Home » Boss Versus Leader: The Five Key Differences That Set Both Apart

Boss Versus Leader: The Five Key Differences That Set Both Apart

Surprisingly, what determines a boss versus a leader does not come down to how much you impersonate either one. Instead, there are a few vital differences between a boss and a leader, and it’s likely different than you expect.

Five key aspects impact your business management style, leadership skills, and ultimately, whether or not you are a true leader. However, these differences directly impact your long-term influence on those around you.

Whether you work in a small business, the corporate world, or are beginning your journey to become a thought leader, these five aspects are crucial to your success. To become the best person you can be, understand the differences between a boss versus a leader and embody the right leadership style for your goals:

  • Who Is Best: A Boss Or A Leader?

  • Inspire Action

  • Lead By Example

  • Do Not Micromanage

  • Function As Part Of The Team

  • Listen More Than Simply Talk

As you read through the following points, remember that quick fixes usually create short-term results. If you want to become truly excellent in your field, be determined to incorporate these aspects until they become second nature. The time this takes will be worth it.

Who Is Best: A Boss Or A Leader?

People often view leaders as best due to the common perception that bosses are domineering or disconnected, and good leaders are integrated and empathetic. Of course, there can be good bosses and bad leaders. However, people usually view a boss as more distant and a leader as engaging.

For the sake of spotting the differences, learning from them, and applying these critical aspects to your leadership style, we will focus on great leaders and why people view them differently than bosses. First, however, discussing two reasons leaders are viewed positively is essential before diving into the five key differences.

A Boss Commands Respect

Bosses are frequently understood to command respect, demand their subordinates execute tasks in the manner they desire, and trouble their employees if they do not complete their jobs as the boss desires. While a person’s position should be respected, leaders who treat their subordinates with dignity and respect often gain that same respect in return.

A Leader Has A High Window Of Tolerance

With this idea of respect in mind, it’s important to note that leaders possess a high window of tolerance. While a boss focuses on the result, a person who leads sees the path to accomplishment as equally important as the goal itself. A leader is patient, sees the individual first and the person as an employee second, and tolerates learning curves.

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#1 – Inspire Action

Leaders inspire those around them to take action and work with the team. Because a leader creates an environment of mutual respect and hard work and sees employees as people with needs and desires, those under them often jump into action.

If you have ever been part of a team who followed a great leader, you likely saw this idea put into practice. For example, if the leader sees a team member struggling to move forward at the pace of the rest of the team, they probably take time with the individual. Rather than focus on the overall team goal, the leader engages the member who needs it most.

This type of interpersonal relationship and time management trickles down to others. For example, when a team member sees a colleague in need, they know what to prioritize—the team member who needs extra help.

This is just one example of how leaders inspire action. Bestselling author James Clear says, “In the long run, the way you treat your time is the way others treat it too.” You inspire positive action when you show others how to spend their time. Inspiring action compounds in effect.

#2 – Lead By Example

Inspiring action is often a byproduct of leading by example. Successful leaders teach by their conduct rather than just their words. Leading by example is one of the best ways to create unity between who you are and what you do.

Truly great leaders stand out because there is no dissonance between what they say they stand for and how they live their lives. When a leader voices a belief, concern, or goal and then takes steps to follow through, they not only inspire their listeners but set the example of how to live.

At their core, a leader influences. After all, leaders must have followers to claim the title—without influence, a leader cannot lead. David Daniel is an excellent example of an individual who became a leader by first leading himself.

When David realized he was not fully present in his son’s life, he took steps to change. David created a wholistic approach to training himself, and instead of just focusing on training the body, he also focused on bettering his mind and soul. His approach spread, and David Daniel went on to coach over 200 clients after sharing his story on TEDx.

Leading by example is a crucial way to lead yourself, lead those around you, and create a positive impact in many ways. You never know how your leadership will influence those around you.

#3 – Do Not Micromanage

A leader’s influence is powerful, and how they conduct themselves creates tremendous ripple effects in their environment. One of the main differences between a bossy leader and a respected leader is the degree to which they manage those under them. A leader exhibits the following traits, which result in handing off management rather than hoarding it.

Simply by definition, a boss gives order and dominates how individuals should complete tasks, whereas a leader inspires the completion of tasks. Of course, micromanagement is necessary for some situations, but overall, a great leader leads so their team can manage their tasks.

Enables Their Team

When a leader builds a team or comes into management over an already established team, they must enable growth. One of the key points that set leaders apart is their ability to see the strengths in others and put them in places of empowerment. Great leaders:

  • Establish individuals in the areas of their strengths
  • Relocate members away from their weaknesses
  • Use the team as a unit rather than varying parts

For instance, it may be tempting to micromanage team members if you are in charge of a digital marketing firm for a well-known client with a global reach—what they put online impacts hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. However, good leaders create space for their members to shine.

Trusts Their Team

Trust is crucial to team building; without it, the team suffers, and the leader carries too much stress alone. In addition, micromanagement often results from a lack of trust. However, trust does not come without a certain level of risk.

For a team to mesh together and trust one another, the leader must allow members to learn from their mistakes. Trust is foundational to healthy leadership and creates an atmosphere where individuals know what to accomplish and trust others to complete their tasks.

Respects Their Team

Out of empowerment and trust, respect comes to fruition. Where respect flourishes, macro management grows, and micromanagement dissipates. It is usually easy to spot an unhealthy leadership environment: Employees complain about not being allowed to just “do their job,” and those in management hover over desks.

On the contrary, when leaders choose to trust their team, they allocate the possibility of failure, respecting their team enough to know they will learn, get up, and move forward. In this type of setting, respect from a leader is the highest accomplishment, followed by team members respecting team members. Just as habits compound, well-placed respect compounds.

#4 – Function As Part Of The Team

Moneeka Sawyer was a 16-year-old, first-generation American whose parents wanted to arrange her marriage. Exasperated at the thought, she visited her parents’ homeland, India, to see if she could find clarity.

The clarity she found led her to the realization that women needed the opportunity to provide for themselves, thus negating the need for arranged marriages. As a response, Moneeka focused on gaining financial independence and coaching others to the same end. Moneeka is a leader because she is engaged in the struggles of those around her.

Like Moneeka, quality leaders view themselves as a part of their team rather than a separate entity. Their hard work, or lack thereof, directly contributes to the team’s success. Good leaders are not above hard work but engage in the work their team members least want to do.

#5 – Listen More Than Simply Talk

Universities devote entire departments to the art of communication, nonverbally, written, and orally. It is not typical for students to study listening in this capacity. People usually view good communication as the ability to converse well, use appropriate hand gestures, and engage with others.

When a great leader recognizes this distinction, he participates in active listening. To lead well, they must understand the context of what is going on around them:

  • What do people like?
  • Where is the team doing well?
  • What frustrations should you address?

Active listening takes place when someone listens with the goal of understanding rather than simply responding. Good leaders listen with empathy and understanding.

boss versus leader

Once a leader has listened to those around him, he establishes a context from which to work. He understands his team at a deeper level, knows their frustrations and what excites them, and can work from a place of understanding rather than blindness.

Want To Be A Great Leader? Ask What Type Of Culture You Are Building.

A boss can describe the type of culture he thinks he is building, but a great leader asks for feedback from those who surround him. TEDx speaker and author Brené Brown has a great perspective on when to accept feedback: “If you’re not in the arena, I’m not interested in your feedback. If you’re not putting yourself on the line and just talking about how I can do it better, I’m in no way interested in your feedback.”

Do you want to be a leader, more than that, a great leader? Dare to ask those in the arena with you their view of the company culture.

They are sweating, working, and spending their days hustling alongside you. They directly experience the positives and negatives of what you lead them in creating. They see the culture up close and can help create it.

If you are a healthy leader, you’re already inspiring action, leading by example, macro managing, being a vital part of your team, and listening. However, to step forward into outstanding leadership, you must ask what type of culture I am creating.

You can create change because you are the leader. You can inspire action because people look up to you. You can show the difference between bossing people in how you lead or leading in a way that empowers them to become their own bosses.

Differentiation between bosses and leaders starts with leaders because it is the one in front that the team follows. Dare to understand the culture you are building. Choose to listen actively, and the results will surprise you.


Sarah Rexford
Content Writer

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