Boss's Work: Leadership, Management, and Supervision

Subscribe to the Three Star Leadership Blog
The Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training.
Follow me on Twitter
For weekly tips and resources pointers, check Wally's Three Star Leadership Letter
Find out more about having Wally speak to your company or convention.
Find out more about Wally's coaching services.
View Wally Bock's profile on LinkedIn

Since my post on "More leaders v managers nonsense," I've gotten several emails asking about the differences between leadership, management, and supervision. One writer put it this way:

"I scoped through your site to try and find a spot where you define and hang these three together (leadership, management and supervision) and explain how you see them forming the full spectrum of skills required for leading others."

OK, here goes. The work of a boss, like Gaul, is divided into three parts. They're three kinds of work called "leadership," "management," and "supervision."

If you're a boss, you have to do all three. One or two of them won't get the job done.

Leadership work is about purpose, culture, and change. Marcus Buckingham described it best: "Leadership is rallying people to a better future." When you lead you give team members an idea of why your work as a team is important, how things will be different, and what values shape the way you work.

Management work is about groups and priorities. It's the part of the job that keeps the wheels turning, but not spinning. When you manage, you give team members an idea of what needs to be done and when, and how the work will be split among them.

Supervision work is about individuals and tasks. It's the part of the job where you set individual and task expectations, evaluate performance and behavior, and help team members grow and develop. When you supervise you work with team members one-on-one to help them and the team do better.

Without leadership, management and supervision can become drudgery and meaningless repetition. Without management, inspiration and energy can dissolve into chaos. Without supervision you can only hope that people know what to do and do it increasingly well.

Boss's Bottom Line

When you become a boss, you have two objectives: to accomplish the mission and care for the people. To achieve those objectives you must do three kinds of work. You lead. You manage. You supervise. You get not choice about whether you will do all three. The only question is how well you will do them.

Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.


What did you think of this article?

  • No trackbacks exist for this post.

  • 5/19/2009 9:44 PM Capt Benjamin wrote:
    I appreciate your comments about leadership and change. Most people can manage an organization in its present state, but it takes a leader's "vision" to recognize improvement opportunities and affect change!
    Reply to this
    1. 5/20/2009 6:50 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion. It is the leader's job to help people understand how things should be different and better.

      Reply to this
  • 5/20/2009 3:19 PM Jobs in Ireland wrote:
    I agree to a point however I have found that if the leader has a strong vision this motivates people to manage themselves and indeed supervise themselves. The key is to sell your vision, if the employers believe in this then the rest will follow.
    Reply to this
    1. 5/20/2009 4:05 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      We'll have to disagree on that one. Some self-motivated and experienced people can supervise themselves, but they're the exception. Supervisory work is where you share expectations, check for understanding and follow-up to see how performance is happening. It's a constant process of adjustment.

      Reply to this
  • 5/21/2009 12:07 AM Susan Zelinski wrote:
    Wally, love these distinctions. I believe a huge question bosses should ask is- do they WANT to have all three of these roles. I believe many people focus on the leadership and management components and may not be skilled at or interested in the supervision component. Without the development and performance management guidance that supervision provides, an organization will lose its competitive edge over time. I can't tell you how often I hear bosses say, "I love managing, if I just didn't have to deal with the people and performance issues." My next question to them is, "Have you thought about your job fit lately?"

    Susan Zelinski. The Zen of Business. The Business of Zen
    Reply to this
    1. 5/21/2009 7:34 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Great point, Susan. I think we wind up with so many people working in a boss's job who are a bad fit for two mutually reinforcing reasons. First, we promote people into a boss's role primarily based on their performance in work that's different from what they'll be doing. Second, in most organizations, the boss track is the only track to more pay and prestige.

      Reply to this
  • 5/29/2009 3:26 PM Jobs in Ireland wrote:
    Hi Wally, great post. I particularly like 'Clear and reasonable expectations' . I find that managing employees expectations has helped them to understand what is expected. All to often it's easy to just expect employers to know what we are thinking. We have regular meetings at the start of the week to set out what is expected for that week. Since everyone knows what they have to do they can work towards feeling they've achieved something.
    Reply to this
    1. 5/29/2009 4:56 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for that comment. Clear and reasonable expectations are really part of a chain. You set expectations. You check for understanding. Then you follow up to see if understanding turns into performance or behavior. At that point, the process starts again.


      I tell participants in class that if you don't tell your team members what you expect, and make sure they understand, they will come up with their own idea and it may be something you don't like.

      Reply to this
  • 7/18/2009 1:51 AM Jason Wilton wrote:
    While your post isn't much fun for those who like to bandy the theoretical differences between leaders and managers about, it really does cut to the quick.

    When you're the boss--when you're really out there working to make a business succeed--you don't have the luxury of sorting your tasks into neat "leadership", "management" and "supervision" piles.

    Instead, you encounter situations and you deal with them. No matter which pile someone else might put them in.

    That's the real day-in, day-out situation and we shouldn't obfuscate it with petty arguments about what goes where.
    Reply to this
    1. 7/18/2009 7:18 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      I love that image of "neat leadership, management, and supervision piles." Thanks for adding that to our discussion.

      Reply to this
  • 1/9/2012 11:41 PM Harri Jussila wrote:
    I find that it is not easy for any boss to have all 3 qualities and be expected to accomplish all 3 alone. That is why there are supervisors, managers, and directors in a management team to fulfil those roles. Supervisors supervise, managers manage, and directors are tasked with leadership roles, and are expected to set the direction that the company will go.
    Reply to this
  • 3/1/2012 4:47 AM Rob Cummings wrote:
    I think this statement holds true, no matter you are a boss in IT jobs or the military. As long as we are in a leadership position in an organization, to complete the task well and maintain good relations, we have to act be the leader, manager and supervisor. No two ways about it.
    Reply to this
    1. 3/1/2012 9:50 AM Wally Bock wrote:
      Thanks, Rob.

      Reply to this
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.


 Email (will not be published)


Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.