Many of the clients in the Masters of Engineering with a concentration in Information Engineering Management (IEM) are looking for positions in leadership in their current company, but some are also looking to move to other companies or even venture into entrepreneurship, which may be the ultimate leadership gig. 

 
Mar 2019 Moving Up

Yes, everyone is looking to go somewhere involving leadership, but I also think it is fair to ask – do you really want to lead?

Leadership is Not Easier - Just Different

I am not sure why we are attracted to leadership. Is it power? Is it having some control of the direction? Could it just be about money? Or perhaps we think the work is more glamorous, or even easier. After all, a leader has others doing the work. Right?

While leadership has lots of benefits, it is a different kind of work. Most who come from an engineering or technology expert role may actually find leadership more frustrating. Instead of dealing with systems and designs and implementations, they find themselves working with the most complex systems in the world – people. So I hope you are looking for a challenge!

So as you look at leadership – understand that even small changes in leadership responsibilities can be a big change in your work life. As a leader, you will face challenges overseeing others that are doing similar technical work that you also know how to do, and possibly have more knowledge or years of experience than you do.

Trading in a job of day-to-day skill working for managing people has tradeoffs just like every other change in life. Evaluating the risks and rewards of taking on a new role compared to the outcome of eventually receiving a promotion will help you make a decision when the time comes. In the meantime, your ability to work collaboratively with others and also foster a collaborative environment in the workplace is an excellent litmus test to see if you're ready to transition from engineer to manager.

While some set their sights on leadership, others know the position of power is not for them. It's important to know these differences if you're considering setting your eyes on moving up into a leadership position in your company or even if you're looking to venture into new territory.

Moving On Up

Most people seem to want to move up in leadership in their current company. Sounds easy enough – you already know a lot about the company. Each company has their own culture, so before you decide you want to move up the chain in yours, make sure you know what leadership in your place of work looks like. What is a leaders life like?

A friend of mine was recently seeking a VP position in his company. He is a great leader, but as he was seeking the new position, his VP said to him, “Are you sure you want this? Look at us, we all wear suits and ties every day without exception, and that's not your style. Then we go to meetings all day, and you are a guy who manages to cut meetings short. Are you sure you want this?"

Wise advise. While the VP wasn't necessarily discouraging my friend from going after a promotion, he did want him to be aware of what he would be walking into. My friend was still able to make his own decision, but at least he was informed going into it.

To have some idea of what leadership looks like – look at how your current leaders spend their days. How do they dress? How much time do they spend in the office? How much time do they get to spend away from the office? Are they happy? Do you want that?

So, before you start down this path, have conversations and ask questions to your leadership to get a full understanding of what their life is like. You may end up loving it, or may realize that it's not your cup of tea – but regardless, you will be able to see clearly where you are trying to go.

Moving to a New Company

Seeing what the lives of leaders look like in other companies isn't quite as easy when you're not exposed to patterns and behavior on a daily basis. But the same principles are true. Look carefully at how the company operates. Use LinkedIn to get in touch with leaders at a level or two above where you are. Take them to lunch or coffee and ask common sense questions about their day-to-day life on the job.

This outreach will allow you to be more informed in order to make the best decision, as well as open doors to opportunities to get offers.

I have spent a lot of time with corporate leadership. It is not rocket science to figure out the culture of leadership. You will be able to tell immediately how a leader feels about their work. With some, they rarely talk about their company or what they do. You can tell they dislike their job and have very few positive responses. But others are excited and motivated and talk about their role with the company and their vision with great delight. They love what they do. Look for these people who are realistic, but also radiate when they talk about their careers. Know where you're going, and what life will look like before you leap.

Leadership Does Not Mean Being in Charge

I have often heard people say they want to be in leadership because they want to have more influence. I get that, it does sound noble, but it is not always reality.

One of my greatest lessons in leadership came very early in my career. I was sent to the private jet terminal at the airport to pick up one of our top executives for a meeting. "Wow", I thought, "he is really important, why am I picking him up?" However, once I met him, I realized I was picking him up, instead of a limo or private driver, because he was really down to earth and a nice guy.

On the way to the office, he was telling me that he had started in the company at the bottom as a lineman, climbing poles and doing the actual work. He spoke with great admiration of the company he served, something I actually did not feel at the time.

So I asked him, “How does it feel after all these years to finally be in a position where you can make things happen?” He answered, “I will let you know if I ever get there.”

Even in his senior position, as an international expert and leader in his field, he felt he had limited control and influence over such as huge company and industry. He was not frustrated about it, but he was aware that his authority and leadership had severe limits. He was a real leader.

Do You want to Be a Leader?

Leadership at its basic core is getting people to work with you to accomplish a mission. It is leading and not just telling. You have to be the one to influence people and motivate them to want to serve a mission bigger than them. Leadership is a powerful thing, and if done well, you can impact a lot of lives in a positive way.

At IEM, we want to help you evaluate your current position and find the best ways to get noticed and begin moving into a leadership position. Use the form on this page to schedule a time to talk or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can also find stories of former students that have found success through IEM here. Let us help you lead your way to a technical or engineering management career.

About IEM

The Master of Engineering with a concentration in Information Engineering Management (IEM) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is a specialized concentration designed primarily for engineers and people in technical positions. The concentration presents business systems and soft skills in a curriculum that is based on actual engineering industry needs and is offered completely online.