Boss vs. Leader: Help New Managers Understand the Difference

Managing others, especially for the first time, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. First-time managers face common challenges, such as balancing multiple demands,  leading a team, and motivating others.

Ileana Starwood knows this firsthand. She went from a highly structured corporate role to a management job at a smaller firm where she manages 21 people. Some of her strengths — such as speaking up, being decisive, and thinking analytically — combined with her blind spots and were getting in the way of building relationships, managing conflicts, and building a team.

“I couldn’t see myself clearly, or understand the perceptions other people had of me,” she says.

As a new manager, she had become a boss, but not yet a leader.

Being a Leader, Not Just a Boss

This was understandable. Moving from individual contributor to manager is the biggest shift most employees make in their careers — and 60% of first-time managers don’t get any training for how to do it. Our research has found that when money is budgeted to support first-time managers, it’s typically 2-5 times less than is budgeted for leaders higher up in the organization or further on in the talent pipeline.

This lack of preparation has huge implications. First-time managers — whether early in their careers or long-term professionals taking on team or project leadership — are on the front lines, and make up the biggest population of managers at most organizations. They directly lead the most people. Their effectiveness as leaders directly affects just about any organizational metric you can measure:

  • sales,
  • operations,
  • productivity,
  • customer satisfaction, and
  • employee engagement.

That’s why it’s critical your organization helps set first-time leaders up for success.

Investing in First-Time & Frontline Managers Is Worth It

There are many ways that organizations can help new managers understand the difference in merely being a boss vs. a leader.

Encouraged by her boss, Starwood took our leadership training program for new managers, Maximizing Your Leadership Potential. This program helps managers get a solid grip on their own leadership style and learn a variety of tactics for getting the best performance out of others. Training focuses on influencing, conflict resolution, and communication, as well as self-awareness and the ability to understand the perspectives and needs of others. Program elements include:

  • 360-degree feedback;
  • self-assessments; and
  • one-to-one coaching.

“I decided I was going to get everything I could out of the CCL training, then give it my all at work,” Starwood recalls. “The assessments — both the positive and negative feedback — were so helpful. I took it all in and really learned things that were directly related to the issues I was having at work.”

Starwood left with a new perspective and a clear idea of how she needed to focus when back at work. “Of course, it’s not like everything has changed overnight, but now I’m confident I can improve — and I’m working to become a leader, not just a boss.”

Understanding How to Be a Leader, Not a Boss

Here’s a similar story from another program alum: Like many first-time managers, Alisha Atlas-Corbett was promoted because she was successful as an individual contributor and was tackling a range of new challenges in her new role. But she found that leading people required additional skills.

Like Starwood, she took our Maximizing Your Leadership Potential program for new managers. For Atlas-Corbett, learning about different working styles and having the chance to talk to and learn from others going through similar experiences had great value.

The personalization was important, too. “The CCL focus was on knowing who you are,” she says. “We learned how to use our existing strengths and energy and repurpose them, and to try new things to better handle our challenges.”

First-time managers need to hear this overriding message: What got you promoted won’t make you successful at the next level.

To become a leader, not just a boss, you will need to make an identity shift to succeed. Learning — and being genuinely interested in understanding the new mindset and behaviors you’ll need to be a successful leader — is essential.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

If your organization is serious about developing leaders, not just bosses, learn more about our new manager training, Maximizing Your Leadership Potential, which develops the perspective, knowledge, and practical skills that first-time managers need to effectively lead people and projects.

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