Be a Leader, Not a Boss

yelling-manager-be-a-leader-not-a-bossWhen you think about the leaders in your organization, who comes to mind? Chances are, the first person who comes to mind is your boss. Most of us, in fact, associate “leader” with whoever happens to be in charge, but that isn’t always the correct interpretation of being a leader.

If you are in a leadership role, you have probably dealt with this distinction between being the “boss” or “in charge” and being an actual leader. While there is certainly the potential for overlap (a boss can be a leader and vice versa) there’s actually a significant difference between being a boss or being a leader.

In fact, understanding the distinction between the two can mean the difference between the team achieving its goals, or becoming a toxic and unproductive environment.

What it Means to Be a Leader

Being a leader is not easy. If it was, everyone would be a leader — and there wouldn’t be shelves full of books on leadership, seminars on how to become a better leader, and even entire degree programs devoted to the study of leadership and organizational leadership careers. While some people are just born leaders, most people have to work at it at least a little bit.

And one of the first things you learn as a new leader is that the typical image of a boss — imperious, controlling, you know, bossy — isn’t what is going to get you results. In fact, one of the primary differences between a boss and a leader is that while a boss is mostly concerned with outcomes (just get it done, and get it done well), a leader is more concerned about the process of getting to the outcome and supporting the people who are involved with it.

A good leader doesn’t just give orders and send the minions running to do his or her bidding. A leader rolls up his or her sleeves and gets in the trenches too, modeling what needs to be done, motivating the team to keep moving forward, and empowering others to fulfill their roles.

On a more practical level, the difference between a leader and boss comes down to a few other key qualities:

Commands vs. Instruction

A boss communicates through commands and directives, while a leader listens, shares ideas, encourages a feedback loop, and is willing to engage in discussions.

A leader will provide instruction when necessary, but is willing to listen to alternative ideas as well.

Fear vs. Enthusiasm

A boss inspires fear. A boss lets everyone know who is running the show and takes a “my way or the highway” approach to managing the team or department. Team members are afraid to make mistakes or ask questions for fear of being reprimanded, or worse.

A leader, on the other hand, inspires enthusiasm and earns the respect of the team. Again, listening to diverse perspectives and building relationships helps people feel supported and respected, and they in turn will give respect and want to follow the leader.

Control vs. Empowerment

A boss is controlling. Bosses micromanage every detail, telling their team what to do and how to do it, with consequences for failing to follow the rules.

A leader empowers the team to do what needs to be done, trusting that they can handle the tasks that have been delegated to them.

Short Term View vs. Long Term Vision

A boss tends to think short term. Bosses are focused on the current week, month, quarter, and hitting targets.

A leader might also have responsibility for meeting goals, but is more likely to be focused on the future and working toward a vision. A leader is better at making people understand why they are doing what they are doing.

Tools vs. Development

Bosses see people as a means to an end. They are there to do the work.

Leaders, on the other hand, develop people, and push them to achieve more. A leader encourages growth, and wants their team to feel as fulfilled and accomplished as possible.

team-collaboration-collaborateThese are just some of the differences between a leader and boss, and as you think about them, you can probably find more examples. If you want to be a leader, though, you need to learn to avoid “boss” behavior and start working on your leader behavior.

This might include using the word “I” less and “we” more. It might mean going out of your way to give credit where credit is due. You might need to take courses in leadership to work on your listening or coaching skills. Whatever you do, though, know that changing your mindset will take time, but the rewards for your career and your organization will be well worth the effort.

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About Dequiana Jackson

Dequiana Jackson, Founder of Inspired Marketing, Inc., helps overachieving women entrepreneurs conquer limiting beliefs and create marketing plans that grow their businesses. This includes one-on-one marketing plan development, digital product creation, web design and content marketing. Dequiana is the author of Know Your Business: How to Attract Ideal Clients & Sell More and runs the award-winning blog,

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One comment

  1. Thanks for sharing! This was great advice.
    Jeffrey Ito´s last blog post ..Hooked: How To Build Habit Forming Products

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