How to Stop Being a Boss and Start Being a Leader

Early in your career you dreamed about making it into management. But now that you’re there, your dream is turning into a nightmare. Rather than elevating your status, the corner office seems to be alienating you from your team who accept your guidance out of obligation rather than loyalty. So, what’s going on?

First, let’s consider the difference between managing a team and leading one. Managing involves supervising day-to-day office activities. It focuses heavily on events and processes such as calculating man-hours, allocating resources and reporting. And the way that managers navigate these processes is through authority—staff do as instructed because their manager is higher up on the corporate food chain. This is a “push” approach to business operations. Managers tell people what to do and uphold the right-or-wrong process by which they do it.

The leadership “pull” approach, by contrast, is people-focused. Leaders don’t tell people what to do, but rather show individuals how their strengths fit into the corporate vision and empower them to solve problems for themselves. By motivating individual team members to utilize their unique talents, the leader magnifies the overall capabilities of the team.

Evidence suggests that the long-term potential success of any business is significantly greater when it is run by a leader. So how do you make the jump from being someone’s boss to being a trusted leader? Here are a few ideas:

Loosen The Reins

As Peter Drucker once said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” In the context of leadership, the thing that should never be done is micro-managing your team.

This theory of leadership is consistent with a theory of human psychology known as the Self-Determination Theory. Self-Determination Theory proposes that humans have a natural tendency to perform at their best. Employees don’t need a manager looking over their shoulders because they are hard-wired to push themselves to learn, grow and master their skill-set within their chosen career.

Leaders, like managers, troubleshoot problems, but they do it with self-determination in mind. There are no quick fixes from this corner office. Instead, a leader will encourage each team member to think critically and find their own way of moving forward. Once an employee realizes that you trust them to find their own solutions, they will begin to add value on their own.

Take an Interest in Each Person

Often, employees will run to management with every minute problem not because they lack the skills to solve it, but because their mind turns to oatmeal under pressure. So, before you apply the Band-Aid, ask your employee to calmly think through the issues at hand. They may just need a sounding board, and a positive push, to find their own way through the maze.

In the early stages, this intense focus on people will take time out of your day. But true leaders realize that happy employees are successful, motivated and autonomous employees. A culture of trust—one that fosters multiple perspectives and explores the ideas that live between the prescriptive, black-and-white way of doing things—will take your team much further than one that is predicated on supervising the worker bees. Leaders embrace people, not processes.

Dump The Ego

Doing things your way, throwing cold water on those that challenge you, and thinking you're always right are just some of the traits of an egotist—someone who thinks solely in terms of themselves.

Leaders check their ego at the door. They think in terms of “we” not “me.” They believe in their people’s capabilities wholeheartedly, and they foster an atmosphere of collaboration and reciprocity among their team. Not only does this help everyone grow and develop, but it also frees the leader up to do what they do best—strategically plan the company’s long-term goals, capabilities and vision.

The result? A workplace that people will line up to work at. One that makes everyone feel part of the team with a shared responsibility for the organization’s future and ultimately, their own personal success.

Molly Owens

Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. She began working with personality assessments in 2006, and in 2012 founded Truity with the goal of making robust, scientifically validated assessments more accessible and user-friendly.

Molly is an ENTP and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and exploring with her husband and son.

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