Boss vs. Leader: Which One Are You?

When hiring for a management role, you need to understand the difference between a boss and a leader. Successful businesses depend on effective strategies for leading, motivating and uniting their team toward a common goal. If you act as an inspirational leader and focus on improving the performance of your employees, your team and your organization will then reap the benefits. Learn more about the key qualities of a boss versus leader, and check out these tips to help your team achieve better results.
Related: Five Types of Bosses, Which One Are You?
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What’s the difference between a boss and leader?

To understand the main differences between being a boss and a leader, you must first have a strong knowledge of authority and power. Power is a person’s ability to influence the actions and beliefs of others because of their advanced knowledge, experience or skills. Authority is the right to be in charge of employees, their employment status and their tasks.
Leadership is having the ability and skill to lead others. It’s a personal quality that can make certain people more powerful. Strong supervisors use their power and authority to effectively lead their team and encourage them to submit quality work that enhances the company’s performance. Here are a few common distinctions between being a boss and a leader:

1. Inspiring and teaching employees

Managers are often expected to delegate tasks, monitor staff members and ensure that projects are completed on time. Some bosses may simply distribute assignments, provide a due date and return to their own tasks or check on employees occasionally, but there’s much more to managing a team and successfully running a business.
Leaders set realistic expectations. They guide their employees through assigned tasks and ensure that they have the tools and understanding needed to reach each goal. Like a good coach, they motivate their employees to stay on track and get them excited about achieving their objectives. This makes your employees more driven and enthusiastic about submitting great assignments and working together as a team.

2. Encouraging open, honest communication

Most executives provide detailed information and share extensive resources with their management team. However, some bosses like to keep this information to themselves even if they have permission to relay it to their employees. On the other hand, leaders recognize that knowledge is power and works best when it’s shared.
Open communication keeps employees informed and ensures that everyone’s on the same page. It helps workers understand their tasks and how they align with the company’s objectives. Additionally, it gives them the information they need to work more efficiently, and it may also boost morale since employees are more likely to feel valued and trusted.

3. Emphasizing accountability

Responsibility is a large part of management, and obligations may increase dramatically as you move up the corporate ladder. As a manager, you represent your team, and you’re responsible for their performance. This creates a tricky situation; most people have encountered bosses who let the blame fall on their employees or who discipline them without providing guidance on ways to improve. Another difference between bosses and leaders is that bosses may improperly take credit for their team’s successes rather than passing it on to those who made significant contributions to the project. Either way, workers may feel undervalued and underappreciated in these situations.
Successful leaders take responsibility when a project doesn’t go as planned. They review what went wrong and take steps to get their team back on track. Personal accountability is instrumental for managers and employees, and when you accept the responsibility for your actions and performance, other members of your team are likely to follow suit.

4. Helping employees succeed

Some bosses only think about themselves and care more about their success than anyone else’s. They may be concerned about enhancing their image, but their actions typically have the opposite effect. In contrast, leaders are driven by their employees’ progress and want to help their team members thrive. Sharing knowledge and skills, investing in their training and celebrating their achievements is more rewarding.
As teachers and mentors, leaders feel joy and pride when employees meet their goals. They find ways to coach workers and develop new skills that can help improve their careers. Unlike bosses, leaders aren’t threatened by top-performing employees who may eventually surpass their position or who have unique skills to bring to the table.
Related: Creating Programs For Leadership Development

5. Listening and learning from employees

Rather than separating themselves from employees like some bosses do, leaders spend time with their team to listen and learn from them. A good leader lets workers know they’re heard by taking the time to understand their challenges and helping them find ways to overcome them. This lets employees know they’re cared for, which makes them want to work harder and stay with the company. Team members may also become more comfortable voicing concerns and asking for help, which lets managers detect potential problems before they affect the business.
Being able to speak up allows employees to avoid confusions about their assignments and clarify details that they’re unsure of. This helps them deliver quality work, gain confidence and feel more comfortable with you, which encourages staff members to present innovative ideas that can improve your company’s performance.

6. Being passionate and purposeful as a manager

Some bosses only come to work for a paycheck, and their subordinates may feel the same way. Successful leaders and entrepreneurs have one thing in common regardless of their industry: They’re passionate about what they do. Although some administrative tasks may be mundane and few managers look forward to hiring and firing, leaders care about what they do and recognize the importance of their role in the organization.
Leaders use data, experience and intuition to understand what needs to be done and why, but most importantly, they know how to communicate this information to their teams. Passion is fueled by purpose. When these ingredients come together, motivation increases and employees are more likely to hold themselves accountable. Leaders also have the ability to look at the big picture; they don’t simply measure success by the numbers, which can have a negative effect on employee performance and morale.
Related: 6 Traits of a Bad Boss & How to Improve Business Leadership

Tips for becoming a leader versus a boss

As a leader, it’s important to inspire your employees to perform well in their role and deliver impressive results. Strong leadership qualities help build a solid relationship with employees, which increases loyalty to your company and encourages them to evolve and grow as professionals.
Follow these tips to hone your leadership skills:

  • Encourage your employees to collaborate. Take time to listen to their ideas and concerns, especially when they have a deep understanding of a particular project or department.
  • Remember that employees are people who work with you, not just for you.
  • Share the knowledge, skills and experience you’ve gained over the years. Pass this valuable information to your employees to help them avoid similar mistakes.
  • Admit when you’re wrong and show respect for your team members. Care and consideration go a long way toward building a positive workplace culture.
  • Stay humble and give credit where it’s due. Show your team that their hard work is seen and appreciated.
  • Provide constructive feedback frequently to help your employees improve their performance. Additionally, ask for your team’s opinion to assess yourself and other members of the management team.
  • Celebrate successes and failures. Leaders teach employees how to learn from their mistakes and perform more effectively rather than just focusing on discipline.

Frequently asked questions


How can I learn more about leadership?

While some say that natural leaders are born and not made, there are a variety of ways to enhance your skills as a manager. If you want to start thinking more like a leader and less like a boss, consider reading classic self-help guides like The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun by Wess Roberts or the business psychology book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. You may also consider taking a professional development course and offering training opportunities to your team.

What’s the difference between a boss vs leader, master or chief?

Businesses may use a variety of terms to describe individuals with middle or upper management credentials. Boss is a generic term used for someone who manages other workers or is responsible for controlling a specific project, department or facility. A leader is someone who oversees a group, organization or government. Master typically refers to someone who has advanced credentials or a high level of experience, such as a master chef or master plumber. Finally, chief may be used generally to refer to managers, especially in European countries. It’s also used to designate C-level officers who typically have the highest level of authority in an organization.

Who’s in charge of a boss or manager?

Most managers have bosses who hold them accountable. The typical hierarchy in a corporation includes employees, managers and directors, followed by vice presidents and chief executives. C-level officers may have to answer to shareholders, stakeholders or other investors.

Do bosses affect productivity?

Leadership skills can have a significant effect on worker productivity, according to research from the Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Based on more than five years of data from 23,878 workers and nearly 2,000 managers, researchers found that the average manager adds 75% to each worker’s output. Additionally, it found that replacing a low-performing manager raised productivity by 12%. Leadership skills also affect employee retention, worker satisfaction and other relevant areas, so it’s important to gather feedback from employees and managers.

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