Are You a Manager or a Leader? 6 Signs You Need to Make a Change

In reality, many leaders are still managers who have not yet made the transition to their leadership role.

For leaders, strategic direction is the priority.
For leaders, strategic direction is the priority.

The word “leader” always reminds me of the word “parent.” Just because you have children, you are called a parent, but it doesn’t mean you are a good one. It is the same with the word leader. People are assigned the title of leader, but it doesn’t calibrate how good they are in that position.

In reality, many leaders are still managers who have not yet made the transition to their leadership role. We all have the managing part of our role down pat. But, what needs to improve is the leadership skill side. Do you have a tendency toward too much managing and not enough leading?

Here is a list of six signs to watch out for when leaning into leadership.

 1. You follow a set of instructions from your boss 

 If your role is to deliver on a set of targets issued by your boss, then you are still just a manager – even if you have a fancy leadership title. Achieving targets that are not contextualized in a big picture vision that you created or helped to shape show you up as merely an instruction taker, i.e. a manager. Without a bigger picture personal vision of the future and a motivated followership, you are not performing a true leadership role. Being given a set of business performance targets to deliver is not the same as having your own leadership vision. 

 2. You rely on the authority of your position to get things done

Does your team deliver on instructions because they are inspired by you, or because they just want to keep their job and their boss happy? A real leader will have real followership, which means people choose to work for them because they feel inspired and empowered by their passion and purpose. Do your people feel motivated to deliver because they understand the importance of the longer-term goals, and they feel connected to the vision? Or, are they just doing their job, and not particularly motivated by the bigger picture?

3. You are busy organizing, managing and controlling 

Unfortunately, in an attempt to manage uncertainty, ambiguity and any overwhelm, the first reaction in any so-called leadership role is to get busy organizing, managing and controlling – instead of rising above the issues and focusing on changing or sustaining the strategic direction and longer-term market success. There is always a temptation for those at the top to slip into or be forced into behaving like a professional manager – an “uber-administrator” -- rather than a true leader. 

Managers have a day-to-day emphasis on how things are and are concerned with exercising tight control over resources. This may include doing the doing, where managers will bring their expertise to bear to help deliver results, whereas leaders will stay leading, not doing, and deliver great results by empowering their teams to reach for their potential and deliver great results in the face of adversity.

4. You become overwhelmed with too many priorities

For leaders, strategic direction is the priority. For managers, the tasks are the priority and are often overwhelmed with “too many” priorities. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. When you maintain a big picture leadership perspective and are crystal clear with your team on your leadership vision and high-level outcomes, it will be easier for you and your people to set or re-set key priorities in service of the strategic direction rather than too may “to dos” on task lists.

5. You are guided by short-term targets vs. long-term vision

When the business is managed quarterly, there can be massive pressure to hit targets on time and on budget. Inevitably, this leads to short-term thinking and sub-optimal behaviors. Sometimes it can feel like all your efforts are in service of the quarterly results rather than the longer-term vision and goals. It is that constant push and pull from serving the long-term vision to hitting your quarterly targets that should make your leadership role exciting, commercial and relevant, but that juxtaposition brings its own jeopardy on whether you tend to lean into managing or leading.

 6. You wait for permission to lead

Managers wait to be told what to do. As a leader, you should never wait for permission or the right role title to chart a course forward. Empower yourself to step up and start making really great decisions about future outcomes and galvanize others to follow in order to achieve the results you desire. You can be the creator and shaper of events. Decide what future outcomes you want to achieve, and inspire others to follow you, invest in your ideas and support you to achieve your goals.

Then, and only then, have you truly made the leap from manager to leader.