Use Leadership, Not Just Management, in IT

In business, some terms are often used synonymously. One example is leadership and management. There’s an assumption that being a leader means being a manager and that managers lead. But nothing is further from the truth. The two concepts can be mutually exclusive (even if you’d reasonably rather they weren’t).

Choose the right balance between leadership and management and you enhance the organization's ability to find the right actions and then perform them better.

Knowing and using the difference is important in all areas of management, including information technology. That is something important to know if you have or seek an information management degree. An example can be found in how organizations allocate data science resources.

According to consultant John Weathington, IT departments should “focus data science efforts on improving leadership capabilities. He writes that there are three different ways to use big data and the techniques and science behind it. One is as a core strategy, when data science is part of what your company offers to its customers. A second is using data science as a “supporting strategy,” much as Progressive Insurance will give customers a device to monitor their driving habits and potentially allow them to save money. The third approach, like Netflix, is to employ big data to build key capabilities, like the analysis to understand what types of programming customers prefer.

It is in the third case, bolstering key capabilities, that an IT department and data science have a choice: focus on management or leadership. Here’s where a dictionary comes in handy. According to Merriam-Webster, management is “the act or skill of controlling and making decisions about a business, department, sports team, etc.” Leading, however, is “providing direction or guidance.” [incl-event tag=”open”]

Both are important. Management is necessary to control the processes of a business and have the results work together for a pre-determined strategy. Leadership, on the other hand, cultivates vision, sets direction, and inspires workers to accomplish goals. Leadership is rarer in most companies than management, and ultimately more important because of its necessity and scarcity.

As Weathington put it, “when data science is applied to management, the organization’s ability to execute on its vision is enhanced,” but “[w]hen data science is applied to leadership, the organization’s ability to make effective decisions is enhanced.” It becomes an issue of efficiency versus effectiveness. Good management can efficiently execute the results of ineffective leadership, which can steer a company in the wrong direction. Good leadership, even if hampered by inefficiency, at least is traveling the right way.

To put it more broadly, IT can have far more influence over an organization than most people realize. Choose the right balance between leadership and management and you enhance the organization’s ability to find the right actions and then perform them better.

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