leadership high five

A Boss vs a Leader; What’s the Difference?

Alan Melton

In comparing the terms boss vs a leader, many people often use the terms boss and leader interchangeably.

In our competitive world, being a leader instead of a boss can boost your performance and ensure greater success for your business. It can help you attract and keep higher quality employees that drive higher performance.

My Personal Transformation From Boss to Leader

When I started my first business, I was more of a manager than a leader. When the business reached $1,000,000 in sales I realized that the business was growing beyond my ability to effectively lead it. I sought out help from a business coach and began to invest time and money in personal development. I learned a lot about leadership and realized that we could do a lot of good in our community by creating a clear vision, values and mission.

Then I learned that it’s one thing to have a plan but another thing to deploy the plan. I began to share the vision in every staff meeting and learned to empower my employees. As we did this our business took on a new life of it’s own. It dynamically grew without my day to day involvement. I stayed focused on the future for our business while our team handled the day to day operations. Many of our employees became extremely loyal to our business. Our sales rocketed to $8.5million and our profits grew to more than $1,500,000 per year.

Let’s explore differences that make an individual either a leader or a boss.

With a close look at the definitions of the terms, you will be capable of appreciating the complexities at play. In the beginning, the two terms may seem fairly alike and interchangeable. But a closer analysis highlights differences that present an entirely different meaning to both roles.

Continue to read to discover the seven outstanding different areas that will distinguish the two roles.

A boss says ‘go!;’ A leader says ‘let’s go!’

 

  1. Definitions Of A Boss vs A Leader

  • A Boss 

leader vs boss pointing a finger

Boss is a term that generally invokes a negative idea. Whenever we label someone as ‘bossy’ we are not paying a compliment.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the noun form of the word as ‘the person who is in charge of an organization and who tells others what to do”. This implies that being a boss is a unique status over the rest of the employees but is equally in charge of the company/organization.

In a nutshell, a boss is simply in a special position of power and will have control over his/her subordinates because of their role. The verb ‘to boss’, can help to further define the word. The verb is formally defined as ‘to tell someone what to do a lot’. By his position of power, a boss tells his/her underlings what to do and requires them to act upon accordingly.

The terms are distinguished by precision and power. Being a boss is a position demanding the capacity to give instructions and orders, assuring people perform the job the boss instructs them to do. Bosses don’t request or hope for action, they expect and state what needs to be done. If we break down the function of a boss into its most fundamental form, the office is entirely that of supervision. A boss is compelled to instruct the subordinates on what is required and to make sure the needs are satisfactorily met.

leader vs boss showing a task

  • A Leader 

On the other side of the coin, the word ‘leader’ is a term that is a more positive idea. Phrases attached to this word are usually more positive and frequently associated in the context of people we look up to or adore. For example “she was a true leader” or “he was a prominent and proficient leader”.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the noun as, “a person who manages or controls other people, especially because of his or her ability or position’.  The verb ‘to lead’ is described as a commitment to “show a person or thing the route to a destination by going in front of or beside them”. Unlike a boss, a leader is known to be a person who guides the subordinates. Instead of just barking orders, leaders actually perform the task while showing others to do the same.

Although the focus remains on getting the task done, a leader doesn’t only lay emphasis on the end results but also on the process.  Accordingly, compared to the nature of a boss’s job, a leader is not there to say what demands to be done. They determine what the work ahead is and continue to guide the subordinates throughout the tasks until their employees are fully trained. From there the leader’s role is more motivational instead of supervisory. They work on the basis of keeping the workers motivated to follow the path.

  1. Focus of A Boss vs a Leader

The primary concern of every organization should be the focus. This is because the underlying focus is what drives the company. The focus generally provides the direction and, to a larger extent, commands the approach to work. So what differentiates a boss from a leader as far as the focus is concerned?

  • The Focus of a boss is profit and control.

A boss is typically concerned with ensuring top financial results that will guarantee the continuation of the company.

This is the sole objective behind a boss’s interest. But ego also drives the boss. They want the job done in the exact manner as dictated.

Notwithstanding, the orientation towards achieving the goals may exist because the boss might be accountable to others just as the employees are to him/her. As a result, if they slip in the making subordinates perform the tasks and present financial results, then their position might be at risk.

Simply put, a boss is concerned with the outcome and believes it must be performed exactly the way it should be done. In their mind there is only one exact way to do the task.

  • For a leader, the focus is on transforming people and the organization.

His/her unique position is to achieve change, a transformation of the company from a lower to a higher status quo.

The objective of a leader is centered around achieving the vision established for a particular company. Such a vision is transformative for all stakeholders. Senior managers, employees, shareholders, customers and vendors realize benefits because of the vision.

The leader is engaged in supporting the subordinates to thrive as workers and as people. Continuous improvement of every aspect of the organization is the goal.

A boss does things right; a leader does the right thing.

 

  1. Motivation From a Boss vs a Leader

The distinctive focus and orientation of a leader and a boss are similarly obvious when you measure the motivation behind their actions. What motivates a leader or boss to work harder and deliver to the best of their abilities? How does each of them ensure that their subordinates are obeying instructions?

unhappy boss

  • Bosses are motivated by standards and results.

Such standards are frequently defined by their capacity to improve productivity and profitability within the company.

A company might employ a particular process because of its evidence in keeping high levels of productivity and so make the best profit for the company. At this level, the boss is concerned with identifying the best standards and then deploying them.

The supervisory role demands that the boss makes sure the subordinates obey/maintain the established standards in their execution.

  • The leader is motivated by the values they cherish.  

A leader will hold a vision, which is largely driven by the values and mission of the leader. As specified earlier, these are not only money-driven goals, but oftentimes deal with the type of business values the leader would like to see achieved.

The vision of a leader can be on growth or sustainability or customer service, and these values will ultimately be the motivation behind his/her action.

A leader’s personal values often become the driving force of the business and will broadly determine the way they lead. Moreover, the leader is not concerned about the ways that might be used to accomplish the jobs, so long as the subordinates retain the values as part of the work.

Again, a leader differs from a boss in the style they aspire to motivate the team. 

Rewards and punishment typically characterize a boss’s effort to control and motivate the workforce. More often than not the trend is centered around punishment with employees being strictly monitored to assure that they do not perform outside the standards implemented.

As far as bosses are concerned, the worst a subordinate can do is quit heeding to the process as this could imply a drop in productivity and profit. Accordingly, there is always a level of intimidation to secure that the subordinate will yield to the procedures.

Conversely, the approach of a leader towards motivating the workforce is completely different. 

A leader maintains inspiration as a motivational tool; The leader wants the subordinates to be motivated by the very vision driving their actions. This ensures that the vision remains the ultimate goal that everyone in the team is aspiring to achieve. They may use diverse inspirational tactics but often will make sure that the rewards are at the center together with personal progress plans.

A leader desires to grant a positive reward to his/her subordinate – an opening for the individual to grow for buying-in on the vision.

Rather than threatening and intimidating the subordinates to perform the task, a leader presents a challenge and grants a positive reward as part of the agreement.

When there is a problem, bosses blame people, but leaders blame processes

 

  1. Objectives and Approach to Work with A Leader vs a Boss

Bosses and leaders similarly have a diverse approach to work and setting objectives. The approach originates from the divergent viewpoints concerning what motivates them as well as where their focus lies.

  • A boss administratively approaches work.

As discussed earlier, a boss can be seen as a supervisor since the approach is involved with telling the subordinates about the job at hand, guiding them on how the job should be performed, and monitoring to make sure the end objectives are accomplished.

They take a dominating approach to work, demanding that the subordinates adhere to the instructions as stringently as possible.

A boss will often possess an outlined plan together with acquired specific procedures, which they will ensure that the subordinates follow.

It is worth noting that this rigorous approach to work doesn’t require that the boss be very qualified to set objectives.

Bosses don’t need to be the hardest or meanest to threaten people into submission. A great boss has studied the practices. Knowledge is vital to being a boss and the subordinates are required to execute tasks as they are told for the reason that the boss knows best.

Even so, the boss can be wrong, but the requirement is for the boss to understand why things work. On this basis, a subordinate is not supposed to contribute any insight into the jobs or assist in setting objectives. Instructions must be clear, and the subordinates – in many cases entry level employees.

These employees are good with repetitive tasks but prefer not to take initiative or engage in dialog. They may have experience, but usually have low aspirations. The boss wants their obedience to assure proper implementation. The boss supplies the resources but doesn’t participate in the procedures except for, of course, the supervisory role.

 Leaders determine the what, employees determine the how.

leader vs boss smiling with team

  • The leader approaches work via innovation and collaboration. 

Because change is his/her motivation with vision as the principal focus, a leader’s approach remains to transform.

It is not about following specific methods and adhering to the procedures that are proven in the leader’s view. The basis is to discover fresh ways to complete tasks. In other words they inspire employees to develop better processes and new and profitable ways to achieve the objectives.

So beyond the initial apprenticeship stage, the leader doesn’t play the role of telling the subordinate how to go about the task. Alternatively, the leader might request that the subordinate be part of suggesting new ideas.

A leader will encourage and guide, challenging the subordinates to be as engaged in process improvement. The method is more collaborative. A leader remains hands-on with the task for the purpose of setting the example for the followers, but trusts the employees to run the process in the future.

Basically, a leader perceives work as an occasion to educate and empower the subordinates. Every task is considered to be a means to increase the knowledge and quality of the workforce and not merely a process to attain the set goals. It is constantly about the larger picture, not only the goals at hand.

Since the leader encourages collaboration, employees who are upwardly mobile will be attracted to work for the leader. These empowered employees will invest their hearts and souls in the business, rather than just their bodies.

  1. The Origin of Authority of A Boss vs a Leader

Authority is one of the central elements that a leader and a boss have in common. Simply put, authority is the power or right to command, make decisions, and intensify obedience. It is at the core of any office of power, but the two functions differ in the way they accomplish this right and how they proceed to hold unto it.

  • For the boss, the authority comes from the position.

A boss remains an ‘authority being’ because of a title. Consequently, anyone attaining the position of hierarchy within the workplace, whereby other workers are less in power, automatically becomes a boss. This is to imply that the authority of a boss comes from an outside source, like the title and position, and not in the boss’s inner abilities to control the subordinates.

However, this is by no means suggesting that the boss wouldn’t be qualified for the position; it rather says that his/her ability to influence is not the reason for his/her position. The boss could be the most equipped individual for the technicalities of the task, but not necessarily the ablest at leading.

Commonly, it is more about seniority (appearing higher in the seniority ranking in the company).

  • The leader gets his/her authority from an inner place

A title doesn’t make somebody a leader as leadership can be demonstrated even from lower positions within the workplace hierarchy.

Furthermore, a leader holds authority over subordinates because the subordinates offer it to him/her. They do so because they understand that the leader can take charge and turn things around. Notwithstanding, a leader can obtain authority because they can express their vision and urge others to follow.

The authority of a leader is usually something that requires reinforcement and real proof. To sustain his/her authority, the leader must present results and proceed to inspire the subordinates. If the subordinates lose confidence in the leader, s/he will most probably have to find another way to communicate or leave.

A leader undoubtedly has authority, yet this authority is not used to create an unequal work setting. The leader treats the subordinates on an equal basis, and not based on his/her position or title. Their authority doesn’t place the leader in an exceptional position on the team.

Employees will abandon a boss but will take a bullet for a leader.

 

  1. Communication and Administration of A Boss vs a Leader

Communication might have a positive or negative influence on teamwork with the individual (boss or leader) in power holding a vital role in making sure that communication improves collaboration instead of diminishing it. Therefore, what is the distinction between when a boss communicates and when a leader communicates as well?

boss pointing with megaphone

  • A boss will often have a commanding and telling style of communication.

Because the approach to work emphasizes administrative features, communication in this scenario is often one-sided. The subordinate doesn’t engage actively in any discussion as the boss doesn’t highlight the need for a conversation.

The style of communication is established in directions, with the subordinates capable of asking simplifying questions or potential queries in their ability to accomplish the task.

Generally, the boss’ communication centers around passing the message across – the objectives and ways to achieve them, and not listening to what the subordinate has to say.

  1. Accountability for a Boss vs a Leader

Accountability is another focus area where bosses are distinguished from leaders. The major difference, in this case, is determined by the condition of responsibility and the way they both share accountability in the group.

  • A boss delegates responsibility and assigns accountability to others

Since accountability is shared, the subordinate may get the blame should things go awry.

The rigorous processes and stress on standards can suggest the boss finds it easy to locate the individual at fault. Whoever doesn’t adhere to the precise commands from the boss can be blamed for failing the project.

There exists no self-reflection with a boss. If the project fails, it only means one thing which is ‘someone didn’t adhere to the procedures laid out by the boss’. Once failure strikes a project, the boss entirely focuses on identifying the person or technician at fault.

Emphasis is on making someone accountable for any failure.

Amusingly enough, a boss will not share accountability as much if the project is a success.

Failure is wholly blamed on the incapacity to follow orders while success is attributed to the implementation of good procedures. The focus here is on the procedures and not especially the subordinates who obeyed them. The belief is that as long as the procedures are suitable, anyone could follow the rules. So, when success is achieved, the boss has worked in designing the ideal procedures.

leader vs boss celebrating with team

  • With the leader, full accountability rests on themself

Although a leader might share decision-making and responsibilities with the subordinate, they are ultimately responsible in the case of any failure.

Failures in the project are often an occasion for a leader and his/her team members to learn. They investigate whether something could have been performed better. The leader finds out if his/her support was enough, whether the tools were adequate. What was the primary cause of failure? Those are the kind of self-reflective exercises the leader will want to examine.

Moreover, the leader desires to obtain solutions to correct the failures rather than accusing the subordinates.

Accountability for leaders implies acknowledging mistakes, yet not dwelling on them. Maybe most significantly, a leader is pleased when s/he is being told on how s/he can improve.

To add, a leader acknowledges that everyone is a vital part of the team, and the entire team must work efficiently to succeed. Leaders believe that success is earned through teamwork, and as a result will share success with the team.

Concluding views

To conclude, a boss and a leader can be likened as similar titles of individuals in power. But as you look deeper, you’ll identify remarkable differences. The difference is centered around the approach you take towards your subordinates as well as the objectives you fixed for yourself.

‘A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way’.-John Maxwell

Leadership Vs Boss

Regardless of the way you define a leader, you can aspire to be a difference-maker as far as success and failure are concerned. A great leader has an innovative vision and understands how to transform his ideas into real-life accomplishments.

On the other hand, a lot of bosses are basically that – a boss. They have reached a position in the controlling sector of the corporate pyramid. They occupy a good office and a special parking space. They make decisions that impact the direction of the business and control cash flow. Yet, none of these make them a leader.

However, the great news is that bosses can grow into leaders, and achieving this must become a primacy for those who desire to make the world a better place while earning a great income.

By acquiring leadership skills, bosses can become the kind of leaders who hire and keep top talent while equally nurturing employee growth and growing a company’s output.

Want to become a great leader? Below are some of the leadership qualities that qualify a good leader from a bad one.

leader with thumbs up

Qualities of leadership

  1.     Honesty and Integrity

The highest quality of leadership is integrity. With no integrity, no actual success is conceivable, no matter the field of work/activity.  Honesty and integrity are two vital elements that characterize a good leader. You wouldn’t expect your followers to be honest when you lack the qualities yourself.  Leaders thrive when they remain steadfast to their values and central beliefs.

  1.     Confidence

To be an efficient leader, you must be very confident to make sure that others will be confident. If you are uncertain over your decisions and qualities, then you wouldn’t expect your subordinates to follow you. You have to be flowing with confidence, revealing some swagger and positivity to earn respect from your subordinates.

  1.     You Must Be a Source of Inspiration 

Apparently, the most challenging task for a leader is to convince others to follow. This is not possible until you can inspire your followers by serving as a role model. When things get hard, they look up to you and observe how you respond to the situation. If you set the example, they will follow you. You need to be positive as a leader. This must be manifested in your actions; for example by staying calm under pressure.

  1.     Delegation and Empowerment

As a leader, it is impossible to do everything right. You need to focus on principal responsibilities while assigning the rest to others. In essence, you need to empower your followers and delegate tasks to them. If you proceed to micromanage your followers, this will build a lack of trust and more essentially, you might not be able to focus on vital issues the way you should. Assign responsibilities to your subordinates and measure how they execute them. Equip them with the tools and support they need to accomplish the objective.

  1. Vision 

Great leaders constantly have a vision and purpose. They do not merely envision the future themselves but constantly share their vision with their followers. Once their followers can view the big picture, they can be sure of where they are heading to. A good leader works above and beyond and justifies why they are going in a particular direction and develops with their team a plan of action to reach that goal.

The list continues with many more leadership qualities that you’ll want to adopt to join the elite club of great leaders. Among these are creative thinking and innovation, good communication skills, empathy, decision making capacity, and commitment etc.