Ideas on how to go from being a manager to being a leader.

If you supervise other people, you fall into one of the above three categories.

  I would guess that if you are a ruler (tyrant) you are probably not a reader of this blog (or won’t be when you are done reading this article).  Now I will get myself in trouble with the rest of you . . . If I were to do a poll, most of you would describe yourselves as leaders, but in all but a few cases, your staff would describe you as a manager . . . some of you as pretty good managers and a few of you as maybe even a “not so good” manager.


Rulers are frequently tyrants of one form or another.  Their management style is grounded in the belief that “you should be glad you have the job you have”.  That during your work day, your time and energy is owned by “the company”. Rulers generally don’t care how you feel, they don’t want your opinions, or ideas on how things could be better. If an employee does something the ruler doesn’t like, that employee will be yelled at, disciplined or fired.   They have no compassion and are sure they are the smartest person in the whole world.  There are only three kinds of people who work for rulers:

  • People who are incompetent or think they are incompetent.
  • People who are junior tyrants; individuals who with one face kiss-up to the top ruler and with the other face terrorize fellow employees.
  • People who are actively looking for a new job.

Finally, rulers may for a while, be successful but they are ultimately doomed.  Their behavior becomes an open invitation for employees to exert minimum effort, then ultimately worse than that . . .  the terrible treatment of employees becomes an open invitation for employees to engage in subversive behavior.


Managers are technicians.  They make sure things that need to happen do happen.  They are almost always respected and often liked.  They delegate, they listen to suggestions and complaints and are open to making changes or taking suggestions.   They are friendly; they run good senior communities and have staff who are reasonably satisfied with their jobs.  These are the people who are running buildings that run from somewhat below average to somewhat above average. People who work for managers are not particularly out job hunting but would be willing to move without much regret if another opportunity came along.  Staff members don’t mind coming to work every day, but don’t get particularly inspired to go to work. Managers almost never get too close to their staff.


Leaders are very rare.  They are the people who can seem to turn around a poor performing building with nothing more than scotch-tape and bubble gum.   Leaders get to know their team members, to understand their passions, their hearts desires and their weaknesses.  Leaders more than anything else have a heart for their residents and their team members.  They get excited about getting their hands dirty with their staff. Leaders are idea people.  They are always looking for ways to give residents a better experience.  They are always open to ideas on how to improve things.  Leaders love and live to give credit for new ideas. The single most unique trait about leaders is that they want their team members to grow and grow and grow.  This means that if a dishwasher wants to become a cook, that leader will help them grow.  If a care aid wants to be a nurse, the leader will help them become a nurse.  They will do these things even if it means losing that individual to another community.

From Manager to Leader

Being a leader is more natural for some people than for others, but it is possible for any manager who wants it bad enough, to go from manager to leader.  If you are a manger who wants to be a leader it is possible to make the shift:

  • Read books written by leaders and about leaders, then figure out how to implement those leadership principals in your organization.
  • Get to know a few leaders and get them to mentor you.
  • Listen to your staff, both their words and the non-verbal cues as to how they see you.  Use that data to grow.

If you are a leader how did you get there? If you are on the path to being a leader, what are you doing to get there?   This article was inspired by Tony Decker of Westcare Management at the Oregon Healthcare Association Annual Meeting.