How To Be A Leader When You’re Only A Manager

Sometimes it’s difficult to feel fulfilled as a leader when you are currently working as a manager.

Sure, your bosses want you to be a leader (or so they tell you in your annual performance reviews), but real leadership involves having the freedom to envision the future and having the authority to make tough decisions that hopefully end up with results like “driving growth”, “reducing costs”, “streamlining operations”, or any other corporate buzz-phrase that sounds like you just stepped out of a powerful board meeting.  But let’s face it, when you are a manager, your sole responsibility is to “manage” the day-to-day tasks as required by your boss.

You can be a leader when you're not a leader

Image by James Beene

So what’s a mid-level manager to do with all of their passion to lead and no real outlet to lead in?

Here’s the answer: Lead where you can.  While you may not have the authority to make the kind of decisions that impact your company on a global level, you DO have the authority to make the kind of decisions that affect your team members with the same level of impact.

Here are 3 effective ways you can lead when you’re only paid to manage:

As a Professional Coach

Professional Coaching is the process of developing the skills, talents, abilities, and professional intellect of your team members.  Whether they are aware or not, even your most talented and successful direct reports will have certain behaviors that hold them back from growing professionally.

By being able to recognize these growth areas, you can have a huge impact in their lives by working with them to improve.  Some of the most common areas for professional growth are:  self-confidence, self-awareness, interpersonal relationships, communication, and emotional intelligence.

As a Thought Leader

Thought Leadership is where you develop your abilities to move and inspire your team members with ideas that engage them and motivate them to accomplishment.  Strong communication skills are needed here, so you will want to be sure that you are focusing some of your own professional growth in this area, as well.

Thought Leaders encourage their direct reports to new approaches or ways of thinking that help create a blueprint for team success.  They provide methods, processes & practices that are easy to follow and those ideas help create a foundation for the team to build on and succeed.

As an Industry Expert

By being an expert in your industry, you become the go-to person when information is needed.  You become the trusted resource and are often sought out for answers to tough questions regarding processes within your corporation.  But in order to be an industry expert, you must first know a lot about whatever it is that your department does.

Additionally, you need to share your knowledge freely with others (especially your team) so that you become known for what you know.  A great way to advance your expertise in your industry is to publish content on the matter – whether it be through blogging, creative podcasts, or public speaking.

Feeling “stuck in the middle” of your leadership development can be frustrating, but you don’t have to stay there.  Start, today, working to develop your professional real estate by honing your skills in these areas and use them to greatly benefit your team members and your company and watch your professional value rise!


This was a guest post by James Beene. James has spent years training and developing leaders in the corporate sector. He shares his insights to impact other leaders through guest speaking, blogging, and social media. You can follow James on Twitter: @JamesBeene.

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