On Leadership and Management

This post is an attempt to tease apart the concepts of leadership and management. I have found that separating these traits has helped me in making better informed hiring decisions, helped with coaching others, and helped in focusing my own personal development activities.

Management

A manager’s job is to deliver results for the business while keeping their team happy.

Through my experience, I do believe being a decent manager is a skill that can be consciously learned, even though by and large no effort is made to teach it. It comes down to learning how to develop relationships, learning what makes for effective feedback, learning what constitutes effective coaching, learning how to hire and integrate talent, and learning the meaning of delegation.

The best book I have read on the basics of management is The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman. It covers a lot of the topics above, describes what good looks like, and also details techniques to achieve results on each of those dimensions. I like that the book is data driven, is succinct, has plenty of examples, and also lot of detailed guidance on handling specific situations should you need it.

That book is just the starting point, but I do believe developing basic management technique is the foundation for long term success in this role. To get beyond the basics one needs to hone leadership qualities.

Leadership

Leaders can appear anywhere in an organization. You don’t have to be a manager to be a leader. To me, leadership is a mindset. A leader inspires, sets the agenda, pushes boundaries, owns problems, doesn’t make excuses, and has the ability to effect change. At scale, leaders get people to go with them on seemingly impossible journeys.

While your organization can make you a manager, the position of a leader must be earned. The people I consider successful leaders are those who have strong convictions and who are able to build trust and respect across the organization.

I believe one can start acting like a leader at any time. If you own problems and find a way around obstacles consistently, if you push boundaries and yet deliver results, if you always do what you say you will do, you are on your way to being perceived as a leader.

So what?

I have found this framework of separating management from leadership has helped with:

  • Identifying and encouraging leadership qualities in myself and in my team.
  • Consciously honing my management skills.
  • Identifying leadership traits in candidates I interview, especially management or senior engineering candidates.
  • Establishing that not everyone can be a leader in every situation. Sometimes you just have to follow.

Of course, this is a high level framework which covers only the basics. There is a lot more to being an effective manager and a great leader, especially in the technology industry. I intend to write more on those topics in future posts.