10 Key Differences Between a Boss and a Leader: Which Are You?

“There is a difference between being a boss and a leader,” writes Mark Miller, CEO of Volaris Group. “One manages their employees, while the other inspires them to innovate, think creatively, and strive for perfection. Every team has a boss, but what people need is a leader.” In her post on the Elite Daily blog, Leyla Abdullayeva adds that “although leaders and bosses have nearly identical definitions, in effect, they are different in today’s competitive world.”

While the differences between the definitions of leader and boss may seem small on paper, the two terms connote something very different to your employees. Managers need to understand those difference and aspire to become a leader.

Here are the 10 key differences between bosses and leaders:

1. a boss gives answers. a leader seeks solutions

Part of being a leader means coaching employees. A leader will help an employee grow by guiding them through challenges. This is how employees can develop problem-solving abilities and other skills that add value to a company.

2. a boss manages work. a leader leads people

“Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal,” writes Vineet Nayar in Harvard Business Review. “Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.”

3. a boss expects big results. a leader is generous with praise

A leader offers “immediate praise, thanks, and constructive criticism (when appropriate) as it happens,” according to business author and speaker Barry Moltz. Workers are motivated by more than money. Praise and signs of appreciation can help with morale and engagement, while a boss who simply expects good work can miss out on these opportunities.

4. a boss counts value. a leader creates value

A leader focuses on creating value through leading by example, according to Nayar. A boss focuses on counting value and can even reduce value. “If a diamond cutter is asked to report every 15 minutes how many stones he has cut, by distracting him, his boss is subtracting value,” says Nayar.

5. a boss controls. a leader trusts

Similar to the way a boss manages work while a leader leads people, a boss has the tendency to control workers and what they do. This behavior and frame of mind undermine productivity and growth. A leader is not caught up in micromanaging workers and work; instead, that person relies on trust and inspires workers to trust others.

6. a boss commands. a leader listens and speaks

“Bosses tend to give orders; they need their employees to listen and to obey,” writes Abdullayeva. “However, leaders always listen to the opinions of their colleagues and regard them as important.” Miller adds that bosses talk more than they listen, while leaders listen more than they talk.

7. a boss creates circles of power. a leader creates circles of influence

Nayar advises managers to look at how many people outside of their reporting hierarchy come to them for advice. The more people that do, the more likely it is that the manager is perceived as a leader.

8. a boss criticizes. a leader encourages

“Constructive criticism is needed every now and then to help someone improve,” says Miller. “But constantly being told what they are doing wrong not only discourages a person … [it] causes them to disengage.”

9. a boss chooses favorites. a leader establishes equal relationships

Equal relationships help ensure that personal preferences don’t enter the team dynamic, notes Abdullayeva. A boss who chooses favorites causes stress and tension, but a leader tries to treat everyone equally.

10. a leader creates more leaders

A primary goal for leaders is to create more leaders. By inspiring and motivating their employees, leaders set the framework for workers to grow, improve their skills, and assume leadership roles themselves.

a role for the new economy

“Perhaps there was a time when the calling of the manager and that of the leader could be separated,” writes Alan Murray in The Wall Street Journal. “But in the new economy, where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people, and where workers are no longer undifferentiated cogs in an industrial machine, management and leadership are not easily separated. People look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define for them a purpose. And managers must organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent, and inspire results.”

Leaders, not bosses, are needed in the new economy to manage “knowledge workers,” or those who have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience. A primary part of their jobs is the creation, distribution, or application of knowledge. No longer can managers act as merely bosses and expect employees to thrive; they must coach their workers and give them the freedom and support they need to do their work.

One Reply to “10 Key Differences Between a Boss and a Leader: Which Are You?”

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