“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”Theodore Roosevelt
What does it take to be a leader? Some people may answer that a leader is someone who receives a position of authority and provides orders. However, this describes a boss, not a leader. The difference between the two is that a leader develops their skill set to gain followers who willingly commit to their mission. Positive influence and impacting other’s lives are two of the most distinguishing factors.
Understanding the leader vs boss dynamic is an important part of personal and professional growth. No leader sets out to become a bad boss. Yet, as studies show, bad bosses are a problem in American work culture. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Officevibe, three out of four employees indicate that a bad boss is the worst part of their jobs.
Becoming a leader is important because a company can’t truly be impactful without leaders at every level. A person who is well-versed in leadership can drive results, increase organizational growth, and multiply leaders across the board. These types of people are the ones who create a chain reaction of positive outcomes that leads to a better world. To learn how to transition from being a boss versus a leader, take a look at the qualities, characteristics, and differences that separate true leaders from those who are not.
1. Bosses Enforce Accountability, While Leaders Create It
Bosses often act as managers by making sure people stay on task and meet their monthly figures. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s a far cry from being a leader. In fact, differences abound between leadership and management, especially when it comes to accountability. Bosses work to hold others accountable. Leaders hold themselves accountable. But more than that, leaders work to instill a sense of self-accountability in their team as well. With a true leader at the helm, workers learn to manage themselves. As a result, teaching accountability is a way to build confidence and support employees.
2. Bosses Look For Easy Fixes, While Leaders Focus On Long Term Solutions
When it comes to a boss vs leader, one of the main differences is where they place their focus. For bosses, focus comes down to the here and now. They need results right away no matter what it takes. Many bosses tend to focus on outcomes and profit, which is often at the expense of the people they manage.
Leaders, on the other hand, focus on the process by which people reach their goals. They still want good results, but they want to achieve them by helping people change for the better. Leaders focus on the long-term solutions that will make a difference and shy away from quick fixes that might end up causing more damage in the future.
3. Bosses Delegate Everything, While Leaders Collaborate
Leaders see themselves as part of a team. Their success depends on whether the team succeeds. Because of this, leaders stress collaboration, including their own involvement. Leaders work closely with others, helping them along the way and involving team members in the decision making process.
This is much different than how a boss acts. When it comes to bosses, they often delegate crucial responsibilities and tasks, taking a hands-off approach until it’s time to check in on the results. While delegation may sometimes be necessary, bosses rarely become involved in the smaller details and may even act annoyed if workers ask them for clarification or help.
4. Bosses Assume They’re Experts, While Leaders Learn
Another difference between a leader vs boss is their desire to learn. Too many bosses think they know it all already and have no need to learn something new. They consider themselves the experts with all the answers. If challenged, they will usually point to their authority as the reason they’re right.
Conversely, leaders seek to learn more every day. They’re ready to hear new ideas no matter where they come from. As a result, they’re able to apply new solutions to problems and open themselves to possibilities. It’s this open-minded approach that creates great leaders.
5. Bosses Shut Down Communication, While Leaders Listen
On that note, leaders also differentiate themselves from bosses by encouraging open communication at all times. Good leaders not only share encouragement and advice, they listen too. They know that everyone they work with has something valuable to add, and they make sure these voices are heard.
Bosses operate under a different philosophy. Instead of listening, they only tell others what to do. As a result, communication happens in a top-down direction. They don’t allow for new ideas and shut themselves out from hearing what others are saying. Many people view bosses as a dead end and will only communicate the bare minimum to them.
6. Bosses Stay The Same, While Leaders Seek Self-Improvement
Much like the desire to learn, leaders always look for ways they can improve since, in their minds, there’s always room for improvement. This doesn’t mean they’re overly self-critical, but it does show that they recognize improvement is necessary to make significant progress. Not only do leaders seek self-improvement, they want to help others improve as well. They’ll work with others to make sure they reach a higher level of performance.
Bosses take a different approach and think they don’t need to improve on what they do. They may want others to improve but only for superficial reasons. They also don’t take part in the improvement process and simply expect others to do it on their own.
7. Bosses Are Driven By Numbers, While Leaders Are Driven By Values
What drives a leader compared to a boss? For bosses, motivation mainly comes from reaching numbers and maintaining the standards set by the organization. While that can be good, it can also be detrimental when it’s a leader’s sole motivating factor. Always choosing what’s best for the company rather than the individual can cause conflict, work burnout, and work stress.
Leaders have different motivations. In the case of true leadership, the values they hold dear are what drives them to be excellent. Great leaders instill these same values in their followers, not by force, but through persuasion, influence, and example.
Can a Boss Still Be a Leader?
When discussing the leader vs boss dilemma, it’s important to note that the two can be one and the same. Leaders can arise from pretty much anywhere within a company. Their authority doesn’t come from their position, but that doesn’t mean those who are seen as “bosses” can’t be leaders as well. By finding the right motivation, fostering better communication, seeking to learn more, and looking for ways to improve, bosses can become great leaders within their respective companies. When this happens, the difference between a boss and a leader disappears.
Bosses tend to demand too much from others while demanding too little of themselves. Leaders, on the other hand, always set the example. As Tony Robbins puts it, leaders “pave a path for their team to follow.” Leaders collaborate, listen well, hold themselves accountable, drive themselves with their values, and seek self-improvement. If you want to avoid becoming a bad boss, make sure to work toward becoming a great leader.
For more guides on being a good leader, read the following articles: