Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 200

The Development of an Engineer-Leader for
the 21st Century

Vijay K. Arora

Microelectronics Research Group
Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
The University of Western Australia
Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia
School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Nanyang Technological University
Room S1-B1b-51, Singapore 639798


The new engineer who is driving the global economy is now being challenged to acquire entrepreneurial skills in
addition to technincal skills.  This paper first highlights the essential attributes required for the new engineer to develop techno-entrepreneurship (technopreneurship)—a new paradigm. Second, it discusses the gaps in traditional college education and their remedies through the outcome-based ABET Criteria 2000. Third, it presents the distinction between leadership and management with reference to new models espoused in the Theory of Constraints (TOC). Fourth, it outlines the skills needed for the professional development of an individual to transform him from a traditional quantitative/verbal thinker to a future-oriented visionary.  Finally, the paper examines the ethical, moral, spiritual, and behavioral issues and related critical success factors essential to the development of an effective and efficient engineer-leader.

Keywords: Brain, creativity, engineering, genetics, knowledge, leadership, management, nanoelectronics, paradigm, robotics, strategy, technology, technopreneurship, transformation.

The most admired engineering achievements of the twentieth century include electricity, transportation, and information processing. After experiencing the vast impact of the invention of internal combustion engine and electricity on human civilization in the last couple of centuries, we are now entering a third revolution that will create genetics, nano/micro-electronics, and robotics (GNR) technologies. Engineers will play a central role in this Socioengineering Age as coined by Norman Augustine.1  Augustine’’s law states that for every engineering action, there is an equal and opposite societal reaction. It is, therefore, no surprise that GNR technologies will open a constructive dialog among professionals in all fields, researchers in basic sciences and humanities, and strategic planners at the government level looking after the interests of their constituencies. National Nanoelectronic Initiative (NNI) undertaking in the U. S. is one such inter-active dialog that is on going among academia, industry, and government personnel. The countries are competing to reap the fruits of these technological breakthroughs through the transfer of technology for societal needs. The human genome project has revealed the secrets of DNA code by unveiling the sequence of 3 billion letters and 80, 000 genes. One of its surprising findings is that at DNA level, there are no identifiable distinctions among races and genders. The environment in which one is brought up plays a major role in the total development of a human being. Research at the crossroads of biomedicine and nano-engineering is expected to reveal amazing breakthroughs in matching humans and machines as knowledge and information processors. The twenty-first century will reveal many of these secrets as professionals of various disciplines synthesize their findings. The role of leadership in developing strategic technologies is in discovering the channels through which we retrieve and process large quantities of information. Computers and diverse expert teams are supplementing an individual brain in developing thinking processes that will shape or reshape the future of a given constituency. Psychologists are researching both the ways in which the brain produces the phenomenon of consciousness and how we translate insights from neuroscience into more productive learning.2 It is becoming important to understand the impact of the involvement of business experts in developing technologies. For example, how can one  add $3 billion dollars to the economy simply by adding dot.com to the name? All these developments require a mixing of talents, markets, and communications in varied forms. This situation will force academia to create engineer-leaders, who are excellent communicators, have commitment to lifelong learning, are adept in facing the increasingly diverse world, and not only are able to adapt to change but also are influential in driving change for years to come.

nopreneurship—an agglomeration of technology and entrepreneurship—is a new paradigm for engineers, innovators, and strategic planners. Engineering is distinct from science in turning scientific ideas into reality by creating consumable items or services. Scientists study the world as it exists. However, engineers create a world that never existed. In this creative process, resources required in their varied forms are inter-dependent. Technopreneurship is therefore not a product but a process of synthesis in engineering the future of a person, an organization, a nation, or the world.

We live in a finite world where natural resources are limited and human wants insatiable. Even if we have an infinite supply of resources, we are still constrained by the number of hours in a day, availability of skills, value systems, political environments, and more importantly, the presence of markets that will consume our products. Often a tradeoff among resources (ideas, labor, land, capital, and entrepreneurship) is needed to enhance capabilities that will result in enhanced throughput, now and in the future. There are two important factors for the success of a technopreneur. The first and crucial factor is the technical know-how (brainware) or available technology that answer the question “How?”. Even if we have technology, we still have to face the societal concerns when many other questions need to be answered before undertaking a project: whether, what, why, when, whom, where, and how much.

If technopreneurship becomes all technique and technology, it will make us more materialistic ignoring that we are human beings.  If there is very little understanding of the higher human purposes that the technology is striving to serve, we will become victims of our own creation. In the spirit of providing service to the community, we must decide what is to be done to develop new products, cut costs, increase productivity, turn waste into environment-friendly products or assure its safe disposal, etc. Moreover, products or services must be trustworthy, reliable, safe, and add value to humanity.

The liberal arts hold the key to the development of these traits in an elite professional. The interpretations and definitions of liberal arts are as numerous as the number of institutions and departments in a given institution. In light of this disagreement, it is always a good idea to return to basics. The traditional liberal arts consist of two components:

Quadrivium: Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music
Trivium: Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic

The first component is more technical in nature while the second involves more human interaction. These were the accomplishments of a liberally educated person in ancient civilizations. Modern liberal arts embrace many soft subjects. The choice depends on the politics of one’s organization. Recent technological advances and global competitiveness has changed and broadened the nature of liberal arts to embrace humans and machines.

Immersed in liberal arts, organizations are organic. The organizations of the future must rely on nurturing people and their aspirations through agricultural paradigms. These growth-oriented green paradigms require strategic thinkers to base their decisions on the needs of real people both in and out of an organization. Synergy of technopreneurship among people in an organization requires clear understanding and values-sharing in order to gain commitment from all those involved. Various components of a shared-value system for an organic organization include.3

Goals and Objectives: Identification of what is to be done (desired state) and when to obtain desired results (timeliness).

Principles and Policies: Defining the constraints within which results are to be established.

Resources: Identification of the human, financial, technical, or organizational support available to reach the desired state.

Accountability: Setting up standards of performance, time of evaluation, and method of measuring progress.

Consequences and Contingencies: specifying and evaluating the consequences of our actions within the value system of society and the organization. This includes judgments based on ethical and moral principles of human behavior.


nowledge engineering requires us to assess the usefulness of technology in productivity enhancement, standards of life improvement, uncovering the hidden treasures of Nature, or usage for other destructive/constructive purposes. Even with constructive technology, there are a lot of social questions to be considered. For example, the effect on society when computer intelligence exceeds the capabilities of human intelligence is yet to be seen. As synthesis of the artificial and the natural processes occur, we will transform the ways we communicate and guarantee prosperity to those who possess knowledge in its varied forms.  The following are examples of questions that arise as we expand the knowledge-based economy: Would artificial machines be entitled to the same constitutional guarantee of rights as human beings? How can we program these machines to be responsible for their actions?  Would killing an intelligent machine provoke the same emotions in a segment of society that laments cruelty to animals? What will happen to the spiritual world? The future knowledge organizations, including universities, must address these issues as strategic programs are designed for the future.4

A survey of employers’ views of graduates has indicated that serious gaps exist in professional training through traditional college education. Some of these gaps are in the following areas:

Developing Integrity and honesty
Knowing how to learn
Being responsible and learning self-management
Problem solving
Decision making
Creative thinking
Communicating orally
Welcoming diversity

Shifting paradigms in academia—the source of knowledge creation—require us to address filling these gaps in professional training.
Recognizing these deficiencies in traditional training, the U. S. Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) in its well-researched ABET Criteria 20005 now requires that the spirit of technopreneurship be integrated within the curriculum of all technical programs. It forces universities to develop a process of assessing learning outcomes of programs that are consistent with the original mission of the institution. The desired attributes or outcomes for graduates of a baccalaureate program include an ability to:

1. apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering.
2. design and conduct experiments, as well as analyze and interpret data.
3. design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs.
4. function on multi-disciplinary teams.
5. identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems.
6. understand professional and ethical responsibility.
7. communicate effectively.
8. be educated broadly in order to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global/ societal context.
9. recognize and engage in life-long learning.
10. know contemporary issues as these arise.
11. use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.

Bringing about changes in people and organizations to implement these ideals is not simple. It requires momentum, proper attitudes, skill levels, perceptions and vision, and mindset change. Knowledge organizations must have the zest for adventure, for taking a risk, for doing something that no one has done before. Professionals in the American universities find it easier to try experimental programs. However, the paradigm when suggesting changes to bureaucrats in Asia is always the same: “We do not want to change because we are afraid of making expensive mistakes.” As Lincoln and Edison have shown with their innovations, failure sometimes leads to success. Lincoln’s life was full of failures before he was elected President and gave a new paradigm for democracy that is quoted all over the world: “The government by the people, of the people, and for the people.” Edison was asked, “How do you feel after failing so many times in making a light bulb?” He replied, “I have discovered hundreds of ways how not to make a light bulb.” The more professionals learn not to fear failure, the more likely they are to succeed. This willingness to take risks is one of the traits leaders and strategic thinkers must possess. The support and understanding of the public and bureaucrats is crucial in any innovative process.


Once, management and business books were removed from technical realities. They were full for philosophical recipes of human interaction and development. In the last few years, the trend has changed. Business books now read like novels and technical ideas are presented with a sense of humor. Dilbert Principle6 followed by Do Living Wage Ordinances Reduce Urban Poverty?7 by Scott Adams—a computer engineer by profession—was a blockbuster of the late 90’s. Adams postulates the presence of the Dilbert Principle at the workplace where ‘‘incompetent workers are promoted directly to management without ever passing through the competency stage.’’ Here is the need for high ethical and moral standards. The first 150 years in independent America were dominated by character ethics full of integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, and patience3. The years after World War II were dominated by personality ethics: public image, attitudes and behavior, skills and techniques that lubricate the process of human interaction. One aspect of this change is a positive mental aptitude and attitude; the other is purely manipulative (discovering new techniques for other people to like you). In training working professionals on ethics, the emphasis should be on finding ways to build strong character in professionals or the organization they serve with the intent to build trust and enhance trustworthiness among the stakeholders. After all, economic and political systems are ultimately based on a moral foundation. This principles-based leadership4 approach not only enhances our effectiveness, but also creates a healthy society that will judge professionals by their contributions to humankind. Applied ethics teach problem solving by examining cause and effect relationships and analyzing cases by analogies. As an example, a series entitled Ethics in Professional Life developed at Carnegie-Mellon University analyzes ethical cases based on a VCR framework 9.  This framework considers the values and virtues (V’s) of a person and an organization, provides a way for one to evaluate consequences and prepare contingency plans (C’s), and more importantly puts the burden of responsibility on those who claim rights (R’s). A leadership style that analyzes decisions based on a VCR analysis will create a win-win atmosphere for all stakeholders.

The Goal10—written in a novel form—is targeted towards enhancing the throughput of an organization, a goal which requires managers to understand the business aspects, especially the manufacturing process. It is the first book in a sequence of three books, the other two being It’s Not Luck11 and Critical Chain.12 The series propagates a socratic method involving dialogue between a teacher and a pupil in the tradition of gurukula (home of the teacher) system practiced in ancient India. The character Jonah, the guru-scholar, leads  a plant manager, Al Rogo, to identify bottlenecks (or constraints) as the capacity of the plant can never be greater than the capacity of a bottleneck. The plant manager’s transition from crisis management to the implementations of the Theory of Constraints (TOC) in both his professional and personal life is chronicled in The Goal. It’s Not Luck describes Thinking Processes for conflict management and market segmentation.  Critical Chain discusses the shortfalls of traditional executive MBA programs. The series supports the TOC solutions in shortening the production cycle and problem solving by Thinking Processes mapping cause and effect relationships and selling the solution to a hostile non-trusting audience. It explains how the TOC and Thinking Processes work equally well in business, politics, and family disputes—offering peace or profit without compromise. In most businesses, pressures mount as managers strive to achieve local optima instead of company-wide optimum. After going through paradigms suggested in the series, the reader analyzes a customer’s perception of value, designs a package of benefits addressing true value, and discovers synergy on how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. One can then demonstrate how to eliminate root cause(s) of problems to reach goals by common sense that is not always common. A TOC solution is based on the stakeholders’’ analysis that includes:

People: Their perceptions, motivations, values, habits, skills, and talents.
Formal Organization Structure: That evaluates physical environments, available technology, possible strategies, current and desired infrastructure, policies, and procedures.
Informal Organization: That analyses the culture, values, and norms emerging from the interaction between people, the organization, and world outside the organization.

The metrics required to measure success in a throughput world are only three: Throughput, inventory, and operational expense. Throughput is the rate of production that also dictates the money coming into an organization. A synchronous organization will synchronize throughput with market consumption rate. Just-in-time is becoming a paradigm to consider to enhance throughput, reduce inventory, and reduce operational expense by synchronous manufacturing. Inventory can become a serious liability. Although cost accountants put inventory in the “asset” category when balancing their sheets, a rapid advancement of technology can turn the disposal of obsolete products into a serious liability. Operational expense is the money the organization pays out for throughput to happen—that is, to turn raw materials into products needed by a market. Following the TOC approach, Harris Semiconductor (now Intersil) in Mountaintop, Pennsylvania, U. S. A., finished its 250-million-dollar 8-inch silicon wafer processing plant in record time of 13 months, substantially below the industry standard of over two years13.

Emerging leadership/management styles are invariably based on:

Understanding the complexity of group dynamics while working as a member of the team to which task is assigned (self-directed work teams).
Organizing data in order to get useful information and then putting that knowledge to use to make effective decisions.
Analyzing need and economic factors consistent with values of society.
Generating and evaluating alternatives.
Communicating ideas to peers and public-at-large.

Using resources effectively (production capability PC) and efficiently (production P). PC/P balance is a must to derive optimal benefits.


In spite of the vast number of innovations in information technology, the human brain remains an incredible information processor and a remarkable knowledge manager. In any organization, people either produce, manage, or lead14 . However, a technopreneur has to perform all of these roles. Whole-brain thinking (see Figure 1) is a must for envisioning the future while designing a strategic plan. Ned Hermann 7 divides the brain into 4 quadrants: two on the left (quadrant A and B) and two on the right (quadrant C and D), as shown in Figure 1. The left half works more with logic, words, structures, and analysis. In contrast, the right half works more with emotions, pictures, whole entities, relationship among parts, and synthesis. The left half is sequential and time-bound (masculine), the right is holistic and time-less (feminine). In Asian philosophy, these two aspects form the yin-yang (feminine-masculine) combination. Most of us are trained to be quadrant A thinkers who think in terms of numbers and words. Quadrant B thinkers are task-oriented and result-driven. Quadrant C and D thinkers think in terms of systems or images, relying heavily on holistic model of a situation. A number of activities can be designed to move Quadrant A thinkers (technologists) to quadrant D designers (entrepreneurs).2

Figure 1. Four-quadrant model of the human brain.

Professions requiring Quadrant A dominance are those of lawyers, engineers, computer scientists, analysts, bankers, and physicians, practicing external activities. Quadrant B dominant professions, with procedural activities, are those of administrators, tactical planners, bureaucrats, and bookkeepers. Teachers, nurses, social workers, and musicians are interactively involved with people and are dominated by quadrant C thinking. Entrepreneurs, explorers, playwrights, R&D personnel, detectives, and artists are dominated by Quadrant D thinking (internal creativity).

At an individual level, one can obtain mastery in any of these quadrants by continuing applications. However, an organization exists by whole-brain thinking and planning. Diversity is a byword by which to create an organization.  The making of an organization, therefore, requires a diverse group of people each with strong bents in one of the four quadrants, but with a considerable overlap to interact with people with dominance in other quadrants. Explorers and detectives define the problem and explore the markets. Artists create ideas that can be translated into reality by engineers by careful evaluation. A producer will implement the solution, e. g., in manufacturing environments. Leaders emerging from these self-directed work teams turn out to be effective and efficient strategic planners. They facilitate interaction so that creativity will flourish and provide an environment for ideas and technology convergence. Such leaders comprise knowledge organizations having a multinational character.

Leadership in a knowledge organization deals with direction (production capability) while management deals with speed (production). Leaders derive their strength from top line: vision, mission, values, effectiveness, and moral principles and are dominated by Quadrant D thinking. They develop this thinking by their own effort and in their own style after going through stages of quadrants A, B, and C, usually in the same order. A manager (Quadrant B thinker) persists in dealing with routine factors (bottom line): efficiency, cost-benefit analyses, logistics, methods, procedures and policies. A courageous leader will climb on the tallest tree in a jungle (unknown territory) and cry: “wrong jungle!” even though he is advised to be quiet as his team cruises through the wrong jungle and progress is reported in terms of mileage covered. In short, a manager persists in doing things right at several points of time, while a leader is immersed in developing processes that will do the right thing at the outset, eliminating recurrent troubles that may drive an organization to a point of bankruptcy.


According to the management guru Tom Peters, every organization has Brahma—the Creator, Vishnu—the Preserver and Shiva—the Destroyer (of ignorance!). Once an organization is created, Vishnu takes over. Within a few years of creation, most organizations lose sight of their mission and essential role. They become focused on efficiencies or doing things right rather than on effectiveness or doing the right things. In any organization, it is Shiva who is to be protected to enhance effectiveness and destroy obsolete practices so that the renewal takes place. In making a case for renewal processes, Stephen Covey17 of The Habits of Highly Effective People strongly advises to moving from dependence to independence and on to inter-dependence. It is inter-dependence that is highly valued in a world where information travels at the speed of light. This inter-dependence can truly teach us the value of teamwork in a multicultural and multilingual world. In defining this inter-dependence, Deepak Chopra18 in his book Seven Laws of Spiritual Success defines success as much more than wealth. True success means material and financial wealth, and enjoyment of life’s journey, continued expansion of happiness, and the progressive realization of worthy goals.

A fully functioning global person with a knowledge of the self, the job, the organization, the environment, and the world can very well understand the value of developing strategic technology and with this knowledge develops the power of sound decision making. A principle-centered training in this paradigm is a process—not a product. The process follows an engineering model—first, gather and diagnose the data; second, select priorities, values, and objectives; third, identify and evaluate alternatives; fourth, plan and decide on action steps; and fifth, compare results with original goals and objectives. Nishkam Karamyoga is a discipline of work without a desire for material benefits. It teaches us that we should do our work because it is a good thing to do. Our reward is not in results, but in the doing. We should not fear failure or crave success. We should just enjoy the total immersion in work. The practice of this principle, without the sole motive of reaping fruits here on earth or in heaven, is the highest form of professional excellence. Strategic leadership is, therefore, not an act, it is a habit of managing ideas (brainware) for personal and professional development.


We have shown that knowledge-based organizations, e. g. universities, will be required to transform ways to develop and use technologies creatively for the benefit of humanity, not only in local domain, but also in global domain as well. Measuring outcomes of these changing paradigms is a challenge for engineer-leaders of tomorrow. A strategic thinker must have the vision to see where technologies can merge to create useful products or technologies of the future (converging technologies). A planning process led by a visionary—espoused in the whole-brain thinking paradigm—will not only satisfy industrial needs of the day but yet will be rigid enough for fundamental human values. As a single person is unlikely to have all the desirable traits, the concept of self-directed work teams (SDWTs) based on a shared-value system, as proposed, will not only make an organization efficient (rate of throughput), but also effective (long-term retention of creativity). An SDWT can view a technological development as a development of a seamless coherent system with interconnected levels or stages. Theory of Constraints framework allows one to identify bottlenecks that are inhibiting the throughput of an organization. Absence of a creative environment is one possible bottleneck.

Creativity is breaking the conventional mental blocks and playing with imagination and possibilities. For twenty-first century organizations to be successful will require synthesis of ideas from various disciplines, thereby capitalizing on and contributing to each participant’s CREATIVITY: Combine, Reverse, Expand, Alter, Tinier, Instead of, Viewpoint change, In another sequence, To other uses, and Yes! yes! (affirm new ideas). We have shown that whole-brain thinking can enhance creativity that gives us new paradigms to engineer the direction of the organization we now work for, will work for, or will create for others to work for. Technocracy and entrepreneurship put together will make engineer-leaders ready for and responsive to the needs of global society and hence will aid us in the strategic development of an organization, a nation, and the world. The Digital Divide existing between poor and prosperous nations can hopefully be filled by a creative use of the brain bank by outstanding professionals so developed. In addition to enhancing standard of living, these professionals will form the nucleus in enhancing the standard of life of all around them. Engineer-leaders of the twenty-first century will be transformational (people-oriented) as distinct for transactional (task-oriented).


Permanent Address: Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Wilkes University,Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766, U. S. A. E-Mail: varora@wilkes.edu
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