Qualities Of A Leader: How To Go from “Good Manager” To “Great Leader”



Sometimes management and leadership are used interchangeably.

Other times “management” is derided as unnecessary bureaucracy and “leadership” is an elusive ideal, always in short supply.

What’s really the difference?

John Kotter, a leadership expert who teaches at Harvard, does a good job of distinguishing the two.

Via John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do

Management controls people by pushing them in the right direction; leadership motivates them by satisfying basic human needs.

And this offers insight as to how you can go from being a good manager to being a great leader.


Management Is About Order

The goal of management is consistency and order.

Modern management was created to deal with complexity in the large organizations of the early 20th century like railroads, steel mills and car factories.

Via Force For Change: How Leadership Differs from Management:

(The function of management is) To minimize deviations from plan, and thus help produce predictable results on important dimensions

How does it achieve this?

Via Force For Change: How Leadership Differs from Management:

Monitoring results versus plan in some detail, both formally and informally, by means of reports, meetings, and other control mechanisms, identifying deviations from plan, which are usually called “problems,” and then planning and organizing to solve those problems


Leadership Is About Change

The goal of leadership is to motivate and create necessary change.

These are the qualities of a leader:

Via Force For Change: How Leadership Differs from Management:

To energize people to overcome major obstacles toward achieving a vision, and thus to help produce the change  needed to cope with a changing environment

You do this by:

Via Force For Change: How Leadership Differs from Management:

Satisfying very basic but often unfulfilled human needs — for achievement, belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a sense of control over one’s life, living up to one’s ideals — and thereby creating an unusually high energy level in people

You can see this difference explained in classic quotes about the qualities of a leader:

  • “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” — Henry Kissinger
  • “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” — John Maxwell
  • “A leader is a dealer in hope.” — Napoleon Bonaparte
  • “My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.” — General Montgomery


What Do They Each Do?

Drawing from John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do, we can get a more granular vision of what managers and leaders spend their time on:

  • Managers plan and budget. Leaders set a direction.
  • Managers organize and staff. Leaders align people.
  • Managers control and solve problems. Leaders motivate people.

Management is about establishing and supporting processes and systems. Leadership is about deciding on a vision and motivating people to execute it.


Leadership Is An Informal Role

Kotter explains that being a leader is a primarily an informal role. A big title matters less than you think if people don’t really believe in you.

This shouldn’t be too surprising: we all know a boss who acts as an absentee landlord and a lower level employee you turn to when you need help rallying troops to meet looming deadlines.

More and more research shows that the bulk of day-to-day power in organizations is informal and not as closely tied to the org chart as you might think.

Why is this? Because everyday leadership is about emotional motivation, not punishment or financial compensation.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

In other words, you don’t need to wait for a promotion to be a leader, you just need the qualities of a leader. In fact, promotions don’t create leaders nearly as often as leadership creates promotions.

Going from manager to leader is more about:

  • Developing people skills.
  • Growing networks.


Next Steps

Start educating yourself. Which of the below is your weak spot?

Click, read and improve:

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.


Subscribe to the newsletter