Leadership: The Leap from Manager to Leader

The majority of our clients come to us for growth and development when they are in a big transition. Maybe they just started with a new company, launched a business, or have a fast-growing business with all the growing pains that accompany it. Maybe they are looking to retire, or have just entered the workforce.

The most common transition I see as a Business and Executive Coach is when someone is moving from a manager to a leader. Leadership and management are often used interchangeably in conversation. Yes, sometimes leaders still have to perform management duties, and sometimes managers are leading their departments or teams. I have noticed that understanding the difference between the two roles, along with the correlating competencies, supports my clients in making the leap.

During my calls with clients, we are often having the dialogue, “What’s the difference between a great leader and a great manager?”

Consider that one of the distinctions between the two is the ability to BE with uncertainty. Leaders don’t need to know it all or have all the answers. They don’t need to be the subject matter expert; they know who the knowledge experts are.

Managers execute; they get things done, they operate in the day-to-day business, often utilizing years of experience and knowledge to help their people with set goals and clear metrics.

Leaders, by contrast, make things happen when sometimes nothing is known, certain or guaranteed. They create the path forward where none currently exists. They articulate vision, play with options, set strategy, watch the market and look at the business from a different perspective than a manager would. Leaders move themselves, their teams and their organizations forward when variables, systems and outcomes are still very much un-clear.

I believe that in every organization, the presence of both great leaders and great managers is essential to successful long-term growth.

Here are some of the most notable shifts I have noticed, when a manager becomes a leader:

  • A manager has to hit targets and goals; a leader has to set them.
  • A manager needs to effectively train, coach and motivate the team; a leader has to influence and model good judgment, use influence and articulate vision.
  • A manager answers questions and informs; a leader has to learn to ask great questions and listen effectively to the answer.
  • A manager has to run the day to day operations; a leader is watching the business performance.
  • A manager is often a subject-matter expert; a leader has to let go of knowing it all, and trust the knowledge experts around them.
  • The primary responsibility of managers is to develop and manage people who focus in analytical depth on specific business activities; a leader’s job is to manage and integrate the collective knowledge of those functional teams, to solve important organizational problems and create solutions.
  • A manager directs his team to climb the ladder, one step at a time, to get to the top of the wall; a leader steps back and asks, “Is this ladder on the right wall? Do we need to move the ladder?”

These are some of the more common pitfalls I see, when a manager is transitioning to a leader:

  • Over-managing the function they know well, and not learning about the functions of the business less familiar to them.
  • Continuing to manage down, many times protecting their team and resources. A leader manages outwards, upwards and across organizations, sees the effect his team is having, and makes recommendations for change for the common good of the organization.
  • They get caught in analysis versus integrating business solutions. The leadership skills required has less to do with analysis, and more to do with understanding how to make trade-offs between business functions and departmental agendas, and explain the rationale for those decisions.
  • They get too tactical and lose sight of the strategy. Being strategic requires that you learn to let go of the details, and the need to see immediate results. Adopting a strategic mindset has a lot to do with giving yourself space to think. This can be a very tough for someone who is used to getting their satisfaction through being busy and getting things done.
  • Not being able to see that the business is a system. Managers are used to looking at the business through their area of specialty. Every system is dependent on another. Leaders need to know the principles of organizational change and change management, including the mechanics of organizational design, and business process improvement.
  • Many managers are promoted to senior levels on the strength of their ability to fix problems. When they become leaders, however, they must focus less on solving problems and more on defining which problems the organization should be tackling. Leaders perceive the full range of opportunities and threats facing the business, and most importantly focus the attention of the team on only the most important ones. Leaders set the agenda and articulate priority.
  • Managers are often shielded from the need for political savvy. Leaders have to find ways to align, negotiate, influence and address competing needs of the members of their organization.

If you are an entrepreneur reading this, it is very likely you are still pulled into day-to-day management, when what you really need to do is lead. Finding and developing those key managers so you can lead your business and keep growing will, at one point, be your primary point of focus. Check out our virtual training programs for managers here.

How would you define the difference between leader and manager?
And what role are you playing today?

People Biz, Inc. is a
leadership development organization that focuses on transformational leadership initiatives for individuals, teams and organizations. Their award winning leadership program “Leading Change” uses the fundamental principles of Transformational Leadership to not just talk about leadership, but to develop powerful leaders.  

About Alicia Marie
Alicia Marie, Founder and Managing Director of People Biz, Inc., has become a national leader in the field of leadership development. She founded People Biz, Inc. in 2000 with the intention of providing total personal and professional development solutions for individuals, teams and organizations. She specializes in creating customized programs based on desired outcomes that include learning vehicles such as training, professional coaching and consulting.