Early in my professional marketing career, I had no idea what the difference between a boss and a leader entailed. In fact, I don’t even think I put those two words into the same logical combination of thoughts. The truth is that it didn’t matter. What mattered most was the excitement of an idea and the adrenaline mind rush of trying to stay focused with all the temptations of young adulthood lingering at my finger tips (I live in Southern California so you get the drift).
Fast forward my career about 7 years and man, has everything changed. I’m now consistently juggling the concept of being a boss versus being a leader. I find myself driving home from work analyzing my actions throughout the day. Did I respond appropriately to situations with employees on my team? Did I support them with issues where my support was warranted? Most importantly, did I provide guidance to make them better professionals and individuals?
Now I’m aware this last question may seem a bit deep for many of you reading this post. You may find the “boss” points below describing your behaviors in the workplace. However, if you are like me and you genuinely care about your team, it has popped into your head on more than one occasion.
Last week I published a cool visualization which was called The Difference Between A Boss And A Leader Infographic. This graphic outlined the differences between a boss and leader using graphic elements to tell the story. For those of you who didn’t have the graphic slide across your social feed, I wanted to include a more in-depth write up.
A boss drives employees to succeed for the team or themselves
A leader coaches employees to succeed for the team or themselves
Real life example- An employee comes into your office and they are struggling with a project. A boss may say, “it doesn’t matter how much you are struggling, you better get it done before the end of the day or you’ll be here all night”. A leader may say, “take the time to write down your top 5 obstacles and let’s sit down to work through them together”.
A boss depends on authority to motivate employees to perform
A leader depends on goodwill to motivate employees to perform
Real life example- An employee is struggling with the same project as above. A boss may say, “you will never be in a position like mine if you keep struggling with projects like this one”. A leader may say, “I’ve been there many times before. Let me give you a hand for 15 minutes and see what we can come up with”.
A boss inspires fear in his or her employees to operate daily
A leader generates enthusiasm in his or her employees to operate daily
Real life example- An employee comes into work feeling under the weather emotionally. A boss may say, “snap out of that attitude by lunch time or you will regret you walked in here that way”. A leader may say, “I noticed you seem a little off today. Is everything okay? [employee responds]. It’s okay. We’ve all been there before. You’ll have a great day and leave here feeling amazing!”
A boss uses “I” frequently in conversation that relates to his or her team
A leader uses “we” in conversation that relates to his or her team
Real life example- The company CEO is in town is speaking with all Managers. A boss may say, “it has been a lot of effort, but I was able to put in the extra work to make it happen”. A leader may say, “it has been a lot of effort, but we’ve been working hard as a team to get everything complete”.
A boss will place blame on someone else when a situation arises
A leader will fix the breakdown when a situation arises
Real life example- The same CEO is still in town speaking with all the Managers. A boss may say, “the problems we weren’t able to address this quarter are the result of the team not working together”. A leader may say, “the problems that existed were addressed by the team at the beginning of quarter and we’ve made significant progress thus far”.
A boss knows how it is done every time expertise is needed
A leader shows how it is done any time expertise is needed
Real life example- When the CEO leaves he gives each Manager some marching orders. A boss may say, “I know how we can get this accomplished. Let me do it”. A leader may say, “let me show you how we need to work on this assignment together”.
A boss uses employees to his or her own benefit
A leader develops employees to be the best they can be
Real life example- There is an assignment the CEO assigned your Manager to complete. A boss may say, “Tom [one of his team members], can you stay till 9 to get this wrapped up for me”. A leader may say, “Mary [one of his team members], I have to work on this assignment for the CEO. Would you like to help me with it? I believe this is something that would benefit you professionally so I’d love to work together on it”.
A boss takes credit any time there is an opportunity to do so
A leader gives credit any time these is an opportunity to do so
Real life example- See the example with Difference #2.
A boss commands his team to perform an action
A leader asks his team to perform an action
Real life example- Your Manager needs help with the assignment given to him by the CEO. A boss may demand, “you are required to work on this assignment with me whether you want to or not”. A leader may say, “would anyone want to assist me with this assignment”?
*Disclosure on this one. I don’t 100% agree with this difference as there is a right time to command and a right time ask. The circumstances definitely need to be considered.
A boss says “Go” to his or her team
A leader says “Let’s go” to his or her team
Real life example- A big company meeting just came to a close where assignments were delegated out. A boss may say, “go get started now”. A leader may say, “let’s get started tackling these assignments together”.
Now as with most concepts in life, these differences should be taken with a grain of salt. It isn’t realistic to assume that it’s always the best course of action to act like a “leader” rather than a “boss”. You should always consider the predicament at hand before choosing a course of action with your team. There have been countless times I acted as an outlined above “leader”, but the better decision would have been to act like a “boss”. Mainly because acting like a “leader” in this specific situation wasn’t best for the team and actually caused more harm than good.
Regardless of the hat you decide to wear, the focus should always be on the team you manage. If you need to “command” them rather than “ask”, that’s okay if you truly believe it is the best course of action. The results and performance of your team will always tell the story. Just be sure to focus on improvement and it won’t matter which category you fall under.