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How to Stop Being a Manager and Start Being a Leader

Leadership is a hot topic in management research. Many theories have been constructed to help business owners understand how they can become leaders and, once they are leaders, what interventions they should incorporate into their business to empower their employees.

Although using the word “leader” is quite common, in many cases it is used to describe a “manager.” Many don’t see a difference, but there is one. The role of a manager typically involves hierarchical structure. The manager/subordinate relationship is usually based on the formal authority the manager has over the employee: the manager makes the decisions, and the employee operates accordingly. Motivation, in this case, is usually based on monetary incentive that is directly linked to performance. Managers are usually more task-oriented, rigid, and risk-averse. On the other hand, the role of a leader is much less structured. Even in organizations with hierarchical structure, the leader/employee relationship is based on encouraging and empowering employees to take responsibility, rather than giving them instructions on how to do their tasks. Leaders are usually more people-oriented and open-minded, and more prone to be risk takers.

Another common belief is that leaders are born that way. Trait theories claim that people are born with a certain set of characteristics and qualities that make them more suitable for leadership. These theories are considered old-fashioned and are extensively criticized by researchers in the field of management and psychology. Most people, me included, support the skill-based leadership theories, which look at leadership as a set of skills that, with the right motivation and practice, can be learned and improved over time.

The different skills a leader needs differ between industries and markets, but here are a few that I believe are relevant to leaders from presidents to SMB owners.

Decision-Making: Leader must have great decision-making skills. They should have the ability to view a certain business-related situation in a broad way, analyze the different scenarios that each decision will lead to, and choose the right one. As I mentioned before, leaders’ risk-taking nature will often lead them to choose the riskier option, which they believe will have the best benefits. In the decision-making process, leaders are team players—they listen and they mean it. Employees’ opinions and suggestions are taken into consideration and are crucial to making the final choice.

People Skills: Leaders are people-oriented. They love people and genuinely care about them. Even if they are not typically what is called a “people person” in their personal life, in business they put an emphasis on being honest, approachable, and confident. They also constantly work on improving their communication skills through engaging with anyone relevant to their business on a personal-yet-professional level. Leaders will also focus on passing down those superior communication skills to their employees, so the employees will communicate better with their peers and other contacts.

Dreaming: You can call it a vision or a dream, but leaders must have a clear understanding of where they want to be and what they are trying to accomplish through their business. A detailed and clear vision will motivate employees and partners to get to work. They will be more committed to the process of achieving the dream. Sharing the dream or vision is a way to help employees step away from micro thinking and encourage them to act toward achieving “the bigger picture.”

Being a manager is not easy, but being a leader is that much harder because it requires stepping out of your comfort zone, delegating, taking risks, and working as a team player rather then a boss.

What role do you choose to take in your business—are you a leader, manager, or maybe both? Do you think leadership skills are “genetic”? What are the skills a leader can’t lead without?

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