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Porras Presents View of 21st Century Leaders


Porras Presents View of 21st Century Leaders


Great 21st century leaders must focus their energy and efforts on building enduringly great organizations, said Jerry Porras, Ph.D., the Lane Professor of Organizational Behavior and Change, Emeritus, at Stanford University, during his lecture at The University of Texas at El Paso on Jan. 18.

Students, faculty and staff attended Porra's presentation, "Engineering and Leadership: A 21st Century View," part of the University's monthly Engineering Lecture Series. The UTEP alumnus discussed the characteristics of great 21st century business leaders, and the business acumen, personal behavioral skills and technical education that future engineers need to develop in order to build enduringly great organizations.

"Organizations need to have a lot of different capabilities in order to be successful," said Porras, one of UTEP's 2011 Distinguished Alumni. "Twenty-first century leaders must focus on what those capabilities are and filter them into organizations."

According to Porras, in order to build a great organization, leaders must be able to create the right structure, culture and reward systems, and bring in the right technologies and the right people to execute those technologies to produce an outstanding and enduring product or service.

Porras examined the characteristics of great leaders in his book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, which he co-authored with Jim Collins. The book is based on the results of a six-year research project aimed at discovering approaches and behaviors of visionary companies in the last two centuries.

Traditionally, great leaders are seen as charismatic visionary leaders who can powerfully articulate their vision, and who are passionate, powerful, unconventional, and willing to incur great personal risks, as well as highly motivated to lead. Porras said these leaders, such as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, focus on what he describes as leading their organization – they provide the energy, direction, vision and technical expertise – instead of building it. As such, the organization is dependent on its leader for its success.

However, Porras found that the leaders of the companies that he mentions in Built to Last had some of the qualities of charismatic visionary leaders, but they were also soft spoken, thoughtful, gentle, good listeners, serious, humble and unobtrusive. They also focused their energy on developing the capabilities to make their companies enduringly successful, like General Electric. Porras calls organizations that are not dependent on their leaders' success enduringly great organizations, because they continue to be great after their leader is gone.

"You've got to believe that what you're doing is building something that will be a legacy to you, and if that's important to you, the most important way for it to be done is by focusing on building an organization," Porras said.

"I learned a lot of things along the way," Porras said. "It forced me to reflect on what I was missing as an engineering student and as a young person involved in a highly technical field, and what I really need to have in order to be a much more well-rounded and effective member."

Porras believes that for engineering students to become great 21st century leaders, they need to have the proper training and education, which involves understanding people's behavior as individuals, in groups, and in organizations. They also need to develop knowledge about how business works and learn about economics, finance, accounting, marketing, strategy, human resources and entrepreneurship.

Engineering students also should have a strong set of personal behavior skills, which includes building interpersonal relationships, learning how to communicate in verbal and written form, and showing empathy, sensitivity to other's needs, and authenticity.

They also need to have different perspectives on how the world works from a philosophical, sociological, anthropological, political science and historical view to become a more effective problem solver and leader.

Future engineers need a sharp technical education in mathematics, physics, information technology, data analysis, and in their engineering specialty.

Finally, effective future leaders also must have respect for other people, organizations, competitors, and society, as well as compassion.

College of Engineering Dean Richard T. Schoephoerster, Ph.D., said that the University is developing programs in the colleges of Engineering and Science that combine both business and engineering skills that will equip students to lead us into the conceptual age.

"In this conceptual age, engineering graduates will need to learn more about how business works and business graduates will need to learn more about how technology works," Schoephoerster said.

Edgar Lopez, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said that combining his engineering studies with a business education was a "bonus."

"We tend to think about the technical stuff and not the reality about of things," said Lopez, who hopes to work for NASA someday. "Not everyone speaks in an engineering language and not everyone gets it. We have to spend time with other people who are not in our field."

UTEP's Engineering Lecture Series brings speakers to campus to address topics at the intersection of society and technology.

February's scheduled speaker is Simon Lorne, vice chair and chief legal officer of Millennium Management.

The Engineering Lecture Series is made possible by contributions from Bob and Diane Malone and the Halliburton Foundation.

Information: Ingrid Wright, 915-747-5971, or


The University of Texas at El Paso
College of Engineering
Engineering Building Room A148
500 W University Ave
El Paso, TX 79968

Phone: (915) 747-6444
Fax: (915) 747-5437

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