Technological innovation, digital transformation, swift development of AI and machine learning, the rise of Big Data and cloud computing among many other factors contribute greatly to the changing relationship between IT (information technology) and businesses. The changes don’t leave aside IT professionals and especially the ones in management roles - CTO’s and CIO’s. 

It is their job to optimize the performance and drive the results through the people in charge, but the changing business realities require much more from them than strategic thinking and practical knowledge in the technical domain. 

The factor that separates IT managers and IT leaders is the human factor. Whether you consider yourself a manager or a leader you are working with people who are the greatest asset to the company. And as little as technology has to do with “human factor” in terms of daily operations, it doesn’t simply comply with the old-fashioned management style that relies on control and dry objectives. 

The necessity for human motivation to give the best performance and dedication to the project in the long-run started pressing out purely goal-oriented practices and created the logical ground for the rise of leadership that presented team management in a completely new light. 

Two opposing ideas on how executives should work with their teams tore their followers in two groups, but today we come to the realization that these approaches can be more beneficial combined, rather than separated. 

A team in IT

When we talk about managers and leaders in a company we imply that there are people under their direction. A team of skilled IT professionals relies on their knowledge and skills to help them show the best performance and reach set goals in the quickest way possible. 

IT teams usually consist of several specialists that are responsible for operations related to software, hardware, data, networks, and data center’s facilities. Building a team that would work harmoniously while maximizing the company value takes time and is not an easy task, so it requires a competent executive to ensure it’s best operations. 

Besides optimizing day-to-day operations, they are required that the company standards are met, team members are informed and involved in shared mission and objectives, tasks are matching the skills presented in the team and training and development are taking place. 

Manager or Leader?

Leadership and management are both necessary in the workplace, but they are different. 

Management refers to the skills related to controlling, planning, directing, overseeing, making decisions. As you can see, this skillset doesn’t include empathetic action, which gave management a diminishing aftertaste. Well, nobody likes to be “managed” like a contract program or a budget. 

Successful managers present such personality traits as the ability to make decisions and take responsibility, prioritize and direct the workers in the necessary direction, process management, and strategic thinking.

Leadership, on the other hand, is associated closely with inspiration, support, people-oriented guiding, and mentorship. To be a leader you need to impact other people’s lives, making them want to follow and support you. 

You can recognize an outstanding leader by their ability to communicate their vision, challenge and inspire others to be better both in a personal and professional way, create trust between the team members and provide a safe space for growth.  

The hype around leadership is caused by the fact that the traditional management style lacked a human-centered approach and now professionals are hungry to be heard, valued and treated like people, not the workforce. And there is nothing wrong with it. 

However, focusing solely on either strong management or leadership can result in a one-sided unproductive approach that hurts team performance more than it benefits it in the first place.  

Management is historically associated with one title, that reflects the area of responsibilities and decision making in the organization. It is limited by the job description to a certain team/division/department, but leadership is what makes people in any section of the company reveal their potential and talents and wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to a company or a project. 

Best solution

Where the success and growth of a business depends on the results and meeting the goals, leadership and management shouldn’t exist without the other. The combination of practical and humane approaches is bound to benefit the team more than one-sided attempt to excel in either of the roles. 

There are people who are amazing managers, but terrible leaders and the ones who excel and leadership, but fail completely as managers. The combination of the best skills from both roles creates the best modern executive that everyone would want to see at the head of a team. 

The differences between management and leadership in IT create a base for the combination of two roles rather than a further separation. Where traditional managing styles lack flexibility, leadership can complete it with engagement and inspiration. Take the need for innovation - it is not viable without a clear action plan, only a vision can’t transform the industry. 

The fast-changing IT industry needs people who are able both to inspire and direct, have a large vision and focus on detail, drive both development and result without separating leadership and management. Growing expectations that IT executives are facing every day, force them to change their management style and find ways to meet the business requirements.

To ensure operational excellence and nurture the growth of people within the organization and of the business itself, the IT executive needs to be capable of combining the strongest traits of both a leader and a manager.