5 Ways To Be a Leader – Not Just a Manager

Many people aspire to be a manager, but what we really need are leaders. 

If you want to be a leader of people rather than just managing them, there are a number of characteristics that you should seek to attain and practice.

The late and great management guru Warren Bennis once said “To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial”.

So how can you be a leader and not just a manager?

1. Be An Innovator and Not An Administrator

First of all, administration is important at work and you should be good at making sure all the rules are followed. It’s important to maintain inventories and accounts and meet the needs of your clients and customers.

But why not try doing these same things in a slightly different way? That’s what innovators are all about. They welcome, encourage and celebrate change. They see the possible risks but they are willing to try something new in order to get the reward.

Innovators have passion and drive, and they know that innovation doesn’t happen by itself – it needs teamwork, commitment, and a sense of adventure.

2. Be An Originator and Not An Imitator

People who are first to do anything new are almost always the subjects of criticism and even ridicule for their new ideas. But somehow these trend-setters find the courage to step out there in their short skirt, or long hair, or idea that people might like to use the Internet to socialize and share things with their friends.

People who not only step out of the mold but start creating their own mold, especially at work, easily attract people. We want to see what they do next, and we will follow them because what they’re doing is new and exciting.

3. Be a Long Range Thinker and Don’t Take the Short Term View

In his book, “The Unheavenly City Revisited,” Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard found that a person’s time perspective, or how far a person projected into the future, largely determined their financial and career success.

Thinking long term means having a vision for your life or career, goals that you want to achieve, and a plan to get there. People with a plan are much better leaders and much easier to follow that someone who is focused on just the problems or situations of today.

That’s why long range thinkers become generals in the army of Grand Masters in chess. They know how to plan ahead and they know how to win.

4. Be Someone Who Asks What and Why, Not How and When

The functional manager in our workplace gets things done. That’s their motto and they’re sticking to it! But by focusing only on how much is getting done and when it will happen, they are actually limiting themselves and those that they supervise.

A much better question to ask is what are we doing and the best question of all is to ask why we are doing certain things in the first place? When and how just give you information. What and why may actually give you an answer.

Some people call these wisdom access questions, because they unlock the ideas that are hidden in our brains and release that wisdom. That’s what true leaders do in the workplace.

5. Managers Do Things Right; Leaders Do the Right Thing

There is nothing wrong with doing something the right way, and there is always a right and a wrong way to do things. But a leader assumes that we know that without being told, and they don’t spend their energy on such basic ideas.

Instead they are always looking for better way, a different way, to do things. We all know intuitively what the right thing to do is in a difficult situation. But many times we shirk our responsibilities because there might be a risk, or someone might get mad with us. For example, we give a refund when someone isn’t happy with a product or service.

Being a leader means taking your head out of your turtle shell and handing over the money, even if that might be bending the rules and even if you get in trouble for it, because that is simply the right thing to do.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can


  1. Kamran Zafar on the 21st December

    Good read, however there is no checklist to be a leader.
    I would say, a leader is an individual with great integrity and honesty, respect for all around her/him, never gives up his efforts to do the right things, however, is first to recognize that plan is not working and appologizes first and move on.

    Leaders are great individuals…not just good; they do not measure their sucess by what they achieve, but what other individuals and society achieve becuase of their influence. They do not go over board to prove that they are correct by big words and speechs, but by their own action.

    Nelson Mandela has just redifined the difinition of leaderhip

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