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When you change from individual contributor (or small business owner) to manager of others, things change.
You're no longer one of the guys and more importantly, you're no longer on your own, getting your products out there. You now have people working for you. You officially have a team. And you are responsible for not only leading yourself, but leading others as well.

When that happens, 1,000+ questions arise, is my personal experience.

Because what is a manager really?
And how to be one? Let alone a good one…
And also: what is the difference between managing a team/office/business and leading one?

This last question is what I’ll be addressing in this article.

The big mistake most starting managers make

People new to management often feel under pressure to Be The Leader. Depending on their particular definition of what a leader should be or do, people ‘enact’ being that person.To be totally honest with you, I have been there too. When I look back at my first gig as a leader, chairing a student board in university, I acted to be a dominant leader, particularly when dealing with the ‘higher ups’ (the dean of my faculty to be precise). We clashed all the time, and really, the things I said to him don’t reflect my normal empathic personality.

It turns out many managers have this experience.
In some cases, they are – or feel – pressured from their own managers to impose their authority on their team. They, the team members, often don’t accept this and start resisting, making it harder to get the job done, making even more dominant behaviour necessary.

This is a cycle that doesn’t end. Well, that’s not true. It does end at one point and it’s not pretty. And it is almost always the manager who has to leave. So that’s not the way to go here.

The power of authenticity

There was another problem with my initial approach to management. You might have picked up on my comment that trying to be overly dominant, wasn’t my natural take on things. I enacted being a particular type of manager.

That is the biggest problem of my first attempts at leadership, truly. And it’s the biggest problem with most managers’ take on the job. They lack authenticity. They play the part, know the stuff, and being busy with the processes, money, goals and KPI’s.

The difference between management and leadership

But leadership is fundamentally a profession concerned with people. And people respond to other people based on how they are, more than what they do.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

~ Maya Angelou

As you can see in the image on the right, much of our deeper personalities we tend to hide ‘below the waterline’. Especially in the work environment, we focus on showing our knowledge and our skills much more than who we are as a person: what we believe, what makes us happy & sad and what we feel.

How I see the difference between managers and leaders, is that managers  focus on acquiring skills and knowledge and then applying them, where as leaders understand and accept how important it is that their team knows who they are.

A leader understands that their motives, beliefs, convictions and even their emotions and feelings shape their behaviour, and thus influence if and to what extend other people will acknowledge them as a leader.

"How you are, is how you lead"

~ Rosalie Puiman

How to grow from management into leadership

To really go from manager to leader, it is vital to not only have the self awareness to know what is happening under the waterline for you. But to also change your behaviour towards these ‘deeper’ elements of your personality. No longer is it best to keep them strictly away from the office.

On the contrary! The new leadership paradigm asks from leaders to bring them in there. Not covertly even, but out in the open. People sense everything that goes on under your waterline. They may not be fully consciously aware of what they pick up, they may not even be understand what they sense, but they know.

And trying to hide and disguise your actual self directly effects the trust people have in you.

That doesn’t mean you can no longer be effective.
You can still be a good manager and get the job done.
But a leader? No.

Is it that simple?

This is the question I get asked a lot. Is it really just about ‘lowering the waterline’ and showing more of your personality at work?

I know many people worry about what they see as the ‘darker’ parts of their personality. What if you get angry? Or overwhelmed?

But what I’m talking about is not just blurting out everything that you feel. The ‘trick’ is to acknowledge who you are. In other words: to really grow your self awareness.

If you really understand where your inner responses come from, it’s not that hard to bring the people around you up to speed. So when you have an emotional response to something: make sure your team understands where you come from. That way, people can really get to know you. And as a result, they know what to expect from you and know that they can trust you.

In other words: it is vital to good leadership to be at ease with everything that’s going on below your waterline, and when the circumstances call for it, you need to able (both in accepting and in skills) to talk about what is going with you. Helping your team understand you.

To summarize: I believe that your first big task as a leader is to get clear on who you are and be open and sincere about that. From there on, start working on an authentic leadership style, an open dialogue within the team ect.

I am curious to hear how you see the difference between leadership and management. What are the most important elements of leadership in your opinion? What are your experiences leading (or managing)?

Please comment below!

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