3 min read

Leadership vs Management in Software Dev

Some insights from great mentors and personal experience, providing understanding of leadership and management.
Leadership and Management in Software Development
Leadership and Management in Software Development
Table of contents:

Dynamics of Successful Team Building

One crucial aspect of professional growth that has significantly impacted my journey is learning the difference between leadership and management. These two terms, while often used interchangeably, hold distinctive connotations that can shape the dynamics of a team profoundly.

Leadership: doing the right thing
Management: doing things right
Peter Drucker

In this post, I share some insights gathered over time from great mentors and personal experience, providing a deeper understanding of leadership and management and their pivotal roles in team success.

Leadership vs Management: Understanding the Difference

Historically, leadership and management have been viewed through different lenses. Management, often seen as a series of tasks, including planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem-solving, is essential for running any team or organization. However, misapplied, it can restrict growth and foster a culture of blame.

Leadership, on the other hand, goes beyond mere tasks. It involves inspiring, motivating, and guiding team members towards shared goals. A leader serves their team, acting as a guide rather than a taskmaster. They engage with their team not to gather status reports but to ensure everyone is aligned, supported, and progressing. Leaders know their team's strengths, weaknesses, and individual progress. If a team member falls behind, a good leader will already be aware and will have been helping them get back on track.

The Role of Communication and Venting

Communication is the lifeblood of any successful team, and as a leader, it's crucial to promote open and continuous communication. However, it's equally essential to distinguish between communication and venting.

Venting is a release of pent-up emotions or stress, and while it can be cathartic, it's not always productive, especially if directed towards your team. Instead, find a mentor or an individual at your level or higher who can provide guidance or just a listening ear. They can offer a fresh perspective or advice when you're facing challenges. Venting should always be 'upward' rather than 'downward.'

Understanding Hierarchies and Boundaries

Flat organizations, where there are few or no levels of management between staff and executives, are often seen as the ideal workspace, fostering collaboration and equality. However, they can sometimes lead to confusion due to a lack of structure and clear responsibilities.

Contrarily, hierarchies aren't inherently evil. They provide a framework for responsibility and decision-making. A well-defined hierarchy provides team members with a clear understanding of who to approach for specific issues or guidance. In successful flat organizations, it's usually the well-established boundaries, documentation, and rules/values that guide individuals in their roles.

Being a good leader or manager doesn't mean offering total free rein. Clear, well-defined boundaries are essential for overall success. This applies not only in the professional world but also in personal life, such as parenting.

The Essential Transition: From Developer to Manager
In the software development industry, the career transition from being a skilled software developer to a high-impact manager is a huge opportunity for engineer.

Addressing the Tyranny of Structurelessness

Jo Freeman's influential essay "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" brings an important dimension to our discussion. In it, Freeman argues that a lack of formal structure in organizations often leads to the rise of informal, hidden structures that can be even more controlling and unaccountable than formal hierarchies. In the context of leadership and management, this serves as a valuable cautionary note against the temptation to fully eliminate structure in favor of total equality or freedom. Without any structure, power dynamics can become obscured, unspoken rules can take hold, and decision-making can become convoluted or opaque. Thus, rather than aiming for structurelessness, the goal should be to implement fair, transparent structures that facilitate effective communication, clear responsibility, and mutual accountability. This balance mitigates the risk of 'the tyranny of structurelessness,' contributing to a healthier, more effective organization.


Leadership and management, while distinct, are two sides of the same coin. They complement each other in creating a harmonious, productive team environment. Recognizing the differences and knowing when to apply each is a crucial skill that can make the difference between a struggling team and a thriving one. In the end, successful leadership and management boil down to empowering your team members, fostering open communication, and establishing effective boundaries.