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How Do I Use Mobile Phone Apps to Teach Management and Leadership?


As we have explained, management and leadership are both influence processes, and people do well to develop both their management skills and their leadership ability if they want to increase their influence and make their influence more positive. We developed the Leadership Amplifier app specifically to help with leadership development. There are also many apps that can help people develop management skills, some of which even come pre-installed in most smart phones. Given how ubiquitous smart phones are in today’s world, we find that it can be useful to take advantage of executives’ and students’ possession of these phones in management and leadership development. Because our next section focuses on the Leadership Amplifier app, we will focus most of this section on apps that can be helpful for developing management skills, and then discuss how management skills and management apps can help with leadership development.


Management is a process using one’s authority to arrange others’ activities across time and space, usually to achieve an outcome or set of outcomes, by issuing directives to others. As with leadership, we can describe management as a three-step influence process, but there are some key differences in these steps, as depicted in Figure 6.1.

As with leadership, management also ends with people following the manager’s actions. However, management begins with a manager issuing directions (and perhaps, but not always, explaining those directions) rather than with a leader exhibiting exceptional virtue. People follow management attempts because of the authority of the manager, not because they feel inspiration, elevation, admiration, respect, awe, or gratitude. Also, the issuing of directives is conventional behavior for someone who holds a formal management position. Thus, while conventions make leadership less likely because leadership begins with someone deviating from convention in order to exhibit exceptional virtue, conventions make management more likely because that is what we expect people who hold authority to do.

In spite of the fact that the behaviors that initiate management are conventional and the behaviors that initiate leadership are not, it is nevertheless possible for a person to initiate management and leadership at the same time, with the same action. For example, if someone who holds authority uses it by issuing a directive, and does so in a way that exhibits courage, compassion, humility, integrity, curiosity, or another virtue with more excellence than she would have if she had conformed to convention, then she would be conforming to convention by issuing that directive, but would be exceeding convention based on the way in which she issued the directive.

The directives that initiate management can be effective even when they do not exhibit exceptional virtue. The effectiveness of the directions that initiate a management process can be determined by how the degree to which their arrangements of other’s activities achieve the goals of the organization and of the people involved in the activities. This is why management is typically associated with activities such as analysis and planning as well as execution. Activities will not be arranged well if people do not understand the circumstances correctly (which requires observation and analysis) and do not think through the best ways in which to approach those circumstances relative to one’s goals (i.e., planning). Also, it is difficult to plan for and direct others if one has not done appropriate analysis and planning for oneself. Thus, skillful management requires a person to acquire the knowledge necessary for doing good analysis, planning, and directing to arrange one’s own and others’ activities, and the necessary skills for applying that knowledge well when analyzing, planning, and directing.

Management Apps

Most of the smartphone apps that help with analysis, planning, and directing others are categorized as “productivity” apps. Some productivity apps come pre-installed on smartphones, such as the calendar, contacts, email, text messaging, phone, notes, reminders, or voice memos. Also, some free or inexpensive productivity apps that are commonly ranked among the best on various websites include Evernote, Slack, IFTTT, Microsoft Office apps, Todoist, Dropbox, and so forth. Each of these is designed to help people get work done more efficiently or effectively. Some can also be used to help a person in managing others.

Using Management Apps to Teach Management

One way in which instructors can use smartphone apps to teach management is by identifying specific apps that help people with executing specific management principles related to analyzing, planning, and giving directions in relation to concrete concepts or situations. For example, when teaching students how to give feedback to the people they manage, one principle for effective feedback involves being able to give people concrete examples of what they did well or poorly. Having a smartphone app that helps managers to capture information about what employees did well or poorly as soon as managers observe, experience, or learn about what they did well or poorly can be useful when it comes time to deliver feedback. An instructor can have students practice the principle of capturing things people do well and poorly when they do them by asking them to create files in an app like Notes or Evernote for specific people (perhaps actual employees, perhaps class mates, or perhaps other people in their lives) during class. Then they could assign them to pay attention to that person’s behavior for a week, capture notes on their phone, and deliver feedback at the end of the week. Other management principles could be tied to other apps in a similar way.

When teaching like this, we find it helpful to embed this kind of learning into some over-arching models of management. For example, we have found David Allen’s model for Getting Things Done to be useful for teaching students how to manage their own time and productivity, and using the STICC model for handoffs (see here) as a model for directing others, and embedding other management principles within these overall models. There are many models which could be used. We simply give these as examples of effective, relatively simple, action-oriented models, and which are compatible with many smartphone apps.

How Management Apps Help with Teaching Leadership

Our model of positive leadership works well with productivity apps and with action-oriented management models. This is because we see leadership as a three-step process of influence that people must accomplish over and over again. This means that leadership occurs in events, in particular periods of time. Productivity apps help people to break their large projects and problems into manageable segments: activities or events. If people are already thinking this way, then it becomes easier to ask themselves how they can exhibit virtue with more excellence in those events or activities than they would have if they had conformed to convention.

The Leadership Amplifier app also focuses users on events. In fact, it connects to people’s calendar apps as a way of helping users focus on events when they want to practice leadership. This becomes even easier if people have planned well and filled their calendars appropriately before using it. Also, the Leadership Amplifier app helps people set goals, sends reminders, and performs a number of other helpful functions that make it easier and more engaging to practice leadership.

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