How managers can transform themselves into leaders

By the team at Heriot-Watt Business School

The terms ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ are often used interchangeably in business, but they are not the same. Both phrases represent different roles charged by different motivations, approaches, and aims. To be successful in business, you must be able to differentiate between the two terms and decide which is best suited to your qualities. While both roles are important, being a leader is frequently regarded as better than being a manager, so you should allow yourself the opportunity to take those steps up the ladder.

Let’s look at exactly what each role entails and how you can transform yourself from a manager to a leader.

Dictionary definitions

Leadership (noun)

  • the action of leading a group of people or an organisation.

Management (noun)

  • the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.

The qualities of a manager

As the manager of a business, you more than likely respond reactively as opposed to proactively; a situation plays out in front of you, and you’re forced to determine the best course of action based on the results you see. This could be in relation to a staff member calling in sick on a busy day, a customer making a complaint, or a marketing strategy that failed to generate a buzz.

Your primary focus on a day-to-day basis is to organise, control, and direct what’s happening in the present, leaving little to no time to concentrate on moulding the future. A leader, on the other hand, has a distinct idea of what the next week, month, or year needs to look like, and what needs to happen to turn the vision into reality.

Instead of employees ‘following’ you, they ‘work’ for you, which can be the difference between a business that thrives short-term and one that excels long-term. If your staff aren’t regularly inspired and motivated by the way you handle business, you’ll struggle to get the most out of them, and your results will suffer.

What motivates a manager

Managers tend to strive for effectiveness over efficiency, meaning you’re focused on achieving a great result no matter what it takes. Contrastingly, leaders work towards that same great result, but they discover how to achieve it in a way that wastes the least amount of time, money, and resources.

You probably use the concept of ‘rewards and punishments’ when it comes to motivating your staff, which is associated with a transactional style of management. This might be effective for a while, but you might soon discover that your employees stop responding. A leader’s method is usually transformational over transactional, so they’re more fixed on encouraging, inspiring, and helping employees to be better.

The qualities of a leader

Business leaders take charge of potential issues before they’ve had the chance to arise. If you already have solutions in place for potential disasters – even if they may never happen – your business will be stronger. Promoting change instead of reacting to change demonstrates who’s completed a meaningful business management degree that has appropriately prepared them to be a business leader of tomorrow.

It’s important you set guidance instead of instructions, as doing so will equip your staff with the necessary knowledge, confidence, and skills to make important decisions without always looking to you to make the final call. You can’t be in more than one place at a time!

The day-to-day responsibilities of a leader include creating a positive environment that motivates, influences, and empowers the people around you. While a manager is focused on controlling and directing, a leader is focused on teaching.

What motivates a leader

Leadership involves the desire to create value, whether that be in situations or in people. Of course, to maintain a successful business you need a structure in place, and there are rules and regulations that staff must follow. The most effective way to ensure that everything is working in unison is to generate an environment where everyone feels valuable, heard, and understood.

Ultimately, a leader is a role model to their workforce. You must be the type of person you want your staff to aspire to be. Be courageous and positive, and always keep the bigger picture in mind. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell.

Who’s leading the way right now?

If you’re in need of some inspiration, study some current business leaders and mirror some of their traits and qualities. Reed Hastings (Chief Executive Officer of Netflix), Tim Cook (Chief Executive Officer of Apple), and Jeff Weiner (Founder and Chief Executive Officer of LinkedIn) are all fantastic examples of how to perfectly execute a leadership role. The success of their individual businesses is unquestionable.

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, is another business executive that’s often described as a fantastic transformational leader. Sandberg is known for setting high expectations, encouraging people to reach their goals, and praising her staff for carrying out good work.

Key takeaway points for managers who want to be leaders

There’s nothing wrong with being a standard manager… but think of all the success you could enjoy as a leader! If you’re ready to take that all-important step up, you must adopt a different outlook on business. Make decisions based on the future and the people, not the present and the numbers.

A business that’s over-managed and under-led is a recipe for disaster, so you must find an appropriate balance between the two styles. Not only will it be beneficial for you but also for your colleagues, staff, and the wider business.