Manager keeping project on time.

What Do Managers Really Do?

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership


The saying I grew up with was, “Leaders make sure we are doing the right thing. Managers make sure we do it right.” In a modern corporation, the desire is to move leadership to every level of the organization (Intent Based Leadership—IBL). Therefore, managers are being asked to broaden their view to include managing unrelenting change in our internal and external environments. It seems our environments change on a daily basis!

"...the managers' effectiveness is significantly influenced by their insight into their own work."

Henry Mintzberg
Manager keeping project on time.

I also believe that management in this new environment means organizing people who know more about their jobs than the manager can possibly know. So Mintzberg is correct that a manager’s insight into the art, tasks and expectations for their work will influence how well they perform.


Manufacturing based employment often required managers to understand all the details of the job their employees performed. Frequently, one got to be a manager by coming up through the ranks. Often, the manager successfully performed many of the jobs in the department they managed. But manufacturing employment for humans is down significantly due to automation.

Today our employment comprises largely knowledge workers. That necessitates a change in how management functions are performed. Management is no longer personally responsible for knowing and teaching technical competency. Modern management provides resources for employees to gain technical competencies (mastery) in other ways. Instead, managers are required to make sure employees have the autonomy to do their jobs.


Since knowledge workers require autonomy, mastery and purpose, management is more about leadership and leadership development than ever before. If employees embrace the organizational values and have clarity of vision or purpose, then they can make decisions on their own. The manager’s job then becomes making sure that values and vision are clear. The job becomes actively managing the culture and developing people into future leaders. That seems like a far cry from the management job as I understood it in the “old economy.”

Final Thoughts

I don’t think we are exclusively either a leader or a manager. We may enjoy and/or have a propensity for one or the other. However, I believe that many of us provide both services to the companies we serve. And I think we’re more effective if we understand how we are operating and use the right tool for the job at hand. Setting vision and direction requires the leadership tool. Making sure we are effectively and efficiently working toward achieving the vision is the management tool. Our job is to know which tool to use in which situation.