Manager vs. Leader

As an IT manager at my current company I have found myself in a variety of positions over the last several years. Working for an organization that didn’t have an IT department when I was hired, and was just reaching its first year of existence, I not only found my first year of management building a department, but also myself. Up to this point in my career I hadn’t yet identified a management role model so I thought that as long as the work was getting done, customers were satisfied, and my employees were happy - I was successful. For nearly the first year of my management career I felt that things were going pretty smooth. I worked within my team and had few additional tasks to complete on my own. While I managed vacations, interviews, and systems, and ensured we always had our work done before leaving each day, I found my role as a manager to be easier than I had anticipated. Looking back now, I know that I had absolutely no clue what it meant to be a manager or a leader.

As time passed I realized I was still very much involved in the daily work and it was time to put trust in my employees and delegate non management tasks as well as focus on planning, budgeting, problem solving, staffing, and creating policies and procedures to follow. I started to realize that being a manager was not so much about being liked as it was about doing the right things. As the business was growing we began filling more positions and taking on more work, requiring a whole new level of organizing. At this stage in my career it was all about getting the work done. For a short time this certainly accomplished the goals of the company, however I was still not aware of what it meant to be a good manager. I was meeting my goals, no one was suggesting improvements to my management style, my employees still appeared satisfied. I assumed I was succeeding.

I knew internally that I still had a lot of growing to do as a manager but with no negative feedback, I didn’t know where to start. So I created an opportunity for my team to provide anonymous feedback on my management style to my director. Knowing that I may not like the responses I awaited them patiently and was very excited to see feedback nearly a week later. Finally, I had something to work with but was very surprised by some of the items on the list. I remember thinking to myself, “Who would expect a manager to challenge or motivate? Isn’t that the individual's responsibility?” I was way off from where I needed to be and the next year was quite an experience.

As many managers do, I found myself struggling just trying to find time to manage my time, let alone time to work on my management skills. I knew that since I asked my team for this feedback there would be an expectation for me to improve. But each day was full of more tasks than the last and nearly another year passed with only a few changes to my management style. Thinking I was stuck, I became introduced to “leadership.” This is when I realized that management on its own was not enough. The things my employees were asking me to do was 100% on target with where I should be.

Leadership is about influence and focuses on doing the right things while management is focused on productivity and focuses on doing things right. Sadly, leadership and management are two terms that society often uses interchangeably, but when we focus on the definition of each we can certainly identify that leadership and management are two entirely different things. To better explain, let us take a look at the two tables below:

At some point in our careers we have all either found ourselves reporting to someone who is either management focused or leadership focused. Very few of us however, have had the opportunity to work under someone who is both a good leader and manager. Typically they are easy to spot; they are the ones who motivated us, who challenged us or who inspired us. A manager who also possesses the leadership capabilities in the table above is typically a role model for many.

Taking this a step further, we come to lean leadership. While a traditional leader guides their team to success, a lean leader will do more by developing each individual on their team into a leader and problem solver. Additionally, lean leaders practice Hoshin Planning, ensuring that team goals strategically align with the company vision, and support daily continuous improvement through the uses of lean tools. Non-management team members enjoy the lean leadership approach because it allows improvements to be driven by those doing the work.

To recap:

  • Leadership is about influence and doing the right things.
  • Management focuses on productivity and doing things right.
  • A model manager is someone who possess both strong leadership and management qualities.
  • Lean leaders develop teams of leaders and problem solvers.
  • Hoshin Planning is the practice of aligning team actions and innovations to successfully meet the company vision.

Given this new knowledge, I’m now leading my lean leadership journey. But what I have come to realize is that with each new team member, each new experience, and each new challenge, a new leadership tool is added to my skill set. A good leader is someone who will not stop learning, encouraging his/her employees to do the same. May my shared experience drive you to become a great manager and leader, and allow you to work towards becoming a role model for your team members.


1. Monday Morning Leadership: 8 Mentoring Sessions You Can’t Afford to Miss – David Cottrell

“I recently read a book, Monday Morning Leadership by David Cottrell that I would like to highly recommend. If you have ever found yourself in the position of not knowing where to start your leadership journey or if you are someone just looking to touch up on your leadership capabilities this book will certainly be worth your time. It is easily read while sitting at an airport.”

2. Leadership Challenge (4th Edition) – Kouzes & Posner

Written by Chrisy Burnett, Information Technology Manager at LeanCor

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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