Engineers make bad leaders?


Engineers, pay attention! This article is predominantly about you and for you, and it is not pretty. However, there is a silver lining behind this, so read to the end.

Global HR consulting company DDI published a wide-ranging report entitled "High Resolution Leadership". It used big data analysis, drawn from 15,000 assessments from more than 300 organisations across 18 countries and 20 industries. Some elements of normalising had to be done - for example, the data on education level was taken by holding elements like gender and number of years of experience constant. In this article, we will look at two such reports, Not Merely a Matter of Degree, which looks at which degrees contribute better to leadership competencies, and Dys-FUNCTION-al Skills Gaps, the impact of functional focus on leadership skills. Both these reports say the same thing - if you have an engineering degree, and are working in the engineering department, you face huge leadership gaps!

The context

Before we unwrap the information and look at what impact an engineering degree and a job in the engineering department have on our future, one needs to remember the context of these reports:

(1) They are with respect to leadership progression. Although it does show that engineering skills don't augur well with leadership skills, it does NOT mean that engineering as a profession is bad. We will look at the specific impact of engineering on an organisation later, but the data that is being presented is vis-à-vis leadership competencies, and it does not bode well for engineers. That is an important context.

(2) They are big data information, which means that they are more global and less local. Singapore, by dint of its size, would not be able to skew the data at all. Hence, the data portrayed in reports may be more reflective of larger economies than it would be for Singapore per se. Yet, it is important for us to remember that Singapore is a very open economy, and we are home to many MNCs. Hence, there is a need to be mindful of the global trends so that we can better position ourselves in the midst of international shifts.

So, on the back of these two caveats, let us uncover DDI's data... (take a deep breath...)

Not Merely a Matter of Degree

Infographic taken off the DDI Report

According to DDI, a person's educational background plays a big impact on leadership performance later in life. This table is based on the highest educational level attained (hence, someone with a B.Eng and an MBA, like me, will be listed under Business, not Engineering). The bad news for engineering graduates is that its curriculum does not impact any of the 8 leadership skills positively. In fact, it is identified to be weak for 6 of the 8 skills! Engineering happens to be the worst-performing educational course for leadership development! So, does this mean that engineers cannot become good leaders? Absolutely not! However, it does mean that they will have to develop themselves outside of their functional requirements, which might be a stretch for some. Speaking of functional requirements...

Dis-FUNCTION-al Skills Gaps