PM Chronicles #16: What is the Difference? Leadership, Management, and Supervision, Part 1, by Fred Parker

On a video conference. Present are:

  • PM – Performance Manager
  • LT – Learning and Talent Development Coordinator
  • TC – Training Coordinator
  • HG – Consultant (Hired Gun)

Train Managers, Develop Leaders

LT           HG, A while back you made a comment that has been bugging me ever since. You said that you can train managers, but you have to develop leaders.

               What did you mean by that?

HG         Yeah. That was when we were just beginning to put together the leadership workshops that we are about to roll out.

TC          I remember. We were discussing what to call the program. We had planned to call it Leadership Training, but you convinced us to call it Leadership Development. I am curious too.

PM         That’s right. We also talked including supervision as part of the program. What we have been working on is a mixture of all three, isn’t it.

HG         Yes, it is a mixture. There is a lot of confusion because it is very difficult to separate them in daily interactions.

               Most L&D / T&D practitioners talk about leadership and management as being different, but they don’t ever define them.

               The questions we need to face are: is there a difference and, if so, what do we do about it?

PM         If I recall, when I was young, teenage perhaps, there was a lot of talk about leadership. That changed and for several years everything was management.

TC          Yeah. My Dad told me that the US Air Force, at one point, declared that Air Force officers were not leaders, they were managers.

LT           And now everything has swung around again. Everything has been lumped under leadership. Supervision doesn’t get talked about very much at all.

TC          But then we hear sad stories about people who are very unhappy at work because they have bad supervisors. In fact, many people who change jobs cite a bad supervisor as the reason.

               You are right, this is confusing.

HG         Well, let me see if I can bring some clarity. I struggled with this through about 30 years even while conducting leadership workshops. I got leadership and management separated pretty well, but supervision was still mostly left out.

               In fact, I put together a worksheet that lists 30 activities or traits and requires the participant to separate them into leader and manager. Every trait must be in only one column. You can imagine the great discussions that caused.

PM         Will this be included in our program.

HG         Of course.

               However, supervision was still left out. But then, about 20 years ago I got lucky. I was hired by Exxon Mobil Corporation to conduct workshops around their Leadership, Management, and Supervision (LMS) model. That model finally put the final pieces in place for me.

LT           Can you show this LMS model to us?

HG         The actual model is proprietary so I can’t share it specifically, but the information is the model is available. The model is quite simple but, like many simple models, puts everything is perfect perspective.

PM         This sounds really interesting. Where do we start?

One word for Leadership

HG         Let’s start with leadership. When I say, “leadership,” what immediately comes to mind? I am looking for one word, if possible.

TC          People!

LT           Vision!

PM         Inspiration!

HG         Excellent answers, all of them. Now what do they all have in common?

LT           They all revolve around influencing people by getting them to look forward, to help people look forward to doing whatever the leader wants.

HG         Is coercion part of this?

LT           I don’t think so. People want to follow leaders. Leaders are out front. Another one-word that comes to mind is “pull.”

One Word for Management

HG         All right! Now let’s do the same thing for management. What word comes to mind when I say, “management?”

LT           Well, we can start with the opposite of “pull,” which is “push.”

TC          How about planning?

PM         I think of terms of organization, as in assets: time, money, and materiel.

HG         So the manager, then, is dealing with things. Where do people come into this?

PM         Oh, wow. I think I see something here. People are one of the assets that must organized, managed, right?

HG         Hold that thought.

One Word for Supervision

HG         Let’s do the same thing with supervision. Now what comes to mind?

TC          I think of coaching.

PM         Yeah, I think of performance, part of my title.

LT           Hmm, I kind of think of oversight or application.

Where are the People?

HG         So where do people fall into this scenario?

LT           This sounds like a trick question. Supervision is all about people and their performance. Have you led us right back into leadership by another name?

HG         Do you think a good leader is the same as a good supervisor?

LT           Um, no, not really. Leaders inspire people with vision and great ideas that captivate their energy. Supervisors guide and coach people to improve their behavior and performance.

TC          Now that I think about it, some of the best leaders I have known just didn’t have the patience to guide and coach.

HG         Now where is our manager in all this?

PM         I remember once reading a quote, something about, “On the back of every great leader rides a manager.” The leader is charging ahead, while the manager is trying to make sure all of the stuff needed gets there.

               Back to my history reading. At one point, General Eisenhower had to slow General Patton down, so he reduced Patton’s gasoline supply.

HG         People are a major part of all three. Everywhere you go, people are there, but each role has to deal with them differently. Leaders inspire, managers plan and organize, and supervisors guide and coach.

               Do you see how these seemingly overlapping requirements can be confusing unless we look at them separately?

PM         Well, yeah, but I’m not sure I see a problem with any of that. What am I missing?

HG         A little while ago agreed that being a good leader does not equate to being a good supervisor, even though both of them are focused on people.

               A manager may be in an even tougher spot. The manager’s main focus is on schedules and budgets and things that keep the organization working properly.

               Of the best managers you have worked with, how many of them were really good at supervising people?

TC          Not very many. They tended more to be the boss directing things rather than the one with the big ideas or the one who puts their arm around someone and says, “come on. let’s see what we can do about this together.”

HG         Now, with all this confusion, can you tell me the implications for T&D, or what is now is also called ITM, Integrated Talent Management? Will any one person ever be really good at all three roles?

What About You?

PM         Quick question, where do you see yourself in all of this?

HG         Fair enough. I have come to understand that I am a pretty good supervisor, an OK leader, and a poor manager. I can be forced to do some management things, but I certainly don’t like it.

LT           Wait a minute. Isn’t writing training programs part of management? You are good at that.

HG         Yes, you might say that, but the writing is the part I hate, but I love the training and the participants, so I do what I have to do.

PM         We are out of time for today, but there is still a “so what?” question here.

               I’m still not clear on what difference this all makes for training and development. So that will be our discussion next time.


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Fred Parker is the Director of Course Design and Development at Fred has half a century as a Performance Management Consultant designing, developing, and delivering performance-based training including all manner of technical training, individual development soft skills, and basic leadership. Clients include all sizes from a local sandwich shop to the military to fortune 500 multinationals. Now Fred is converting previous ILT courses to remote delivery courses available on our web site.

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