How to forge a manager into a leader

  • Scope:
  • Culture and People

There are a lot of misconceptions about the roles of a manager and a leader. These terms are often mixed up without a proper understanding of their differences. It’s quite common for people to smile whenever the topic is brought up and respond with “Aren’t they the same?”. Well, to me they aren’t and this is my attempt to share my point of view with you. Only after noticing the difference you can start any change.

A manager and a leader – similarities

Let’s clear one thing up – both leaders and managers are goal-oriented. They both work on achieving goals. They work with people. They try to optimize the usage of resources and competences to the fullest. In other words – they want to limit waste. They also try to motivate people in the team. And yet, despite these similarities why do leaders get better press than managers? It all boils down to the tools they use for execution.

A manager and a leader – differences

Even though both roles are goal-oriented, they use different strategies to achieve it. Managers are more straight-forward with their methods. 

To clarify, let’s list the accountabilities:

  • creating plans, 
  • splitting big tasks into smaller ones, 
  • analyzing available resources,
  • assigning tasks,
  • gathering and reporting metrics.

They’re focused on tasks and efficiency. It started with the beginning of the industrial revolution. Projects were really complicated and the workforce was inexperienced. Methods like command and control worked like a charm. Time passed, projects changed but the same tools are still around.

To this day, the general idea of management is focussing on tasks and the simplest tools to motivate. You can read more on various motivational methods in my previous blog post.

Leaders, on the other hand, focus on the goal and the team. They try to translate the goal in a way that people can identify with it. A good leader creates an environment where people can thrive and achieve the goal. At the same time, they work with the team to help them remove external impediments. Leaders usually don’t focus on tasks that much,  but more on the outcomes. At the same time, a leader doesn’t need to be an authority figure in the organization. Some say that if no one follows a leader, he/she is not really a leader. 

John C. Maxwell created a classification of leaders. The drawing below can help you understand how leaders can differ from one another.

  1. Position – you have the position of a leader in an organization. People follow you because they don’t have other choices.
  2. Relation – people follow you because they feel the need of following, as they agree with what you say. It’s often that somebody else shows a different perspective and they switch to another person.
  3. Achievements – people follow you because you did a lot for the organization. Because of your achievements, you gain the authority and attention of people.
  4. People Development / Growth – you invest in people’s development. You see their potential and try to help them grow. You invest your time and effort in the growth of your team. You show them respect and trust and empower them. That’s why they choose to follow you.
  5. Personality – people follow you because of who you are. Your personality,  the whole image of you is what they value and what appeals to them.


Why am I mentioning micromanagement in the context of a distinction between a manager and a leader? Micromanagement is one of the worst and most widespread methods to manage teams.  Replacing micromanagement with almost any other strategy can make the manager a better leader. According to the Maxwell model, it brings the person from level 1 to level 2.

Micromanagement is a style of management in which a manager observes and controls their subordinates. They assign tasks to people and check the progress of execution at every stage. Even though it yields good short-term results, it  has a negative impact on the team, causing:

  • lower  work satisfaction, 
  • lower self-assessment of team members,
  • burnout,
  • lower intrinsic motivation

So as soon as the micromanager is away, all the results are gone.

Micromanagement looks quite effective for the person using it. It yields immediate results and builds confidence in the micromanager. It gives the feeling that their work is needed and effective. But in the long term, the pressure on the manager for being irreplaceable leads to burnout. In the end, they’ll either switch the team or get fired.

So how come micromanagement is still popular in organizations?

The usual cause of micromanagement is big external stress on the manager. Some junior managers copy the pattern from their peers, as an easy and effective way of working. Staying in such an environment for longer periods also leads to low trust. It’s also an argument for picking command & control tools.

As a result, we end up with a situation, where people working with a manager feel less and less motivated. At the same time, the manager feels encouraged to use micromanagement even more. Without it, the team fails to deliver anything. Entering this vicious circle can happen invisibly. 

How to stop micromanagement? 

The manager needs to notice the negative effects of this strategy. They should be open and willing to experiment with other methods. Gathering honest feedback from the team or other colleagues is a must.

There are a few alternative strategies for managers willing to change:

  • Delegate with the definition of what to do – don’t give advice on how to do it.
  • Work together on solving a problem with the team member
  • Plan work with the whole team and let everyone pick the tasks themselves.

A manager willing to change needs to build more trust and openness towards the team. They should be open to experiments. There is no silver bullet. A common practice is the help of a coach to better organize the work inside the team. The coach gives a broader perspective on the situation and provides valuable feedback.

As usual – here is the list of sources and interesting articles – enjoy!

Good luck with your habit changes 🙂

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