Being a Manager Without Being a Leader: Is It Possible?

If you’re just starting as a manager, you might have an idea about the leadership capabilities that are expected of you. If you’re not that experienced, you may ask yourself if you can do your job as a manager if you aren’t a born leader.

A management position is strongly connected to good leadership practices. To be a brilliant manager, you have to get involved with people at a personal level and make sure they are performing their best at work. Developing your leadership skills will ensure this will be an enjoyable process for your team members.

I remember feeling confused when I first accepted the manager’s role. I didn’t know exactly how others will perceive me. 

If I’d be just the “boss” who tells people what to do, I would find little satisfaction in my work. But, if I’m a catalyst for others to grow and develop, I feel like I’m serving a higher purpose. 

Asking “what are your difficulties in getting this done” instead of “why isn’t this done yet” makes more sense sometimes, wouldn’t you agree?

In this article we’ll go over these important questions:

  • Are all managers born leaders?
  • What does it mean to be a born leader?
  • Is there such a thing as a born leader?
  • Does a manager need to be a leader?
  • Can you learn and develop leadership skills?
  • What are the basic leadership skills a manager must have?
  • Is it enough to be just a manager for your team?

Are all managers born leaders?

Not all managers have the leadership skills required to become true change catalysts in the organization. Some managers limit themselves to the basic requirements needed to do their job.

I believe the better question would be “are managers actively trying to improve their leadership style?”. The answer to that one is still “no”, unfortunately.

If you’re in the discovery stage of your career, you may be wondering how you should feel when you’re managing a team. Are you made to do this? Are you the right leader for them? What if you are not a natural leader?

In the next paragraphs, I’ll explain why you shouldn’t worry about not being called a “born leader”.

What does it mean to be a born leader?

When thinking of a born leader, we imagine someone who naturally, without effort, has certain qualities. For example, they can speak in public without breaking a sweat. They are hard-working and dependable, thick-skinned, confident and the list can go on.

Natural-born leaders always stay ahead by studying and being interested in what’s going on around them at all times. They inspire and encourage others to surpass themselves.

Born leaders set a vision and follow it. They can easily gather more people and make them see what they’re trying to achieve.

Is the “born leader” concept even real?

We talked so much about having innate abilities that by this time you may start to doubt yourself. Are you a natural leader?

Think of someone you admire as a leader. Do you think they were always behaving as they do now? In every single aspect?

I think not. Do you know why? Because I know how I used to do things and how I actively worked on improving them. I know that people’s perceptions can change over time, including your perception of yourself.

In this article, Josef Bastian argues that there is no such thing as a born leader. 

Although I consider that somebody can have some of the traits naturally occurring, nobody is born with all their qualities maxed out, without putting in any effort whatsoever.

If we classify people as being leaders or non-leaders, we take away the joy of self-discovering

If someone says I’m not a born leader, does that mean I shouldn’t even give it a try?

I believe that most people have the potential of leading, at the very least. 

So have no fear. Don’t be shy to put in some work and discover yourself, especially if you feel the urge to exceed your limits. Only you know what’s your inner force, your drive. Don’t let anyone who doesn’t know you catalog you as something you’re not.

Leading (not managing) a team is one of the most satisfying things you can do. You are there for others, and they support your efforts.

Do I have to be a leader to manage my team?

If you’re an inexperienced manager asking yourself this question, you have a great journey ahead of you. It’s the first step in the right direction.

A skillful manager knows their team is looking up to them for guidance and inspiration. A hard-working manager won’t settle for the “it’s just a job” attitude (more on that down below).

Yes, you need to be a solid pillar for your team. Go above and beyond and get rid of the restrictive definition of a “manager” (if you think there even is one). There is no reason to not act like a leader, even if you don’t have that word in your job title.

In fact, it’s expected of you to be an inspiration for your team. You need to lead by example, create a vision, and set targets. You will not surpass those targets if you’re simply “managing” the team. 

Some employees don’t need a manager – they can manage themselves. But we all need to be supported, directed, or even pushed on the right track. 

For me, management and leadership are intertwined. Because of my personality, I do not separate the two in my mind. To be honest, I don’t even know when I’m wearing the leader’s hat anymore, and when I’m “just a manager”. 

If I were to explain it, I’d say the manager part is more active (tasks, deadlines, targets) and the leadership part more passive (state of mind, common sense, empathy).

Without a doubt, there are situations where you need to act more like a manager and less like a leader. Delegating a task would be one of them. However, if you explain the reasoning behind the task, you are actively working on presenting the vision of it, which is something a leader would do.

Again, when speaking of a manager’s role, leadership is not to be separated as a foreign concept.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
John C. Maxwell

Leadership skills required for a management position

Many first-time managers don’t know what the team and the company expect from them, skill-wise. 

Let’s see what are the most basic leadership skills. Then, you’ll tell me which can or cannot be learned, studied, and practiced.

Communication. Written and spoken.

You need to be a great communicator to get your message across exactly how you intend it. But be aware of the medium you’re communicating in. 

If you’re sending an email, watch out for what tone and words you’re using. Coworkers can perceive the same message differently. 

Spoken (live) communication comes as a package with body language, tonality, and gestures. All of them are your allies if used correctly.

Integrity and honesty 

People need and want to trust you. Building trust takes a long time, and it can quickly fade away. You won’t be able to lead people you are dishonest to.

Here’s an article I wrote about why employees lose trust in their managers.

Active listening

You can learn so much by listening to what others have to say. Among others, active listening refers to paying proper attention, maintaining eye contact, expressing concern for the subject, and making sure you’re understanding the message by repeating and paraphrasing what they have said.

As you can see, it’s more than simply listening.

‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. ‘


You are working with people. No matter what your management/leadership style is, consider the fact that you need to take time to understand and respond to what others are feeling. 

This translates into patience, commitment, and emotional connection. Empathy and emotional intelligence are at the core of every outstanding leader.

Challenge yourself and others

There is no other way to improving your skills as a team. You need to keep track of the progress you’re making, the same way you’re observing your team members over time.

We can go on forever about leadership skills, but I’ll create another article speaking in detail each one of them.

Falling for the “it’s just a job” trap

I’ve seen this many times, unfortunately, and I’m sure you did too.

A manager is not someone who sits behind a desk comfortably all day, giving orders with no empathy whatsoever. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be this way.

Don’t be lazy.

It’s not enough. Not for you, nor for the team that depends on you to give them direction and be there for them every single time they need your guidance.

As a manager, you are responsible for challenging your team members constantly and figuring out what makes them shine. This requires daily efforts, along with a well-defined long-term plan for each employee.

Going the extra mile every chance you get will be beneficial to you, first and foremost. It will help you figure out where you can help others, and they will help you in return. 

Your team will know that you’re not there just for a paycheck and will come forward with questions and problems to be solved.

Final thoughts

In my opinion, you can’t be a successful manager without having leadership traits. You can intently identify and work on the less developed traits. All you need is time and an environment that can support your journey.

There is no such thing as an out-of-the-box perfect leader.

Your team’s success is your duty and obligation. You can’t achieve it by settling for mediocrity.

You can work on improving your skills, and thus you’ll improve the leader image you’re projecting to others. 

Don’t fall for the “I’m not a born leader” fallacy.

What is a leader in your eyes? Can you become a better leader in time? How?

In your opinion, what are the qualities you must have to be a brilliant manager?

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