Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneuer and investor Donald Thompson writes a column exclusively for WRAL TechWire about entrepreneurship, leadership, equality and opportunity. His columns appear on Wednesdays.

Author’s Note: Throughout the first half of the year, I’ll be using this weekly column to offer real-time, easily digestible leadership actions you can take to build a better workplace, become a highly-productive, future-ready leader and improve your leadership impact right now, today. Stay tuned to WRAL Techwire each Wednesday for the next edition of my weekly column as lessons will build atop each other. Last week, we talked about leading by example


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Most business executives like to think of themselves as leaders, not managers, but the truth is that management and leadership go hand in hand. Particularly in the C-suite and at the director level, we have to understand how to lead people in order to manage systems and projects. 

Although both capacities are crucial to our effectiveness and success, management and leadership are separate skill sets. People who are great at managing things may not be good at leading other people, and also, people who are great at leadership may not be successful as managers. For instance, think about the individual contributor who is great at their job but gets promoted too quickly and doesn’t yet have the necessary skills to manage other people. Or consider the charismatic founder who easily recruits new employees with their vision but then doesn’t know how to execute on strategy, so things fall apart.  

We all have natural leadership tendencies and places where there is room for growth. Being aware of those strengths and tendencies is the first step toward personal improvement. Just remember not to make the common mistake of improving yourself as a leader without giving equal emphasis to your practical management skills. 

What does it mean to be a better manager? It means better delegation, better feedback and better processes for collaboration, including when, how and why you hold meetings. At a more conceptual level, it means integrating today’s top five leadership trends to make yourself more effective and efficient at managing the “stuff” of business. The best part is that by modeling great management, you also set a positive example that will make your employees more successful as well. 


  • SIMPLICITY – What is simplicity in management? As strategist and advisor Olaf Bach phrases it, “simplicity means that organizational members have a good, functional understanding of how the organization works, of who does what and who works together with whom to achieve particular outcomes, and what to do if things become unclear.” You might have to read that again to decipher it, but essentially, it says that simplicity means every person knows their own unique lane and understands how other people are supposed to contribute to their success. 

Unlocking workplace excellence: Daily leadership habits to create a better culture

  • INCLUSION – Inclusive management means integrating standard operating procedures that help each individual contribute their best work consistently. For instance in meetings, some people will digest new information by talking through it with the team, while others need independent focus time to process what they’ve learned. For more examples, check out this printable pdf from my team at The Diversity Movement: “10 Actions You Can Take Today To Be More Inclusive At Work.”
  • AGILITY – In management, agility and simplicity are deeply intertwined. The more you do to simplify things, the more agile your team can be. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology has a great white paper on this topic, and they offer this advice: “As a first step, leaders should ask their people about their interactions, and evaluate if those interactions are efficient given the nature of the work. If frequent interactions needed to complete certain types of work require frequently navigating ‘up and over and down’ an organizational chart, for example, then the structure itself may need to be changed.” By simplifying the “stuff” of business – the structures, systems and processes – we create wiggle room for people and teams to be more agile and more effective. But, the authors note, agility does not mean “reckless flexibility.” It means thoughtful interaction, iteration and evolution toward better business processes. 
  • PERSONALIZATION – From my experience, I’ve learned that one key indicator of poor management skills is when a leader tells me they “treat everyone on their team the same.” Maybe that phrase looked good on paper thirty years ago, but today, it sounds almost silly. Leading a team of individuals means adapting your leadership and management styles to their personal strengths. Almost twenty years ago, Harvard Business Review wrote a fantastic piece on management, titled “What Great Managers Do” that talks about this idea in detail. Great management, they say, is personal. In fact, “the ability to keep tweaking roles to capitalize on the uniqueness of each person is the essence of great management.” To personalize the way you manage, you need to know three things about every person who reports to you: their learning style, their personal strengths, and the specific triggers that activate those strengths. 
  • MENTORSHIP IN THE FLOW OF WORK – Becoming a mentor not only improves your mentee’s productivity and performance; it also teaches you how to be a better manager and leader. As you develop your relationship, you’ll get better and better at personalizing their work, and you’ll get an inside look at how your organization is really doing when it comes to simplicity, inclusion and agility. 

It’s important to understand your own strengths and skill gaps as both a manager and a leader. To put things plainly, better management means bringing these big concepts and trends down into the granular level of your daily habits to improve processes and internal systems by improving the way you interact with your employees. It also means understanding how management and leadership are separate skills, even though they are intertwined. 

About the Author

Donald Thompson is an entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach. With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, he is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture, and driving exponential growth. He is also co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement, a results-oriented, data-driven strategic partner for organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives recently named to Inc. Magazine’s 2021 Best in Business List in DE&I Advocacy. Donald serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. Connect with him on Linkedin or at donaldthompson.com

Donald Thompson: 5 leadership trends you can’t run away from