The Difference Between an IT Leader and an IT Manager

Ryan Klund
| Business Development Associate

“Great Leaders don’t set out to be leaders. They set out to make a difference.”

Both IT leadership and IT management have a place in business, but what is the difference between the two? What does an IT Leader do differently than an IT Manager? And which one is needed at your organization to ensure future success?

William Aruda, a senior contributor for Forbes and a branding expert, wrote a list of the 9 Differences Between Being a Leader and a Manager. He writes that leadership does not happen when someone gets promoted. There are important distinctions between the two.

We’ll take a look at the differences Aruda lists, and give examples for the difference in a business IT team.

  1. A leader creates vision while a manager creates goals.
    “Leaders paint a picture of what they see as possible and inspire and engage their people in turning that vision into reality. Managers focus on setting, measuring, and achieving goals.”
    IT leaders focus on painting a picture of success and trust their managers and employees to create and execute on goals. IT leaders do not spend as much time in the details as IT managers – they focus on equipping and inspiring managers for success.
  2. Leaders are change agents; managers maintain the status quo.
    “Leaders are proud disrupters – Innovation is their mantra. Managers stick with what works, refining systems, structures and processes to make them better.”
    IT leaders understand technology trends and are always look for new methods to improve the business through IT and technology. In cybersecurity, an IT leader will encourage her team to adapt security with new tools. An IT manager can improve security at an organization, but oftentimes looks to improve existing tools in an environment.
  3. Leaders are unique, managers copy.
    “Leaders are willing to be themselves. They are self-aware and work actively to build their unique and differentiated personal brand. Managers mimic the competencies and behaviors they learn from others and adopt their leadership style rather than defining it.”
    IT leaders don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, and oftentimes they’re not. IT leaders are comfortable with their skills and lead their people and managers with their personality and vision. IT managers have deep knowledge on the area they manage and look to correct and direct employees on their team.
  4. Leaders take risks, managers control risk.
    “Leaders are willing to try new things even if they may fail miserably. Managers seek to avoid or control problems rather than embracing them.”
    In technology an IT leader is more likely to embrace new and emerging technology trends – even if the short-term goal might cause headaches, while a IT manager leans towards using systems and solutions that have worked in the past.
  5. Leaders are in it for the long haul, managers think short-term.
    “Leaders have intentionality. They do what they say they are going to do and stay motivated toward a big, often very distant goal. Managers work on shorter-term goals, seeking more regular acknowledgment or accolades.”
    An IT leader has a knack for seeing how new technology will have positive impacts in the future. IT leaders embraced The Cloud before IT managers. IT leaders knew that even if the short-term cost was higher, the organization will save in the future.
  6. Leaders grow personally, managers rely on existing proven skills.
    “Leaders know if they aren’t learning something new every day, they aren’t standing still, they’re falling behind. Managers often double down on what made them successful, perfecting existing skills and adopting proven behaviors.”
    IT leaders are always looking to improve their personal skills and the skills of those on their team. An IT leader will seek funding for training – no matter the cost. An IT manager sees less of a need for training, as they rely on what’s worked in the past.
  7. Leaders build relationships, managers build systems and processes.
    “Leaders focus on people – all the stakeholders they need to influence in order to realize their vision. Managers focus on the structures necessary to set and achieve goals.”
    IT leaders focus on professional and personal development of their employees. IT managers focus on fixing problems and creating systems to achieve success.
  8. Leaders coach, managers direct.
    “Leaders know that people who work for them have the answers or are able to find them. Managers assign tasks and provide guidance on how to accomplish them.”
    Trust isn’t earned with an IT leader, leaders trust their managers and employees the day they’re hired. IT leaders trust their managers to be creative and make decisions for their team on their own. IT managers are hands on with their employees, making sure mistakes are corrected and systems are followed.
  9. Leaders create fans, managers have employees.
    “Leaders have people who go beyond following them; their followers become their raving fans and fervent promoters – helping them build their brand and achieve their goals. Managers have staff who follow directions and seek to please the boss.”
    While IT managers are always hiring, IT leaders have an easier time recruiting and retaining employees. IT staff like to work for IT leaders – the environment a leader produces means employees are trusted, cared for and grow professionally.

At SWICKtech, we support both IT leaders and IT managers – providing IT support or IT consulting – depending on the culture of the internal IT at your organization. We’d be happy to have a no-strings-attached IT consultation with you about your IT goals for the future.

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