Some people might use the terms “boss” and “leader” interchangeably, but that’s not entirely accurate.
The truth is, some bosses are simply that – a boss. They have attained a position in the management section of the corporate pyramid. They have a nice office and a designated parking space. They make decisions that affect the direction of the company and often control how money is spent.
None of that makes them a leader, however.
The good news is that bosses can become leaders, and doing so should become a priority for those who want to effectively lead in the workplace.
By learning the key differences and applying them to the job, bosses can become the type of leaders who recruit and retain top talent while also cultivating employee growth and increasing a company’s bottom line.
So what characteristics differentiate a boss from a leader? The following represents some key distinctions between the two.
Leaders motivate their employees, which then inspires them to follow their leader’s example. Bosses tend to push employees instead of directing them. This type of manager tends to never make decisions, which forces employees to work without guidance and expectations while their manager hides behind a wall of inaction.
True leaders frequently present ideas and work alongside their employees. They clearly communicate objectives to the team and their actions are aimed at achieving goals together. This is the difference between inspiring team members and losing their respect. When a team has confidence in a leader, it can help improve team culture and motivate employees to contribute.
Good leaders spend time listening to their employees rather than talking above them. They understand the value of seeking and incorporating the opinions of others into the decision-making process.
Bosses tend to dominate conversations. They expect employees to listen and carry out their commands, with little or no direction. This type of attitude is not a sound approach to building a team of engaged employees who want to be valued for their knowledge and skills.
The business world is not elementary school – although the idea of a “teacher’s pet” is as unattractive in the office as it is in the classroom. Bosses can sometimes pick a favorite employee or two, which can result in unfair treatment, such as devoting more time to certain employees than others, giving them more benefits and creating an inner circle. This typically does not sit well with other employees, and often will decrease team productivity and morale.
Good leaders treat everyone equally, giving one person’s ideas the same weight as everyone else on the team. Strong leaders don’t let personal preferences get in the way of creating a dynamic environment.
When a company launches a major project, true leaders get “in the trenches” with their teams. Leaders take initiative, while bosses tend to stand aside and “supervise” others doing the work.
Seeing that a leader is as invested in a project as the team can inspire others to do their best work. Bosses like to sit on the sidelines and only interact to give orders. This hurts team motivation, collaboration and creativity.
A time and place exists for communicating wrongdoing and corrective action. However, the vast majority of matters involving an employee can be handled with a dose of constructive criticism, not harsh scolding, whether in private or in front of peers.
Leaders offer sound advice in a private setting, while bosses tend to scold and may even threaten their employees, which can leave them feeling concerned, embarrassed and defeated. Leaders can deliver discipline too, but their approach in doing so should be a learning experience for employees to redirect their efforts away from what is not working.
The old adage that says a person would rather be feared than respected is not going to work in the modern office (if it ever truly did). Leaders understand that intimidating employees and attempting to control them with fear will not work in any setting. Fear leads to doubt, poor morale and productivity loss. Smart leaders inspire with trust, enthusiasm and empathy, and display confidence in their employees to make decisions on their own.
Some bosses – especially those who have chosen favorites – tend to ignore a majority of their employees. This can give other workers the sense they are drifting with an uncertain future. Leaders don’t ignore. They invest time and effort into developing employees in their profession, teaching them new skills and helping them advance in their career.
These represent some of the differences between a boss and a leader. They seem simple enough, but simple does not always mean easy. True leaders make a commitment to assess their management styles, understand these key differences and then make a concerted effort to put these good leadership characteristics into action.