Making The Transition From A Manager To A Leader

The challenging transition from being a manager with a primary focus on delivery to becoming a leader who inspires the vision of the organization is one that has made a remarkable difference in the lives of many organizations. For some, making the seismic shift from a department or team manager to a trustworthy company or industry leader at a large-scale level is not a natural transition. Hence, there is a need for them to be trained in ways to approach and solve problems in their new roles. In simple terms, the chief executive officer of a company is the firm’s manager, while the entrepreneur or owner who invested capital into the business becomes the leader.

Many rising stars stumble when they shift from leading a department to leading an enterprise because while all management positions certainly require leadership skills, being a large-scale leader usually requires very different processes and qualities than those of a manager. They essentially carry the vision of the organization on their shoulders and take some major risks on behalf of the company. It is also the case that many managers who transition into leadership roles have to go through the managerial phase and learn the rudiments of leadership before properly fitting into the shoes of the so-called “leader” of the organization. Others also deliberately set out to become managers of the company even though they own the company. This deliberate move enables them to bond well with employees in the company, and this, in turn, helps them to draw out succession plans for the company in anticipation of their eventual exit one day. With this strategy, it becomes easy to transition into the leadership front of the company as opposed to being a manager. At that point, finding a replacement once the owner leaves the managerial position is less likely to become difficult because of their long-standing acquaintances with employees and systems within the organization.

One of the potential pitfalls to avoid when transitioning from a managerial role to a broader leadership role is the urge to stay in the managerial role for too long. This mostly happens when many business owners, out of fear of losing their grip on the real happenings in the company, feel reluctant to exit into the company’s overall leadership. The net effect of a manager’s reluctance to transition into a wider leadership role would, amongst other things, lead to an over concentration of effort in consolidating the gains of the company to the detriment of expanding the business. If you are transitioning from management to a broader leadership role, here are the most important changes you need to make in order to excel in your new title and role.

1. Take A Step Back

There are two fronts where leaders will want to take a few steps back and consider the wider picture: A) when dealing with employees and B) when considering the overall health of the business.

Leaders are not as involved in the day-to-day management of projects, employees, and tasks. That’s the job of the manager. Leaders encourage and inspire growth, set the bar for innovation, define wider goals and strategies, and intervene on a granular level only when necessary.

“Managing people and leading people are two distinct endeavors, and a good leader should learn when and how to let go of their instinct to manage.”

Secondly, leaders are no longer just concerned with their own department’s goals or short-term KPIs, as this falls under management. Leaders must consider the overall health of the company and measure current priorities and challenges with long-term growth in mind. Leaders create and drive the overall vision for the business, while good managers implement, track, administer, and ensure their staff carries out this vision.

2. Shift Your Focus Outwards

As a manager or an employee, much of your focus was likely on your own performance objectives and whether you met your quarterly or yearly goals. As a leader, however, your mindset should shift from your own performance or that of your immediate team members to prioritizing the success of and nurturing the growth potential of every employee in the organization.

Becoming a leader means learning to balance and let go of your ego—it’s not just about you or your immediate team anymore—while still taking responsibility and ownership of the organization (“The buck stops here” and all that).

3. Don’t Just Instruct But Inspire

Good leaders know how to inspire, motivate, and communicate the overall philosophy upon which the entire company culture depends. Often in times of difficulty, a company’s leadership team and the tone they set is one the few things that keep things running smoothly and drives a business back toward growth. If employees are truly inspired by and proud of the ideals and values communicated by their leadership, they will not only perform better in times of growth but also stick it out when challenges rock the boat. In other words, inspirational leaders result in inspired employees, and inspired employees are loyal!

4. Communicating Big Ideas

In addition to setting big agendas for a company, creating broader strategies, and defining the tone for the company culture, leaders have to ensure that these ideas are clearly cascaded down into every nook and cranny of the company. Successful leaders understand how to craft effective, clear, transparent, and consistent messaging that inspires the best work from their employees. In effect, leaders must brand themselves in a way within their organization so that at every level, the priorities, goals, vision, mission, and passion of the leadership are effectively communicated to the employees in order to make it a shared vision and a shared mission.


Phidelia Johnson is a global Human Resources Practitioner with eighteen years of leadership success. With a focus on streamlining Human Resources administration, she’s well-equipped to find the right solution to a myriad of concerns. Her experience as a commercial business leader gives her a unique ability to advocate for both the employer and the employee.

In her down time, Phidelia is a master of her kitchen, creating wonderful dishes filled with passion and flavor. If she’s not cooking delicious food, she’s stretched out with a good book. She hopes to use her experience to help others, guide company leaders to best practices, and help build better professionals and stronger organizations.

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