There is a big difference between boss vs leader. Good leaders not only motivate and inspire their teams to perform their best, but they are also part of the team themselves. They find a healthy balance between managing, leading, and jumping in to help when needed. They are also constantly researching new methods and ways to be a better leader.
People seek out good leaders to work for and turn to them for advice and encouragement. In this article, we’ll help you identify the subtle ways to align your behavior with that of a true leader. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between the two and which responsibilities every great manager and business owner should have on their list if they want to skyrocket to company-wide success.
What is the difference between boss and leader?
A boss manages their employees, while a leader motivates and helps them reach their goals. How do you differentiate the two? It’s all about mindset and action. Here are some of the biggest boss vs leader differences:
A leader has an open mind; a boss already knows it all
Leaders will adopt a growth mindset. That means they are open to learning new ideas, hearing interesting takes from others, and are willing to try new things as they come up. This helps foster a more creative work environment for everyone. It also helps the entire team feel supported in the work they do, which leads to more productivity and better results.
A leader collaborates; a boss dictates
Leaders like to work with other people to get the best positive results they can as a group. They don't simply rely on one or two managers to oversee progress. Although a good manager is a serious asset, leaders are hands-on, brainstorming side by side with partners and employees on the team to come up with innovative solutions.
A leader empowers; a boss keeps a watchful eye
Leaders also set up systems and processes that make it easy for employees to make decisions on their own with minimal supervision. This can relate to finances, task management, and even customer relations. With proper communication, leaders make it easy for their team to have a certain level of autonomy no matter what they're working on.
A leader takes the blame; a boss puts the blame on others
When a team fails, a leader believes that it's their responsibility to figure out what they did wrong before moving on to evaluating other people. They know that if a project didn’t meet expectations, it may relate to the workplace culture, the systems they put in place already, or an oversight of theirs that can and should be corrected for the next project. Understanding the functions of management certainly helps too.
A leader sets an example; a boss makes an example out of people
Leaders make sure that the rules apply to them too. They follow them, work them out, and make revisions as needed. They model the behavior they wish to see in the workplace. This often involves thinking positively, showing up early, and showing up often.
Are you a boss or a leader: which one works for you?
Today's competitive marketplace demands that you produce extraordinary results. How you choose to do that is up to you. But you may already have a leadership style in place that isn’t the best for you or your team. Even if it has worked up until this point, it’s important to seriously consider where you are now and where you’d like to be.
Ask yourself these questions to discover whether you are a boss vs a leader:
- Do I do my best to make sure everyone’s voice is heard?
- Do I prioritize self-improvement and continuous growth in my field through books or higher education?
- Do I help employees learn from their mistakes?
- Do I actively look for untapped talent within my team?
- Do I help others fulfill their potential?
- Do I listen more than I talk?
- Do I hold myself to the same standards I’ve set for my team?
If you’ve answered ‘Yes’ to some or all of these questions, then you are indeed a leader. If not, examine the areas in which you answered ‘No’ and consider what you can improve on.
Boss vs leader: can I be a better boss than a leader?
At this point, you may be wondering: are there any circumstances in which it’s better to be a boss than a leader?
In some work environments, especially those that are fast-paced and high-stress, being a boss feels more intuitive. When you're short on time, you have to move quickly and make sure others do the same.
For example, let's say you work for a catering company. You're serving a multi-course dinner to a high-profile client and your servers need to be at the top of their game. Let’s take a look at the actions of boss vs leader in this scenario.
A boss would dictate orders as they come up, berating employees for being too slow, or even simply expecting new hires to know everything even on their first day.
A leader would instead make communication clear and respectful. They would also offer a level of understanding for mistakes. A great leader will even proactively empower collaboration among this subset of the team so that they can troubleshoot together as you manage the rest of the event.
In essence, a boss and a leader do the same things but in different ways with a vastly different skill set.
Difference between boss and leader responsibilities
The responsibilities of boss vs leader seem pretty similar at first. But once you compare them side by side, it’s easy to see how very different they are.
Boss responsibilities include:
- Creating goals
- Making plans
- Developing strategies
Leader responsibilities include:
- Creating visions
- Inspiring action
- Empowering others
- Developing culture
Both techniques arrive at the same outcome eventually. But the journey getting there might look quite different. While bosses rely on themselves and their own innate ability to think for their team, leaders actually do less while making their employees happier by letting them think for themselves.
Take a look at our leadership infographic
Leadership matters today no matter what situation you are in. And it can be the single biggest factor that makes a difference in achieving extraordinary results.
More resources to level up your leadership skills
- Blog: How to Show Leadership in Project Management During Times of Crisis
- eBook: It’s Not Me, It’s You: Why Managers Need to Break Up With Email and Spreadsheets
- Blog: How to Develop the Essential Skills to Be a Project Manager
- Blog: 15 Books Every Manager Should Read
- Blog: 9 Ways to Develop Your Leadership Skills
- Blog: Which of These Leadership Styles Is Right for You? (Decision Tree)
- Blog: Ask the Industry Expert: "What Soft Skills Do I Need as a Project Manager?"
- Blog: What Makes a Good Manager?