Manager to Leader: 5 ways to smooth this extra tough transition


Progressing from manager to leader is a big career moment and it’s often tougher than many think. This transition isn’t just about a new job title; it requires a fundamental shift in mindset, skills, and behaviours.

There is a distinct time when you progress from manager to leader. I remember mine well – it was when I suddenly got more responsibility including more people to manage and responsibility across borders. It was so exciting but also daunting and overwhelming. I now provide the service I wish I’d had then: objective confidential support to get there more smoothly, faster and make fewer mistakes (especially with people!)


So, why is this change so tough, and how can you prepare yourself to be the leader you want to be?


Why the Transition is Tough

As a manager, your focus is often on processes, tasks, and ensuring that day-to-day operations run smoothly. Metrics, deadlines, and efficiency are big focuses. When you move into a leadership role, the expectations change massively. Leaders inspire, influence, and create a vision for the future. It’s about people more than processes and about guiding rather than directing. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that 61% of managers said that managing people was more difficult than they expected!


Manager vs. Leader: Key Differences

Managers Leaders
Focus on short-term goals and tasks Focus on long-term vision and strategy
Maintain control and ensure everything is done properly Inspire and motivate teams
Solve problems and manage crises Create the environment for and stimulate innovation and growth
Direct and monitor team performance Empower others and shape future leaders


According to Gallup, only 18% of current managers show high levels of leadership talent. This shows how different the necessary skillsets are for these types of roles.


Preparing for the Transition

There are some things you can start doing as you position yourself towards your first leadership role (and I recommend that you do before you get there, if you can, so you’re better placed to even secure your first leadership role):


Understand and develop emotional intelligence (EQ):

Daniel Goleman said “In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels” and that “leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal”. So, leaders need to be able to think clearly but also know and manage their own emotions and those of their team. This needs active listening, empathy, and effective communication. TalentSmart research shows that 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence. EQ helps build trust and stronger relationships but it also helps influencing and leading in the service of others (not yourself!)

A good read if you’d like to understand more about EQ: Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ.


Delegate and empower others more than you ‘do’ yourself:

Leading includes trusting your team to take on responsibilities – if you’re leading right then you don’t have the time to ‘do’ as much anymore. It can take a while to let that go but empowering others not only helps them grow but also allows you to focus on strategic thinking and vision-setting. I see this being a game-changer for new leaders.

A good tool to help you separate out what can be delegated is the 4 Ds. There’s a great table that explains the tool here. You do have to really challenge yourself when you use this tool though. Ask yourself “do I really need to do that”?


Invest in your own personal growth:

I see many people making this transition with very little help from their organisations. I remember when I became a leader for the first time and I was told “you’re great, which is why we’ve promoted you, you’ll be fine”…but it was hard and there was a lot of pressure to just know how to do it all! New skills and behaviour don’t magic themselves. You have to look for new ways to learn and grow in line with your development plan. Not sure what to focus on? Ask for feedback from your team, manager and peers. Learning on the job is very effective (hello useful mistakes!!) but you can also go to leadership workshops, read popular leadership books and, of course, receive coaching from someone qualified and experienced.


Creating the Right Mindset

A big part of leadership is the right mindset that is resilient to change, values and successfully applies people, sees the bigger picture and focuses on the long-term. A few ways to practise that mindset shift:


Work on your growth mindset:

Go for challenges positively and view failures as learning opportunities. Encourage your team to do the same, the best way to do that is to show that you do it. Share your mistakes and show how you’ve learnt from them (and continue to do as they never stop!) Carol Dwek wrote a great book on this: Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential.


Practise gratitude and humility:

This feels a bit cheesy but when you think of the leaders you respect the most, it’s very likely that they demonstrate these qualities. It includes recognising and celebrating the efforts and successes of your team, staying humble and approachable and showing that you value everyone’s contributions by getting everyone to speak up and really listening to them. This also helps build trust. I found it really hard to remember to celebrate successes when the business was encouraging us to go at great speed and move on to the next thing but it makes such a big difference to team morale and shows what great looks like to you.


Stay authentic:

Be true to your values and principles. Authentic leaders inspire trust and respect by being clear on who they are, what they stand for and being solidly consistent. It takes time to settle into the leader you want to be as I think your first leadership role is a voyage of self-discovery. I’m biased but coaching can really help with this.



Remember, this transition is a journey, and it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed at times. Get support from mentors, connect with your peers going through the same thing, and take one step at a time. Celebrate each little win and learn from each experience.

I always recommend mentors and strong peer relationships but don’t forget that the benefit of talking to an objective outsider has major benefits for being challenged, getting new perspectives and sharing things you might not feel able to with others! If you’d like a free discovery call with me, you can book one here.


Transitioning from manager to leader is undoubtedly challenging, but it’s also an amazing and rewarding experience. I learnt so much about myself during that time that I take with me to everything I do now.
With the right build-up and mindset you can smooth the transition, increase your chances of becoming the leader you want to be, faster. As a leader you have a big impact on the lives of those you lead so embrace the responsibility and the journey, and you’ll find yourself not just managing tasks, but truly inspiring and leading your team.


Quote: Only 18% of current managers have the talent to lead, make sure you're one of them!

Harvard Business Review, “Why Do So Many Managers Forget They’re Human Beings?”
Gallup, “Why Great Managers Are So Rare”
TalentSmart, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ”

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