Boss vs Leader

Boss vs Leader – What’s the Difference & Which One Are You?

No doubt, managing employees or supervising teams is a stressful job, no matter the size of the team. And if not done correctly, it can lead to employee dissatisfaction and reduced productivity.

For this reason, managers and supervisors at all levels must adopt leadership styles that improve team productivity and empower employees to become better.

That’s where a good leader differs from bosses. Leaders don’t just focus on discipline and increased productivity; they deliberately create a culture that inspires workers.

This article discusses the differences between a boss vs leader and compares their unique qualities. The goal is to highlight key strategies to help business owners, managers, and supervisors to become better leaders instead of mere bosses.

Boss vs Leader: Major Differences

different people at a business meeting in office

Bosses and leaders both perform managerial and supervisory roles, and even though they steer employees and teams to produce usually the same results, their approach is different. This is largely due to their different skill set.

But if a boss can make people accomplish the same task that a leader would, why the debate about which is better between boss vs leader?

Here’s the thing.

A bad manager is one of the major reasons most workers leave companies. A study conducted by Gallup Inc., America’s leading analytics and advisory company, shows that one in two workers quit their jobs not because the company is bad but just to get away from a bad boss.

The study spans over 40 years and measures about 27 million employee engagements across 195 countries, so you can be pretty sure the research is extensive and largely reliable.

Here’s the bottom line. A manager who fails to incorporate the qualities of a true leader can run a company aground by losing good employees.

With that out of the way, here are five key differences between bosses and leaders and why managers should strive to be good leaders instead of just bosses.

  1. A boss instills fear and demands respect, but a leader earns employees and team’s respect, and people cherish a true leader.
  2. Bosses put themselves first, but leaders want to see others grow, so they invest in those they manage.
  3. Bosses always want to be in control, so they detest delegation. And even when they delegate, they usually micromanage people. On the other hand, true leaders believe in inclusiveness, so they delegate and give full autonomy.
  4. Bosses enjoy taking all the credit and pointing accusing fingers when things go wrong. Leaders are generous with praises and give credit where it is due.
  5. Communication style is another major difference when comparing a boss vs leader. Bosses separate themselves from the team by using “I” statements when taking credit and “you” statements when shifting blame. Leaders use “we” statements to foster a team-first mentality.

Are You a Boss or Leader?

group of people having meeting in the office meeting room

Here’s a comparison between the essential qualities of a boss vs leader. By carefully studying these qualities, you will figure out which type of manager or supervisor you are.

Continuous Learning Versus Know-It-All

One key quality that separates leaders from bosses is openness to learning. True leaders are life-long learners who aren’t afraid to ask for feedback on how to improve. On the other hand, bosses think they are always right, so they are not open to learning, particularly from those they manage.

You are a boss if you always construe feedback from your team as challenging your decision or authority.

Inspiration Versus Intimidation

Leaders earn their team’s respect by inspiring them to be more. They challenge employees to grow by strengthening their weaknesses while providing the right environment to support their strengths.

Bosses want to prove that they are in control by showing off their authority. Deep down, they fear rejection and failure and try as hard as they can to mask it by demanding respect rather than earning it.

Inclusiveness Versus Commanding

In addition to ensuring teams have adequate resources and time to complete tasks, leaders often give subordinates a sense of belonging by seeking their opinions during decision-making.

For example, leaders will often ask, “What are your thoughts about this?” giving the team a chance for positive input. When assigning tasks, these managers ask, “Is this deadline feasible? Are you able to complete this task before the week runs out?”

Leaders don’t shift blame. Instead, they look for ways to help their team succeed.

Bosses bark orders and dole out instructions with no room for questions. They adopt an all-or-nothing approach when assigning tasks.

While this managerial style can push employees to accomplish tasks at all costs, the approach can be detrimental to the individual worker as well as hurt the relationship between the boss and employee.

Supportive Versus Nagging

Leaders assign tasks while keeping their team’s time away from work in mind. They allow breaks and encourage employees to work out a healthy work/life balance.

Bosses hardly respect employees’ time away from work and don’t give any leeway. Tasks must be completed without excuses whatsoever, and employees must be reachable at all times.

Hands-On Versus Hands-Off Approach

When leaders assign or delegate tasks, they allow full autonomy. However, leaders know when to step in and show employees how to handle tasks. This hands-on approach encourages teams to use their initiatives yet be free to report issues that may interfere with projects.

Bosses merely dole out instructions and expect results without minding how the results come by. This hands-off approach can make employees hide critical issues that could negatively impact project outcomes.

Practical Goals Versus Unrealistic Goals

Leaders set realistic goals and make sure everyone is on the same page. Each team member understands their part and can easily seek clarification on confusing issues.

That’s not the case with bosses. These managers often set goals without considering their team’s abilities. They demand that goals are met no matter what and may even adjust goals based on their moods.

But that’s not all.

Teams and employees under these managers are afraid to ask questions due to fear and are often confused and frustrated.

How to Be a True Leader – Questions and Tips to Improve Managerial Skills

triumphant colleagues in office meeting room

Employees are likely to be more loyal to your company if the work environment encourages them to grow as individuals and professionals. That means managers must create an enabling environment that supports this culture by building a strong rapport with employees.

Here are some questions to focus on if you’re looking to improve your leadership skills:

  1. How can I ensure that everyone on my team has a voice and their voice is heard?
  2. In what ways can I ensure continuous growth in myself and my team?
  3. What is the best way to encourage my team to learn from their mistakes?
  4. How best can I inspire my team and unleash their untapped talents and potential?
  5. How can I help my team feel more fulfilled?
  6. What steps can I take to encourage open communication with my team?
  7. Do I have realistic expectations of my team?
  8. How can I improve my loyalty to subordinates just as I prove my worth to those in upper management?

The following tips can also help you improve your leadership skills:

  • Always remember that employees, subordinates, or teams are people who want to grow a company with you, so they dedicate their time and energy to attain the company’s vision. They are not just people who work for you, but with you.
  • Praise employees when they perform well and always give your team credit for collective accomplishments. It shows you are humble, but most importantly, it shows they are appreciated and boosts their self-esteem.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for input and opinions from superiors and subordinates. Be open to learning and continuous improvement.
  • Respect everyone, regardless of their position on the company’s hierarchy.
  • Set clear and fair expectations, be consistent, and most importantly, hold yourself to the same standards.
  • Don’t be ashamed to acknowledge when someone else has a better idea than yours or admit when you are wrong. In addition to showing humility, it proves personal accountability.
  • Encourage collaboration and be open to suggestions, particularly from employees with vast knowledge of specific projects.
  • Provide feedback but be constructive when you correct mistakes. Remember that mistakes are evidence that employees are trying to make progress.
  • Instead of focusing only on discipline, teach employees and teams to learn from mistakes by showing them better ways to do things.

Final Thoughts

Micromanaging people, focusing on discipline, and barking orders are typical qualities of bosses. On the other hand, true leaders are compassionate and inspiring. These qualities bring out the best in employees and increase the team’s loyalty, motivation, and productivity.

Don’t settle for the stereotypical cold manager with lots of authority but lacks the skills to inspire employees and mentor teams to become the best versions of themselves.

Instead, learn to incorporate open communication, thoughtfulness, and other key strategies to help you become the type of leader that employees cherish.

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