with complexity and uncertainty.

“As managers and IPCs, you do have a responsibility to lead—and leading requires using the appropriate means,” Gaynor says.

IEEE member price for the new volume is US $9.95; it’s $14.95 for nonmembers.

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