Can I still be a leader if I don’t want to go into management?

Management vs leaders on scales

Q: Can I still be a leader if I don’t go into management?


The simple answer is yes.

The challenge with this question is that we don’t know what being a leader means to you. And, yes, it matters!

What does being a leader mean to you?

There is a difference between being a leader and a manager, which is often at the root of this question. Organizations have structure and the larger they get the more they seem to have. Often people demonstrating leadership are offered management positions and this creates the impression that strong leaders end up managing people. In its own way, the organization is simply optimizing the effectiveness of those leaders, giving them people oversight to align the execution with the vision.

Leading without a formal team

There are two key aspects for leading without a formal team: influence and scope. Influence is the ability for the leader to move others with their vision. Scope is the breadth of their vision and in turn the number of people influenced. Managers enjoy “built in” scope and influence of their team, and leading managers broaden that scope just like non-managing leaders. The more senior the role, the more you find the need to be a manager.

Do I have to be a manager?

If you want to be an executive, you really can’t avoid management. If you are having trouble influencing or setting scope, then becoming a manager could answer those two questions. If you are an individual contributor, a senior leader without a team, but followed by like minds take stock in your current scope of influence and consider the scope you aspire to – either way, you are leading without being a manager.

So, a next logical question is, what does a leader that does not manage people directly look like? What behaviors make the stand out?

Three tools for all leaders

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