Business Administration

Making the Move From Female Manager to Female Leader

Making the Move From Female Manager to Female Leader
Are you a more natural leader or manager? The roles differ in surprising ways. Image from Pexels
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Dawn Andrews December 22, 2022

Manager and leader aren't synonymous terms. Each role requires a unique skill set, and transitioning from one to another requires training and experience. Which role better suits your goals?

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Manager or leader: how does one decide which path to take? Which is the more suitable career goal? First, one must compare roles, responsibilities, tasks, accountability, and personal aptitude. Examining both the role of the manager and the role of the leader can help inform choice. Next, take a wider view: explore the role of women, the opportunities, and the challenges in moving into a leadership role.

From the outset, know that one role is not better than another. A leader is not better than a manager, nor is a leader a better manager.

Nor are the roles identical (that’s another misconception). True, some argue that a leader and a manager are the same things. The professional literature, organizations, and individuals often blur the boundaries between the two roles. Definitions across sources are both similar and significantly different.

A manager and a leader can look similar, but that’s in part because the two skill sets are not often seen side-by-side. One is not an advanced step of the other, and organizations may encounter managers who cannot lead and leaders who cannot manage.

Can a manager become a leader?

While some people seem wired with leadership attributes, individuals can learn to become leaders. Managers can become leaders, but a manager must first unlearn manager practices to learn to become a leader. To transform into a leader, a manager must change their thinking about the role, the organization, and the people. Once the thinking changes, the attitude will also change, thereby changing outcomes.


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Being a manager

Management is a challenging job. Managers focus on the here and now to process employees’ issues. A manager coaches or mentors employees to facilitate engagement. They must do this while balancing the organization’s needs with the workload assigned to employees to enhance productivity.

A good manager must be a constructive critic and a cheerleader to inspire employee growth while meeting the organization’s bottom line. It is a juggling act to be in the middle, with employee needs on one side and the organization’s needs on the other. A good manager is task-orientated, process driven, and focused on short-range goals.

Being a leader

A well-performed leadership role demands a lot from the individual. A leader is continually relationship-focused and orientated toward role modeling for everyone in the organization; the focus is on people, not process.

Displaying exceptional communication skills and the ability to control one’s thoughts and behaviour is paramount. The leader must understand that following is voluntary; hence, care is necessary to inspire and motivate organizational members to buy into the organization’s vision.

The leader also must display skills for coaching, mentoring, and empowering managers in the organization to facilitate subordinates’ growth. An exceptional leader does not dictate; she knows that working collaboratively and personally taking accountability for failure and improvement is paramount.

Cognitive differences

Looking a little closer, the way one sees and processes information in the world can help suggest a fit between the two role perspectives.

Consider the worldview thinker or the particular thinker. The manager’s role sees the world one piece at a time; not unlike putting puzzle pieces together piece by piece, with each helping to make sense until one sees the whole picture. In contrast, the leader’s role requires a worldview thinker who starts with the bigger picture, first putting together the puzzle’s frame before looking for the pieces inside that make up the picture.

One can learn to be both, but individuals naturally tend to gravitate toward one style. Neither is better than the other. However, each is different and supports a different organizational function.

Why we need female leaders

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), diversity is the key to innovation, which ultimately drives market growth. HBR findings showed that companies with equal female representation in leadership reported a significant increase in innovation, which resulted in 45 percent market share growth. Moreover, 70 percent captured a new market.

In an article, Lori McNeill concludes that businesses face actual costs when they do not recruit women leaders for top corporate jobs. She urges companies with a substantial number of female workers to assign women to senior leadership positions. By listening to women in the workplace more closely, organizations can build momentum toward getting the best out of everyone.

Change must happen because, according to Bonnier Corporation, 94 percent of CEOs are males and 87 percent of women report lacking the knowledge of how to advance into leadership. The numbers are similarly unbalanced throughout the c-suite. That’s a significant gender gap that needs to be bridged to maximize innovation and achievement.

How do we address barriers to female leadership?

Men tend to underestimate the significance of workplace gender bias, reinforcing a substantial barrier to female leaders. According to Utah State leadership professors Brad Winn and Karen Joy Turley, senior management can empower female leaders by:

  1. Uncovering their own biases and barriers
  2. Recognizing that women in their organization want leadership roles
  3. Refining a full range of leadership traits
  4. Promoting women to help develop their abilities
  5. Having frank conversations and give honest feedback
  6. Leaning into hesitancy and recognize female leadership
  7. Seeking relentlessly a hiring pool of qualified women
  8. Developing coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship programs for female employees
  9. Promoting work-life balance for all employees
  10. Addressing any resistance to inclusion directly

How does a manager transition to a leader?

How can you know whether you should continue to evolve your manager abilities or transition to a leadership role? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have great personal insight?
  • Am I able to grow my communication skills?
  • Can I let go of my ego to serve others?
  • Am I able to be a big-picture thinker?
  • Do I like to explore change?
  • Am I a visionary?
  • Am I a long-term planner and thinker?
  • Can I see how things could be instead of how they are?
  • Am I a lifelong learner?
  • Do I have the strength to take responsibility for the company’s vision on my shoulders?
  • Can I provide direction to the organization?
  • Can I be honest with myself and others?

To transition to a leadership role from a manager role, the individual must transition their thinking style, interactions with others, innovation ability, and accountability. A positive answer to most questions means you may be ready to move into leadership.

Contrary to popular opinion, a leader is not top of the heap, a sole charge role. A leader must ensure managers meet the organizational objectives while answering to the many internal and external stakeholders and shareholders.

Women as leaders

Why might a woman be a gifted leader? Women have been socialized to meet challenges as opportunities, allowing for more growth when compared to men’s socialization to fix a problem and impose order. Historically, the traditional female parenting role has taught collaboration, empathy, and cooperation, skills that are highly valued in modern organizations.

The underrepresentation of women is gaining more importance in society today. Now, more than ever, we recognize that gender diversity is essential to a flourishing society and profession.

Why you should study leadership

Leadership development studies enable managers and emerging leaders to be coached, groomed and supported to assume leadership positions. Leaders are developed through study and practical application. Leaders can be taught to demonstrate the capacity to inspire followers, displaying interdependence, consistency, and resiliency while maintaining a commitment to both the organization and the principles of ethical leadership.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024).

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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