Moving From Manager To Leader

Becoming a manager is easy. For the most part, you transition into management by someone giving you the title. It’s something you earned.

Be proud of that. It’s an honor to be recognized for the hard work you do. However, don’t think this makes you a leader.

Leaders are more than managers. They inspire. They share vision. They encourage.

Are you willing to move from manager to leader?

Pawn takes king chess pieces

Image by Anil Jadhav

I hope so, as that’s what I want to share with you today. Moving from manager to leader requires you to take a few steps out of your comfort zone. It may even scare your socks off.

That’s okay though. Great leaders still have fears and doubts. They just don’t let all of the fears and doubts keep them from leading.

Transitioning From Manager To Leader

You’ve made it this far. Great! I knew you wanted to go further than just managing your team. You want to be able to lead a team effectively.

For this, we’ve got to transition from the manager mindset to the leader mindset.

Now, changing our thinking can be tough. It requires some paradigm shifts and it requires you to work hard.

To show you how to transition from a manager to a leader, I want to show you how they think differently. Once you see the examples, you’ll be able to see how you can apply them to your situation.

Managers assume the worst, leaders assume the best: Managers are on the lookout for what’s going wrong. They know something bad is happening and it’s their job to find it. They’re looking for the weak link.

Leaders know they should assume the best, so they’re on the lookout for what’s going right. They search it out, find it, and bring it to the attention of others.

Using this method, leaders are able to show positive examples of what needs to be done without excessive criticism.

Managers take credit, leaders give credit: Nothing sticks out to me more in my time working in retail than the managers who would take the credit for the work done by the sales staff. They would get the credit, the rewards, the bonuses. All the while, the sales team got zilch. These managers took all of the credit.

Great leaders know that you can’t take all of the credit. You’ve got to spread the credit to your team. They’re the ones busting their butts to make customers happy, to bring in sales, and to help keep the company afloat.

Get ready to spread the credit around. Not only will your team be thankful, they’ll also be willing to work harder as they’re getting recognized for everything they’re doing.

Managers place blame, leaders take blame: With any team there will be issues that arise. Goals won’t be met, errors will be made, and things will fall apart.

When this happens to managers, they look for someone or something to blame. There has to be someone that can take the fall, they think. And then they stick it on someone doing their job.

If this happens to a leader, they realize they’re the one in charge. They’re the one that should fall on their sword and take the blame. Great leaders are willing to step forth and take the blame. The buck stops with a leader.

Do you see what leaders do that managers don’t? People are able to move from the manager mindset to the leader mindset when they’re able to change their thinking from self to others.

Leaders are willing to put others before themselves. They know they’re raising up a great team and they’re responsible for the results. They also know that the team is the one producing the results and deserves the credit.

It’s time we shift to the mentality of a leader. Are you ready?

Question: What others ways can you move from a manager to a leader mindset? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Joe,

    First of all, excellent points. I would surmise the difference between the two by this quote,

    “You manage things; you lead people.” Admiral Grace Murray Hooper

    Leaders are concerned about helping people “Be All They Can Be?” That is what it is all about.

    • Great quote by Admiral Grace Murray Hooper. Thanks for sharing it TJ.

    • What a great quote. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Great points, Joe! Leaders bring out the best in their team and reflect praise on them while accepting responsibility for their teams’ success– and failure.

  • “Moving from manager to leader requires you to take a few steps out of your comfort zone. It may even scare your socks off. That’s okay though. Great leaders still have fears and doubts. They just don’t let all of the fears and doubts keep them from leading.”

    That’s a good challenge. Thanks for an encouraging and clarifying post, Joe.

    • My pleasure Arlen. How are you going to face the challenge?

      • Thanks for your reply, Joe. And thanks for asking the question, Joe. I think the first step will be to be deliberate about how I relate to those I am responsible for.

  • Bill | LeadershipHeartCoaching

    I have always considers managers to be tactical (getting through the day-to-day) and leaders to be strategic – thinking past the day-to-day and looking into the future. I do think we need both, but dependent upon the current environment would be how much of both, i.e. – 80%leader, 20%manager.

    • Bill, that’s a great way to differentiate the two.

  • Managers tend to be task oriented where leaders focus more on the big picture.

    • That’s true Brandon. How are you focusing on the big picture?

      • That’s a big question. I think it comes from first having the big picture defined and then assessing if what you are doing is working along the way as the big picture does tend to change.

  • One of my favorite managers told me at the beginning of a large technology project, “While we’re doing this, if you don’t see me in front, look behind you – I’ll be the one steering the boat.” – It was very appropriate for that project. He somehow was able to be in front AND steering that boat at the same time. He was a leader.

    • Charles, sounds like you had a fantastic manager for the large project. It’s great being able to see our leaders pitching in and steering.

  • The cool thing is that the leadership mentality bleeds into every area of your life.

    • Yes it does Sean. I think it’s an important reason on why we’ve got to be intentional about leading properly.

    • Life is one big inter-connectedness. It seems the more honest and real someone is the more a person responds in a same or consistent way in all the different arenas of life. Work. Church. Leadership. Serving. Speaking. Struggling.

  • Great post Joe.

    I’d also add:

    “Managers delegate task. Leaders delegate responsibility.”

    Some of the greatest leaders in my life are one’s who have given me responsibility. The opportunity to lead on a small scale and experience all the challenges/successes/failures that come along with it.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Subtle shift but a great perspective Larry.

  • leewise

    Yes, a good beginning of a list. Also, although not quite as popular, I think a good leader inspires and helps… even in when in a correction mode. In other words, the person comes alongside to help the person move forward, reach goals, and feel good about his or her contribution within the organization.



    • Lee, I like your addition. Leaders are about results but they’re also about building others.

  • Managers are very good at implementing strategy, putting plans into action, and getting things done…they are the ones who can rally the team to create a path through a dense forest. A leader is the one who climbs a tree and tells the team they’re in the wrong forest.

    • Great analogy LaRae. Leaders tend to be more risky than managers, huh?

  • A manager makes the easy decisions; a leader makes the difficult, less popular decisions.

    • Jon, that’s true in many cases. Thanks for adding.

  • Tom Walsh

    Lao Tzu had the qualities of a good leader figured out centuries ago, it is too bad that we are still struggling with leadership today.

    “A leader is best
    When people barely know he exists
    Of a good leader, who talks little,
    When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
    They will say, “We did this ourselves.”

    Lao Tzu

    • Tom, Lao did do a great job in describing what a great leader does. How do you apply that principle to your life?

      • Tom Walsh


        Trust in my people and good communication with them. Trust that you have the right people to do the job, communicate what is expected of them (and they are accountable for their actions), and make sure they have the right tools to do their job. leewise also makes a good point with inspiring people, a leader inspires people to do and be their best, they do not motivate – the motivation comes from within the individual.

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