Turning a Manager into a Leader

Turning a Manager into a Leader

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Turning a Manager into a Leader

By Mark Wager

All successful organisations have quality Managers; the kind of people who are committed technically, knowledgeable, task/process focussed individuals. Yet the truly elite organisations have something more, an extra quality. They have people who can innovate and can inspire those around them to work with such a passion that they will achieve goals that they never thought possible. The difference is that the majority of organisations have Managers who try to lead yet the elite organisations have Leaders who just happen to be Managers

With the terms ‘Manager” and “Leader” becoming so interchangeable over the years people have often mistaken the differences between a Manager and a Leader, yet they are two very different roles.


  • Control or direct resources to achieve goals 
  • Values and principles of the team are already established   
  • Maintains the status quo
  • Managers have subordinates


  • Influence people to achieve goals
  • Sets a vision for the team to follow
  • Challenges the status quo
  • Leaders have followers

Everyone in a managerial role requires both managerial and leadership skills in order to perform their role adequately but it’s the leadership qualities that allow teams to perform at the truly elite level. If you are still unsure about the importance of leadership then think of the events of  August 28th 1963, the height of the civil rights movement in America and on the steps of the Lincoln memorial when Martin Luthor King steps up to talk to 200,000 civil rights supporters and delivers his “I have a dream” speech.

‘I have a dream, that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

This speech was regarded as a masterpiece of rhetoric and one of the influential speeches in history. Now ask yourself if Martin Luthor King would have had the same impact if instead of “I have a dream” he said “I have a plan”. Give someone a plan and they will go a long way but give them passion and they will go further than you can ever imagine.

How does a Manager become a leader?

Everyone in a managerial position has been given an element of power from the company they are employed by. This power grants the Manager influence over the people around them. The path that takes someone from being a Manager to being a Leader involves understanding where that power comes from and how to use it in the most effective way. So where does this power come from?

Why do people listen to Managers?

In 1959 social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven conducted work on the basis of power. What they found was that there were five bases for power. In other words there are five fundamental reasons why we do something when people tell us to.

Legitimate power

Reward power

Coercive power

Expert power

Referent power

Legitimate power – This happens when someone perform a task for the Manager because there is an expectation for them to do so. They are responding to the position as opposed to the individual.

Reward power – This power occurs when someone performs the tasks because they want the reward that results from the completion of that task. The simplest example is doing something because you get paid for doing it.

Coercive power – This is the other side of the coin to reward power. This is when people perform a task because they want to avoid the consequences of not performing that task.

The three bases  for power are more traditionally described as managerial tasks as they come from the establishment of a managerial position and as well as the structure of performance measures, employment contracts and code of conduct policies. The next two bases of power come from the personal qualities of the Manager.

Expert power – This power comes from a person’s knowledge or expertise. People are inclined to perform tasks given to them from someone who they perceive to an expert. An example of this would be people following instructions given to them by a lawyer or doctor.

Referent power – This power is often regarded as the influence personality, or charm. People perform tasks when they like or have personal admiration for the person that has given the task. Effectively leading via a "cult of personality."

Managerial based                             Personal based

Legitimate power                                Expert power

Reward power                                    Referent power

Coercive power

The natural focus of any management role pulls us towards a managerial approach to dealing with people. In order to become a leader you have to link the coercive and reward powers to their referent power and this therefore ends up moving the balance towards the personal based powers. You may be asking what this actually means. Well the path towards becoming a leader is a long one and each of us has our own individualistic unique path but there are some consistent steps that all leaders have to follow.

The path towards leadership

Self awareness

The first step that any leader should take is to become aware of how they naturally react to situations. A lot of people gain this understanding through maturity but there are a lot of psychometric tools available which assist with understanding of behavioural preferences. I personally recommend using the Step II Myers-Briggs indicator (MBTI),as long as you have an experienced practitioner who interpret the results for you.

Establishing a level of self-awareness is a vital building block for any leader and enables them to easier adapt their behaviour so that they can chose the behaviour to suit the situation.

Advanced communication

Any message can be interpreted in so many ways by the listener. A group of people can be at the same meeting but can come out with different impressions. A Leader learns how to communicate in a way that the listener will understand so that the message is as effective as possible.

Conflict management

Conflict is a natural process and one which the majority of Managers avoid yet conflict can be a positive emotion and an incredible catalyst for change. Leaders encourage conflict and manages that conflict in such a way that it becomes an essential tool for any team.


Every leader understands what motivates people, they can identify and act upon those triggers that each of us has. These triggers once exposed can open up the emotional attachment towards the tasks that people require in order to go beyond what is required.

The void

The final step that all leaders take is the one that is most difficult to understand before you take your journey. Every leader learns the skills required to be an effective leader (communication, motivation etc) but the great leaders don’t just learn those skills they live them. For great leaders, being a leader is not a job, it’s a way of life. Once they live that life then they strive for perfection knowing that there is still more to learn even if they can’t see where the next lesson is coming from.

“What I call the void is where nothing exists. It is about things outside man's knowledge. Of course the void does not exist. By knowing what exists, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void” – Miyamoto Mushahi (The book of five rings)

The path from being a Manager to becoming a Leader can be a long and rocky journey but at the end you and your team will see the rewards. Taking the first step can be a daunting task but if you are unsure then remember the words of Martin Luthor King

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”

This article is taken from the book "Elite Leadership". Click the link below to purchase through Amazon


Posted: Monday 19 August 2013


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