Connecting Business Needs with Technology

Your teams: Well managed or Well led?


Have you ever given thought to whether the teams or the organization you’re a part of are being well managed, well led - or both? There is a vast difference between managing and leading. Both are necessary for a team or organization to operate at its peak — but they must be balanced.


Leaders vs. Managers


What, you might ask, is the difference between the two? I’m sure you could get lots of answers from various people but to me the primary difference is this:

  • Managers keep track of people, process, and tech, and make sure that things are running the way they’re supposed to. They tend to be data driven and focus on measurable outcomes. People do what managers tell them to do simply because managers are “in charge.”
  • Leaders inspire people. Inspired people tend to make sure the right things are getting done in the right order at the right time. Leaders are often — but aren’t necessarily — managers as well, but people follow leaders because they want to not because they have to.

People follow leaders not because they have to but because they want to.


Strong Leadership > Strong Management

Don’t get me wrong, you definitely need both skill sets on a team, and strong management is a very important piece when it comes to ensuring that things get done. However, with strong leadership, it’s more likely that the right things get done in the right order at the right time by the right people. Teams with strong leadership are more likely to be self-organizing and self-motivated.

But why is that?

A team with strong leadership is more likely to have a shared sense of purpose. Teams with a shared sense of purpose will intuitively understand the urgency behind what they are doing and how the success of the team leads to success for the company. Teams with strong leadership are more likely to put forth the effort required to get something “right” simply because they are emotionally invested in the effort. Emotionally invested people are, far more effective than people who feel like a cog in the machine.

In short, strong leadership is a critical element in any high-performance team, and high-performance teams are a critical element in the success of any endeavor. A strongly managed team will know what needs to get done, but the passion and the drive to succeed will likely be less intense than what you’ll find with a strongly led team. 


Someone can be declared to be a manager and people will (hopefully) do what they say but that’s not the same as leading.


Who Should Lead?

OK, so if you’ve stuck with me this far, and if you agree with what I’m saying, the next obvious question is: Who leads? The simple (and highly circular) answer is this: The leader is the person that the rest of the people are willing to follow. Yep...that’s pretty circular, but...let me explain.


An individual cannot be declared to be a leader and then command that people follow him/her. People can be declared to be managers and then people will (hopefully) do what they say, but that’s not the same as leading. Remember, leaders inspire people to follow them down some path to a destination that they all believe makes sense. Team members willingly do what a leader has inspired them to do. A leader is part of the team.


Fine, but still, who leads? The answer is that the person who understands the vision of where the team is going and who has the soft skills necessary to inspire the rest of the team will naturally emerge as the leader. More often than not, this turns out to also be the manager, but that is not necessarily the case. A team can have strong leadership as well as strong management, but those two skill sets do not have to reside in the same person. Someone can be encouraged to lead a team, someone can consciously pick up the mantle of leadership and attempt to lead, but until the team accepts that person as the leader they cannot be considered to be leading.


True leaders are not specified or promoted; they emerge and are accepted.


What Makes a Great Leader?


We’ve established that leadership and management are not the same thing. Well led teams will outperform simply well managed teams almost every time. Lastly, we’ve talked about the notion that true leaders are not specified or promoted, they emerge and are accepted.


Given all that, what are the qualities of a great leader?


The answer is probably endless, but here’s a short version of what I tend to look for:


  • Honest: Displays honesty and integrity in all things
  • Passionate: Has a commitment and passion for the goal
  • Communicative: Displays an ability to “infect” others with their passion
  • Accountable: Has a strong sense of ownership for the goal and the team itself
  • Empathetic:  Has empathy for the team and the team’s emotional well-being
  • Selfless: Places the needs of the team above the needs of the individual  

Interestingly, these are not really measurable skills. In fact, they are more like qualities than actual hard skills. This is why leaders emerge and are accepted vs. being promoted or specified. One cannot, for instance, simply declare that he or she is honest and have people accept that as the truth. Honesty needs to be proven through a person’s actions.



So, what does all this mean to you and the teams you’re a part of?

Here are a few easy take-aways:

  • If you’re “in charge” of a team, give some thought to whether you’re leading that team or just managing it. Nothing says you can’t do both. In my experience, strong leadership makes the management piece MUCH easier.
  • If you’re managing a team and there’s no clear leadership, can you assume that leadership role? If not, that’s perfectly OK, but give some thought to who can lead; your team will be better for having leadership as well as management.
  • Are you at the senior level in your organization? If so, consider whether you’re leading your organization or just managing its operations. Yes, it’s cliché but, cliché or not, it’s quite true that leadership starts at the top. Strong senior leadership breeds strong teams and a strong culture.
  • Do you have a leadership problem on your team or in your organization and aren’t certain how to address it? Seek help from the outside. There are people in the world who can help set you and your team on the right path. You don’t have to figure this out alone and make the same mistakes that many of us have already made in the past. 

Give some thought to the point above. What can be done to help the teams you are on to really reach their full potential? Is your team well managed, well led or both?