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Making the move from manager to leader: 7 shifts for the newly promoted

One of the most popular training series from GCN’s Nonprofit University, our Certificate of Supervision & Management series, culminates in a session crafted by GCN President and CEO Karen Beavor called “Transitioning from Tactical Manager to Strategic Leader.” In it, we cover seven conceptual shifts necessary to make the move from managing to leading, which Beavor says is “one of the trickiest career transformations.” The day-long course, which has become a popular Custom Training session, takes a deep dive into each shift; this over­view outlines the whys and hows.


Shift from leading a single function to overseeing the full set of business functions. You’re responsible for knowing enough about each of the functions involved in the work to run the entire division or organization.

WHY? This shift enables you to make decisions that are good for the organization as a whole, and to evaluate the talent on your teams.

HOW? By understanding the different ways professionals in each department—finance, HR, marketing, operations, etc.—approach business problems. By speaking the language of different disciplines well enough to ask the right questions and to translate for colleagues in other departments. By knowing the correct metrics by which to evaluate and recruit people, even in areas where you don’t have expertise.


Shift from small thinking to big thinking. Rather than managing people, you’re managing and integrating the collective knowledge of those people to solve more important or more complex organizational problems. It’s about seeing how each part works together, rather than viewing a single part at a time, and finding (or creating) the points where you can integrate the competing demands of different divisions or departments.

Rather than managing people, you're managing and integrating the collective knowledge of those people.

WHY? This shift enables you to balance the supply of operations with the demand of development and marketing, business results with investing for the future, and time spent on execution with time spent on innovation.

HOW? By knowing how and when to make trade-offs, and explain the rationale for those decisions. By understanding enough about each organization function to anticipate the “domino effect” of decisions on all departments.



Shift from focusing on concrete, day-to-day activities to focusing on higher-level matters of strategic importance. You are a conductor, rather than a violinist—as you conduct, the tone of the organization will follow.

WHY? The difference here is between counting value and creating value: as strategist-in-chief of your area, you need to be able to push long-term projects forward and make important decisions amid the day-to-day flow of meetings, processes, and activities.

HOW? By knowing when to focus on the details, when to focus on the big picture, and how the two relate. By understanding cause and effect, and other significant patterns, in the organization and its environment—being able to separate signal from noise. By mental simulation: anticipating the ways outside parties (competitors, regulators, media, community members) will respond to your actions, and deciding accordingly. (This comes from talking it through with your stakeholders.)



Shift from silo thinking to systems thinking. You are responsible for designing and altering the architecture of the organization or department—from strategy and structure to processes and skills.

WHY? To understand how the key elements of the organization fit together, and the organizational effects of decision-making, rather than simply considering the functional effects.

Shift from silo thinking to systems thinking.

HOW? By knowing the principles of organizational change and change management, including the mechanics of organizational design, methods for improving business processes, and transition management practices. By considering the interdependence of processes, people, and strategy.



Shift from fixing problems to defining which problems the organization should be tackling.

WHY? So you can perceive the full range of opportunities and threats facing the organization, and focus the team’s attention on those that are most important.

HOW? By learning to operate in uncertain and ambiguous environments. By identifying the issues that don’t fall neatly into any one function but are still important to the organization (like diversity). By communicating priorities in a way the organization can respond to.



Shift from marshaling staff to influencing external stakeholders. Using the tools of diplomacy—negotiation, persuasion, conflict management, alliance building—to support strategic objectives in the external environment.

WHY? Because we’re increasingly called upon to collaborate with those we often compete against, you need the ability to address the concerns of external stakeholders in ways that mesh with the organization’s interests.

HOW? By looking for ways that outside parties’ interests align with your organization’s. By understanding how decisions are made in different kinds of organizations. By developing effective strategies for influencing others. By understanding that these types of collaborative initiatives have much longer result horizons than an annual plan.



Shift from playing a role to being a role model. Leading people by defining a compelling vision and sharing it in an inspiring way.

WHY? Because people look to leaders for vision, inspiration, and cues regarding the “correct” behaviors and attitudes—and because, like it or not, the quirks and behaviors of senior leaders are infectious.

HOW? By cultivating self-awareness and understanding your strengths and weaknesses. By taking time to develop empathy with subordinates’ viewpoints. By creating mechanisms to hear from staff at all levels.

Learn more about Nonprofit University's Certificate of Supervision and Management. 


Karen Beavor is president and CEO of the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.




GCN’s Nonprofit University now makes house calls, with a growing list of nonprofits taking advantage of the opportunity for cus­tomized team training, bringing our profession­al development curriculum into their offices.

Georgia Head Start Association employed NU custom training at their annual conference. Southface Energy Institute had a class on finance delivered to their midtown Atlanta headquarters. NU developed a custom certifi­cate program for Spelman College to provide their Bonner Scholars with an overview of the nonprofit sector.

Other recent Custom Training clients include Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta (seen in pho­tos above), Sheltering Arms Early Child­hood Education, Bartow Collaborative, and Easter Seals of North Georgia. And Nonprofit University’s expertise also goes virtual: Enrichment Services Program employed NU Custom Training online for their board and senior leadership team.

“The advantages go beyond the conve­nience of on-site instruction and custom­ization: shared learning experiences build teams, alignment, and knowledge-sharing skills,” said Lanous Wright, director of Non­profit University. It’s also more cost-effective, he noted, than individual training for sessions involving ten or more.


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