Develop Leaders, Not Just Bosses

Develop Leaders, Not Just Bosses

Boss vs. Leader: Help Your 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, 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 knew how to be a boss, but not yet a leader.

New Managers Must Understand the Difference in Being a Boss vs. Leader

This was understandable.

Moving from individual contributor to manager is the biggest identity 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 2–5x less than what’s 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 invests in your first-time leaders to maximize their chance for success.

Being a Leader, Not Just a Boss, Requires Self-Awareness

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

Encouraged by her boss, Starwood took our first-level manager training program, Maximizing Your Leadership Potential. This program helps new leaders 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 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.”

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 coaching. She wasn’t sure what to do.

This is common. All too often, new managers don’t fully understand the essential roles that every successful professional must play, which require a different skillset and mindset.

Like Starwood, she took Maximizing Your Leadership Potential, too. 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.

Developing leaders, not just bosses, requires that organizations help new managers to increase their self-awareness and understand the behaviors needed to lead a team of others. It’s all part of helping set first-time leaders up for success.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

If your organization is serious about ensuring your new managers understand the difference in a boss vs. leader, then explore our new manager courses for this leader level, including and most especially Maximizing Your Leadership Potential, our core program for first-level managers to help them develop the self-awareness and skills required to effectively lead people and projects.

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February 1, 2021
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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