Business Leadership Today

What Is a Leader in Management?


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

Though we often hear the terms “leader” and “manager” used interchangeably, they can mean very different things in practice. 

A manager is tasked with carrying out the most important management functions, which include planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. Subordinates follow a manager due to a professional title or designation.

A leader is more than a job title, and a leader’s influence does not rely on positional authority for others to follow. 

A leader in management motivates and guides employees to work together to meet goals by building authentic influence beyond positional authority. Leaders do this by clearly articulating a vision that unites employees, committing to the growth of team members, and fostering a positive, inclusive work environment. 

In this article, I’ll examine what it takes to truly be a leader in management. 

The Importance of Leadership in Management

Business Leadership Today contributor Pamela Hackett recently wrote an informative article on this very topic, where she talks about the subtle distinctions between managers and leaders and how strong leadership is essential for effective management.

“The importance of leadership in management is that it engages, enables, and energizes people to bring their best selves to work. Understanding that people are led and organizations are managed, and demonstrating the two different skill sets, enables a safe, engaging, productive, and sustainable business.”

As Hackett explains, leadership creates the chain reaction needed to manage effectively and generate positive outcomes. Good leaders engage, enable, and energize team members to engage, enable, and energize each other to do great work. 

Managers manage the work process, and leaders give those processes meaning by tying them to the vision and showing their team members the impact of the work they do. 

The Difference Between “Manager” and “Leader”

Managers are responsible for planning, organizing, and overseeing an organization’s projects, processes, and resources, including its employees. They are typically focused on compliance and results above all else. 

Creativity and innovation have traditionally not been the purview of the transactional manager, but, increasingly, managers need to be able to lead teams that can think creatively to find solutions and innovate. They also need to be able to motivate and inspire employees to perform well while also supporting a work environment that provides the conditions necessary for them to perform well.

A worker’s direct manager has the most significant impact on their employee experience and is often the determining factor in that worker choosing to stay with an organization or seek out other job opportunities. 

We’ve known for a while now that micromanagement can drive employees away. Too often, in pursuing the positive results they seek, many managers are overly focused on achieving the results with little concern for the damage they may be doing to culture. 

A leader in management is one who can successfully manage team members so they can achieve positive results that help the organization grow without harming employees. Leaders manage people and resources in sustainable ways, and they can achieve positive outcomes using methods that are culturally aligned and informed by core values. 

How Does a Manager Transform into a Leader in Management? By Building Authentic Influence

Managers who want to be true leaders have to dynamically connect with their teams so they can lead persuasively, rather than relying on compliance and coercion. The key to transitioning from a manager to a leader lies in how you build influence with those you lead. 

There are five distinct levels of leadership development according to author and leadership expert John Maxwell. Maxwell first presented his leadership paradigm in Developing the Leader Within You and expanded it in his book The 5 Levels of Leadership.

The five levels of leadership are position, permission, production, people development, and pinnacle. Each level builds on the previous level, and one moves through each level by expanding their ability to build influence with those they lead in ways that aren’t dependent upon positional authority. 

Another way to refer to Maxwell’s scale is “the 5 Rs,” with each level being defined by the goals a leader should aim to meet as they grow. The 5 Rs are rights, relationships, results, reproduction, and respect. 

Each level focuses on a different aspect of great leadership. Still, all are defined mainly by how leaders continue to build their influence with their followers at each level as they progress through their careers. 

Level 1: Position
Rights – People follow a leader because they have to. 

At this level, people will only follow the person leading them because of positional authority. This level of leadership is transactional, with a heavy emphasis on organization, regulations, policies, and rules to motivate followers. 

At this level, you are a boss, a supervisor, or a manager, but you are not yet a fully-developed leader because you are still building credibility with your followers, who are likely still more employees and subordinates at this point than team members. 

Moving yourself and your team beyond this level requires setting clear priorities, clearly articulating expectations, and building trusting relationships with employees. 

Level 2: Permission
Relationships – People follow a leader because they want to.

At this level, relationships are forged, people give leaders permission to lead them, and leaders are able to move beyond compliance and positional authority. This is the first step toward true leadership, and it is characterized by a significant shift in influence. 

This can positively shape the employee experience and create a harmonious work environment where employees are engaged in the work they do and invested in helping to achieve the organization’s success, which makes the process of management more productive and effective. Under Level 2 leadership, employees will see themselves as instrumental in that success and tie their own success to the organization’s success. 

Leaders at this level are aware of the potential impacts of their decisions. Treating employees with respect and making them feel valued helps leaders forge trust-based relationships with employees and develop positive influence with them. This lays the foundation for the next level.

Level 3: Production
Results – People follow a leader because of what the leader has done for the organization.

Level 3 leaders have the potential to transform into change agents. These leaders inspire high performance, good morale, and increased profits and have learned to deal with tough issues with tact and diplomacy.

Leaders at this level aren’t just productive, they help others be productive. Producing results is key to mastering this level, and these leaders are pros at setting and meeting goals that grow the organization and contribute to its profitability. 

Level 3 leaders thrive on feedback, encourage employees to be a part of the decision-making process, and help employees identify ways to produce great results.

Level 4: People Development
Reproduction – People follow a leader because of what they’ve done for them.

Productivity is an important part of Level 4 leadership as well, but these leaders move beyond production to development. Level 4 shifts the emphasis from productive leadership to developing others, with the goal of investing in and growing more leaders. 

These leaders recognize their team members are the organization’s best asset and make investing in leaders their top priority. Growth for leaders at this level means growing and inspiring new leaders, or even transforming managers into proper leaders, which reinforces the influence a leader has on their followers. 

To master this level, a leader should provide a high degree of clarity, regularly communicate their expectations to employees, help them course correct when needed, help them achieve their goals, and guide them toward honing their own leadership skills.

Level 5: Pinnacle
Respect – People follow a leader because of who they are and what they represent.

Getting to this level can be a challenge. It requires a true commitment, intentionality, and a long-term investment of time and effort. A Level 5 leader commits their lives to investing in others. 

This level is transformational. It is defined by its potential to shape organizations, teams, and even industries, well into the future. At this level, a leader’s influence extends beyond the organization, even beyond the industry they work in and represent. 

According to Maxwell, Level 5 leaders develop Level 5 organizations and create opportunities that make them stand out from the pack. They also create strong legacies that will live on and continue to shape the lives of others. 

Leaders who reach this level will have a successful track record of building high-performance teams that produce innovative results. They give their teams the tools they need to work autonomously and always lead by example. 

How to Be a Level 5 Leader in Management

A manager becomes a leader when they build authentic influence beyond positional authority. To become a highly effective leader in management, leaders must transform into mentors who can clearly articulate a vision that unites employees, commit to the growth of team members, and foster a positive, inclusive work environment that supports all team members.

Clearly Articulating a Vision That Unites Employees

Level 5 leaders help define and reinforce employees’ sense of purpose by tying it to the work employees do each day and the larger mission and vision of the organization. They also set expectations that are tied to the organization’s larger vision and reflective of its culture and core values and encourage the growth of employees to deepen commitment to the vision. 

A shared sense of purpose unites team members, which maximizes their efforts and creates a positive work environment that is conducive to collaboration and where all employees are working together toward achieving the vision.

To fully engage and consistently perform well, employees need the mission that the organization’s founders set out to achieve and their vision for achieving that mission. This not only guides decision-making but also helps employees find meaning in their work. 

While managers often focus on how the work should be done and when it should be done, they don’t always consider that the “why” is just as important for keeping employees performing well. According to Libby Gill, author of The Hope-Driven Leader, one of the most important roles of a leader is being able to convey the “why” to their team: 

“The why behind your team, division, or organization may be obvious to you, but don’t assume everyone else gets it. You were privy to what the top leaders, maybe the founders of the organization, set out to accomplish. But that doesn’t mean everybody knows where you want to be six months, or a year, or five years from now. And it’s up to the leader to share that information. And the best way to do it is to create a narrative, to create a really compelling story that is so alive and so robust that people say ‘Oh I see where we are going and I see how I can connect within that.’”

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Committing to the Growth of Team Members

Maxwell says, “Leadership is about growth – for yourself, your relationships, your productivity, and your people. To lead well, you must embrace your need for continual improvement… “ For leaders to reach their full potential, they should always be developing and growing to better serve their teams. They should also support and encourage their teams to grow and develop.

Leaders who coach and mentor their employees toward growth are establishing an improvement mindset that benefits the entire organization. If you are new to leadership, finding a mentor who can guide you through the levels of leadership can help you avoid pitfalls and setbacks. This sort of expertise will be invaluable as you prepare for Level 4 leadership.

Constructive feedback is an important part of the growth and improvement process. Employees need feedback regularly to excel in their jobs. It provides job clarity, helps employees course correct when needed, and helps them grow more confident in their work.

But, to be most effective, it needs to be a two-way street, with leadership being open to feedback from employees so that they can also course correct, build confidence, and improve how they manage. This gives employees a voice and helps them to build trust in leadership, which increases a leader’s influence and ability to inspire their team members to do their best work.

Fostering a Positive, Inclusive Work Environment That Supports All Team Members

Great leaders grow their influence by supporting and serving employees and maintaining a supportive, inclusive work environment that is conducive to great work and inhospitable to toxic culture. When leaders do this, they are better able to manage people and achieve the business outcomes they want (and do so more sustainably).

Inclusion can be defined as the extent to which employees feel accepted, respected, and valued. It can also help gauge the extent to which employees feel encouraged to fully participate in the organization.

Leaders ensure their organization’s culture stays positive by supporting an inclusive work environment in which employees feel appreciated for their unique traits and skills and comfortable showing up every day as their authentic selves. Employees who feel a sense of belonging in the organization will experience more alignment between their values and the organization’s core values.

Leaders who want to support an inclusive environment should make it a habit to regularly re-evaluate seemingly innocuous practices embedded in a company’s culture that could potentially make employees feel less welcome and negatively impact employees’ perception of the culture. This takes leaders beyond “check-the-box” management approaches. 

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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