4 Things to Do When You Transition from Manager to Leader

manager to leader

For some, making the seismic shift from department or team manager to true company or industry leader at a large-scale level is not a natural transition and requires some retooling in the way they approach and solve problems, communicate, strategize, and view their business and industry as a whole.

As one HBR analysis put it, “Many rising stars stumble when they shift from leading a function to leading an enterprise” because, while management positions certainly require leadership skills, being a large-scale leader usually requires very different processes and qualities than a manager.

If you’re transitioning from a management to a wider leadership role, here are the most important changes you need to make in order to excel in your new title:

1. Take a step back

There are two fronts where leaders will want to take a few steps back and consider the wider picture: 1) dealing with employees and 2) considering the overall health of business.

Leaders are not as involved in the day-to-day management of projects, employees, and tasks. That’s the job of the manager. Instead, 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, which fall under management. Leaders must always consider the overall health of the company and measure current priorities and challenges with long-term growth. Leaders create and drive the overall vision for the business, while good managers implement, track, administer, and make sure this vision is carried out by their staff members.

2. Shift your focus outward

As a manager or an employee, much of your focus was likely on your own performance objectives and whether or not you were meeting your quarterly or yearly goals. As a leader, your mindset should shift from your own performance or that of your immediate team members to prioritizing the success and nurturing the growth potential of every employee in the organization.

Becoming a leader means learning to balance the letting-go of your ego (it’s not just about you or your immediate team any more), 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, to motivate, and to 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 of the few things that keeps things running smoothly and drives a business back to growth. If employees are truly inspired by and proud of the ideals and values communicated by their leadership, they’ll not only perform better in times of growth, but they’ll also stick it out when challenges rock the boat. In other words, inspirational leaders result in inspired employees, and inspired employees are loyal employees.

4. Communicate big ideas

In addition to setting big agendas for a company, creating wider strategies, and defining the tone for the company culture, effective leaders must learn how to communicate these big ideas to everyone in the company, not just management. 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 own organization so that, at every level, the priorities, goals, vision, mission, and passion of the leadership is so effectively communicated to the employees that these become shared priorities, a shared vision, a shared mission, and so on.

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