Leadership Development

How to transition from a manager to a leader

Table of contents

It is commonplace to see individuals in organizations use the terms managers and leaders synonymously. While there are similarities between the two, calling them out as identical would be an over statement. The difference lies in the way the individual approaches his/ her role as well as the way others around react. Developing leadership practices to transcend from a manager to a leader is most sought after among those who are new into seniority positions and seek to go an extra inch. Often managers feel that despite complete commitment, efficient delegation, meeting deadlines i.e. doing everything right, they are not able to inspire confidence in their team members. 

That’s where the difference between a manager and a leader comes in. While a manager is an execution specialist and can ensure everything is in place, a leader comes with a vision to motivate and inspire everyone to go beyond the paper and achieve excellence. 

Manager vs leader: Understanding the difference

It is common for people to miss out the distinction between a manager and a leader. While they’re overlapping, a thin line distinguishes manager vs leader which needs due recognition. Here are three main areas where a clear difference between a manager and a leader:

Instructing vs Inspiring

More often than not, a manager gives out instructions on what has to be accomplished. Naturally, employees are expected to follow the instructions and deliver the output. On the contrary, a leader inspires his or her team to do what comes across their table. A leader motivates their team members by communicating the culture of the company and the philosophy. This not only ensures that the task in hand is completed efficiently, but also encourages team members to go beyond what is expected out of them and achieve new heights. 

Micromanaging vs Empowering

Generally, managers keep control over everything that happens in their team and wish to know everything that is going on. While tracking performance is important, managers might get too involved and lose sight of their true role of guidance and management. Leaders, on the other hand, step away from micromanagement and believe in empowering their teams. While they oversee that everything is in order, they give their team members the space to work as they see fit and provide them with the right resources and knowledge to set them up for success. Instead of seeking control over everything and trying to do it all on their own, leaders empower, delegate and believe in shared success. 

Targets vs Vision

Focused on execution, managers are driven by targets. Instead of seeing the big picture, managers mostly view targets as their end goals and all their efforts are motivated to achieve diverse targets which may or may not align with one another in the long run. However, leaders come with a long term vision and approach for the organization, their team members as well as themselves. For them achieving targets is a means to reach their vision and not ends in themselves. They believe in sharing the vision with their team members and maintain that everyone should work towards larger goals and a shared vision, and treat targets as milestones on the way.

What makes a great leader?

Transitioning from managers to leaders is an organizational imperative. In any organization, the engagement quotient of those who are able to inspire confidence in their teams is higher than those who don’t. Consequently, the engagement of their respective teams is also high. Thus, retention, motivation at work, commitment, etc all increase in proportion. While most organizations invest in leadership development programs, there are hardly any initiatives to develop leadership practices to aid the transition. Here are a few practices that individuals and organizations can collaborate on to transition from managers to leaders and inspire impact:

Faith, confidence & freedom

A manager focuses on efficient execution and, therefore, is particular about delegation in a controlled environment. A leader on the other hand seeks to play on people’s strengths and has faith and confidence in them. To develop leadership practices, a manager must let go of micro-managing every part of the work for his/her team members and give them the freedom and autonomy for experimentation and self discovery. This is not to say that there should be no order or structure, rather there needs to be trust and confidence that allows room for flexibility.

Empathy & emotional quotient

Managers, generally, are practically driven and seek logical reasoning. Leaders, on the other hand, don a cape of empathy and are high on emotional quotient. They do not simply rely on rational logic to make decisions. Additionally, it is not only about being able to connect and sustain with employees on an emotional level, but also about personal emotional fitness. In positions of seniority, there are bound to be ups and downs and the way one deals with them makes all the difference. Leaders are calm, composed and do not freak out when things go south and are emotionally resilient. To nurture leadership practices, emotional stability and fitness is a prerequisite.

Mentoring, purpose & responsibility

Finally, most managers focus on getting things done, without much attention to individual development and growth. Leaders believe in developing their people via mentoring, coaching and upskilling. Their focus is on aligning the organizational goals with the professional goals of employees to create the purpose of work. At the same time, leaders leave their ego at the door and take complete responsibility for their team’s performance. They also inspire this quality in their team members by taking ownership of anything they do that doesn’t work out. Invariably, leaders come out as genuine and authentic. 

How do managers become leaders?

With a fair understanding of the differences between a manager and leader and qualities that make a great leader, it is important to discuss how one can transition from a manager to a leader. The journey from a manager to a leader can be challenging at times, but once traversed brings positive impact for the organization, team members and leaders themselves. Here are six steps that can lead the transformation from a manager to a leader:

Look at the bigger picture

Individuals traversing the journey from manager to leader must shift their focus on the bigger picture and must disassociate themselves from just management. The focus should not only be on how a particular target can be achieved, but how teams can be developed in a way that achieving the target creates additional value for all stakeholders. A leader must focus on going beyond the quantifiable targets to empower and motivate their team members to push themselves and reach their full potential. Invariably, meeting targets will be a natural byproduct when the entire team will give in their 100%

Learn to delegate

A manager becomes a leader when they perfect the art of delegation. As one moves up the leadership ladder, the role shifts from on ground execution to oversight, visioning and direction. Here, most individuals struggle with letting go and delegating. While it is humanly impossible to work on all the tasks of a team single handedly, even if you can, you shouldn’t. A leader delegates tasks by developing the right talent assets who can be relied on in the longer run. This enables the leaders to focus on more value oriented and high-level tasks that might require greater expertise and experience. The more a leader delegates, the more the team is able to push their boundaries and perform better, leading to a win-win situation for all.

Communicate the larger vision

A leader not only focuses on a larger vision but also makes all efforts to communicate it to everyone in the team. The objective here is to have a clear and transparent messaging on what the organization and the team stands for and the impact it seeks to create. The importance of this communication lies in motivation and inspiring all team members by creating awareness about the contribution they are making. The more a leader talks about a shared vision everyone is working towards and how each effort makes a difference, the more a team grows and develops. 

Be empathetic

Transitioning from a manager to a leader requires empathy and emotional intelligence. Empathetic and emotionally intelligent leaders are capable of understanding and managing their own emotions as well as those of others. Naturally, they are great motivators and are able to nurture a team for success. As a key responsibility of a leader is to develop their people, empathy can go a long way into helping them communicate in a way that is effective. Those with high EQ are great listeners and go an extra mile to ensure the other person feels safe and comfortable and promotes their growth. And, that’s exactly what a leader is supposed to do. Hence, to become a leader, a manager must focus on building empathy and emotional intelligence.

Ensure transparency 

What differentiates a leader from a manager is their ability to win the trust and confidence of their team members. Leaders are not only direct reports for their team members but are also their mentors and confidantes in the organization. Here, transparency in communication as well as action can help leaders build an effective rapport with their team members. This opens up doors for two-way communication, sharing of ideas and collaboration and most importantly, team cohesion and success. 

Appreciate and take responsibility

While a manager instructs and expects impeccable performance, a leader appreciates sincere efforts and dedication. This suggests that a leader is not only concerned about meeting the end goal, but takes into account the journey as well. For instance, for a leader, it is not only about meeting the sales target, how the team members are able to achieve that, how much effort they are putting in and what their growth has been on the way, all have equal weightage. Leaders not only appreciate their team members for a job well done, but also recognize each contribution they make, irrespective of the end outcome. At the same time, if things go south, a leader takes responsibility and does not play a blame game with the team members. 

Are you ready to transition from a manager to a leader?

While the journey from a manager to a leader might be difficult and challenging, the end destination is beautiful and worth every effort. As a first step, those seeking to make the transition, must start by gauging what their team members feel about them and the particular areas of improvement. A comparative analysis on their style of delegation and management alongside the points mentioned above can be a good starting point to map out a course of action. Subsequently, professionals can invest in leadership development programs to get first hand experience on how to traverse the journey effectively and make a smooth transition. Leveraging platforms like SuperBeings for their leadership development practices with coaching, mentoring, etc. can help budding leaders get a headway in their journey and set them up for success. 

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