When to lead and when to manage

IT management is about leadership as well as management, Ian Howard tells NZCS

Leadership and management aren't the same thing and it's important to for IT managers and CIOs to make the distinction.

That was the theme of "leadership and management and IT," a talk given by consultant Ian Howard at the New Zealand Computer Society in Auckland recently.

Howard noted that leadership is about preparing organisations for change and helping them cope as they struggle through it, whereas management is the art of coping with complexity by creating human systems that can implement plans as precisely and efficiently as possible.

Or, to summarise it more succinctly, "leadership is about coping with change and management is about coping with complexity.

"In New Zealand, we're good at being managers, at planning, budgeting and problem solving," Howard says.

"We have many managers and few leaders."

The distinction between leadership and management can be broken down further by adding governance and reporting to the mix.

As the list of executive functions gets longer, it's tempting to say "OK, that's all very interesting, but what does it have to do with IT?."

A lot, says Howard and to illustrate the point, he cites two definitions of IT, the first of which sums it up as "the development, installation and implementation of computer systems and applications."

The second defines IT as "applied computer systems, both hardware and software and often including networking and telecommunications, usually in the context of a business or other enterprise."

The first definition is from the American Heritage Dictionary and the second is from the Free Online Dictionary of Computing, but what they both have in common, or, rather, what they both lack, says Howard, is any reference to people as part of IT.

People are a vital part of IT and after noting that the right people are an organisation's most important asset, Howard went through a chain that starts with leadership and management and ends with IT.

"Leadership and management in the modern business environment [involves] working on the business with the right people on the team, going the right way, using relevant organisational structures and effective business processes supported by IT systems that work and successfully delivered projects that are increasingly distributed and well managed."

Leadership and management both have an important part to play in IT, he says, with areas such as setting out vision and strategy and managing and motivating staff falling under the banner of leadership and the more procedural parts of the job under that of management.

"There are many elements in IT and some respond better to leadership, whereas others respond better to management."

Howard says the need to be both a leader and manager as circumstances require has come about as a result of the commodification of IT outlined by Nicholas Carr in Does IT matter?

"IT is about leadership and management to provide competitive advantage — IT is no longer an advantage by itself," Howard says.

"IT managers need to know the difference between leadership and management and when to be a leader and when to be a manager."

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