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Transforming from a Good Manager to a Great Leader


caneel executive coach

I'm a social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

Want to learn about how you can transform from being a good manager to being a great leader — and help others to do the same?

Or have you already been on that journey? As a CEO coach, I’ve found that one of the biggest signs your company is on the right track is that your management style needs to keep evolving. When you’re a team of three with a big idea and a small seed round, you basically wear every hat. You are a visionary, a team player, and an individual contributor.

With your first round of hires, the pressure is on to get serious about your management skills. Coordination is no longer possible to do “by osmosis” once you’ve passed the 6 person mark, though you may not be aware of this until the 12 person mark depending on your personality and level of self awareness.

By 45 people, you’re starting to wonder how you’re going to scale yourself and your vision further. Eventually process won’t carry the day. It’s time to empower. You may be starting to look for experienced senior leaders to fill out your executive team and coach people up. Or you may realize you need to add a layer of management in the middle. Either way, between 50 and 100 people, you will either learn how to be a ‘leader of leaders’ or you will spend much of your time in reactive mode, putting out fires in unplanned 1:1s and wondering why people can’t stay on the same page.

As you move from manager to leader to leader of leaders, you will focus more and more on empowering others to lead. On creating a container of purpose and vision and alignment in which leadership is a sustainable, scalable craft. In which your team of leaders actually helps each other to grow and evolve, through feedback and appreciation and challenge and coaching.

Transforming from a manager to a leader can sound deceptively straightforward, but it actually requires a great depth of skill and personal transformation that is not for the faint of heart. Check your ego at the door and you’ll go far (and with a lot fewer tears, I promise)! That too is easier said that done.

How to beat the odds as a founder

Like everything else, you can’t solve a problem just by thinking about it. Becoming a great leader takes time, and often a serious investment of time, connections, money, energy, and a serious dose of willingness.

One of my clients Zoe Barry was such a rockstar — she cared so deeply about her mission and vision that she made it her priority from very early on to become a great leader.

“Caneel has helped me become a leader of leaders. I was overwhelmed overseeing a company that scaled as quickly as ZappRx. I was a young founder and first time C.E.O. managing a seasoned, older Executive team. It was mission critical for me to grow at an exponential rate.”

— Zoe Barry, CEO, ZappRx

Zoe talked about the importance of coaching and mentorship in supporting her bringing her vision to life in Forbes last year. I really credit her for recognizing how critical it was to focus on her leadership when I’ve seen so many young founders prefer to panic in the weeds. They burn out, or their companies don’t make it, or they eventually get pushed out by their boards when they can’t scale.

This is why so many founders hire CEO coaches, whether they are on their first venture or their third after multiple big exits. I’ve worked with both.

“People are the problem” → “people are the solution”

Though it’s a new journey each time, the importance of developing people is much clearer to second-time founders and beyond. Here’s a funny exchange from twitter that attests to this.

Zoe really invests in her development and her company is a huge success because of it. In this 2017 interview, Zoe outlined all of the ways that she tries to avoid becoming a statistic.

“There are lots of growing pains. There are people who don’t make that transition. There are early-stage people, mid-stage people, and late-stage people. Every time I raise money, I look in the mirror and say, are you still fit to be CEO? I am the second-largest shareholder in the company after our largest investor, so I have the most incentive to either do well or find someone else who can do better than me. So far as the CEO of the company, I’ve done very well in that role, executing beyond what we’ve set out to do. We set some lofty goals and it’s kind of crazy to look back on that, but I haven’t done it alone. I’ve hired an amazing team. I’ve been working with a CEO coach. I work with my board. I have a whole group of mentors. I have outside resources, like a CEO group,that I lean on. But I focus on it a lot. When I do that, I see my team doing it as well.”

– Zoe Barry as quoted by Healthcare IT News

Passing the mic over to you (I may even quote you next week in the panel)

What have you learned about the difference between managing and leading? What advice would you give a manager who is wanting to step more into their power as a leader? What were some challenges or early missteps you encountered along the way? What myths exist about managing vs leading? If you manage leaders, how do you help others to make the leap into leadership? Please comment below!


Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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