The Difference Between a Leader and a Boss: 13 Key Factors

Have you ever been a boss or a leader? If so, what’s the difference between them? There are many different definitions for these two terms, but we’re going to focus on 13 personality differences and separate a (bad boss) fro ma good one.

What’s the Difference Between a Leader and a Boss?

Leaders typically have an innate desire to lead people through situations and challenges. They focus on inspiring their team members to take action and make a real difference in their jobs and lives.

Bosses don’t really care about this; they want to be in charge and generate as much success as they can, with little thought to inspiring others. There’s a boss in every manager, but with a leader, you can achieve greater success with more engaged and committed individuals. As a result, there’s not always a leader in every boss.

In this article, we’ll discuss the boss vs leader debate by assuming the label ‘boss’ means that these type of people show little regard for leading and nurturing others effectively. (Trust me, there are many ‘bosses’ like that out there!)

Can a Boss be a Leader?

Everyone who works for a company or institution has a boss. A boss is the person you report to. They ensure that their team are acheiving objectives and are focusing on the right things to acheive objectives. With every boss, there is an opportunity to be a leader.

I say an opportunity because not every manager is a good leader. By definition, a leader is someone who motivates their employees to achieve team and organisational objectives.

They focus on developing their group, so it becomes a self directed team, capable of making their own decisions and working together autonomously.

A good boss will recognise when they need to talk to employees about standards, processes and policies to follow and if improvement needs to happen. Good Bosses don’t dwell on this side of management.

They opt for leading employees to be better, and so they spend the majority of their time developing the team and each individual, to achieve their own levels of success.

This means that the best managers are those that lead the mojority of the time and manage only when they need to, hence, they’re good leaders.

13 Boss V Leader Characteristics

Here are 13 characteristics that separate a boss and a leader and why it’s best to lead than manage most of the time.

Leaders Focus on Long Term Solutions (Not Short Term Fixes)

Leaders know that when things go wrong, workers need to understand the root causes to problems. By understanding these real reasons, they can spend time fixing them, so they don’t return.

Everytime they do this, they know that these individuals can work in more efficeint processes and make sustainable long term improvements.

Bosses on the other hand, tend to focus on short term quick fixes in order to keep output going. These quick fixes mean that people are encouraged to find quick work arounds to problems and are normally congratulated for keeping output going.

This is a short sighted reaction, as root causes are never fixed, and so they return again, causing many more problems later on.

Leaders are Masters of Emotional Intelligence – Bosses are More Driven by Output

At the heart of a great leader is their high emotional quotient. They are able to read people and understand how they are feeling. They can tap into their needs, build rapport and trust, and establish deeper relationships.

This in turn, helps the team flourish in a safe, non repcriminating environment.

Bosses on the other hand, focus on hitting quotas and targets, with little thought about how others feel.

Leaders Share and Reflect on Successes – Bosses Need You to Be Successful

One of the main differences between a boss and a leader is how they see their team members. At its core, a leader achieves success through their team. They realise that in order for lasting success to happen, people must be inspired and engaged. They share this achievement with the team and celebrate it together, reflecting on what worked and what more can be improved.

On the contrary, a boss looks to their employees to be successful in their jobs. They tend not to put the ‘conditions’ in place to help make it happen, but rely on each individual to achieve their goals themselves.

Leaders Create Self Accountability – Bosses Hold You Accountable

As part of their drive for self development, a leader helps grow passion and commitment within each team member, so they can hold themselves accountable to deliver on their own promises and commitments.

A boss on the other hand, provides clear accountability across the team. They hold people accountable for tasks, actions and objectives singularly, using their power and control as ways to get things done.

A Leader Listens while a Boss Hears

Being able to listen corectly is also a strength of a leader. They practice active listening skills, so they can understand what their team members are saying and how they feel. This allows them to help employees overcome barriers and limiting beliefs that they may have.

Bosses hear the words, but don’t always take the time to understand the message, often dismissing real meaning, in favour of jumping to conclusions and dictating solutions. This moves people away from empowerment and development, and closer to dependencey on the boss to make all the decisions.

A Boss Speaks; a Leader Connects Through Conversation

Leaders understand the power of language and how words affect their emotions as well as those around them.

They understand the power of language to turn negative emotions into positive ones. As they are able to change their own outlook, they can help other people in the process as well, setting them up for success and boosting their self-esteem.

Managers tend to communciate with little thought of changing beliefs and mindsets, opting to direct what needs to be done.

A Leader Walks the Business; a Boss Manages From Their Office

Leaders engage with their team members using communication as a vital means to do it. They walk around and coach their employees as they go. This allows strong relationships to form and to identify what improvemetns can be made to help their employees reduce frustrations they may be experiencing.

Bosses tend to communicate far less with their teams and manage from their office. They tend not to help them overcome issues and process problems and are rearely seen walking the workplace to coach others.

A Boss Promotes Silos; A Leader Collaborates

Most workers in a company under a boss, often work on their own with little interaction with others. Communciation may well be seen as idle chitchat and deemed forbidden.

A leader knows that good communciation is critical to success. They also know that promoting collaboration and teamwork will benefit everyone in the long run, as it helps with learning, mentoring, innovation and creativity, as well as developing better working relationships which can also help motivate employees.

A Boss Wants More of the Same; A Leader Wants to Change the World

A critical difference between a boss and a leader is how they see the business environment. Bosses want to maintain the status quo and ensure the company continues to succeed, using the resources and processes they currently have in place.

A leader challenges the status quo and inspires others to look to the future, questioning things that are working now, so they can be improved to achieve new and greater levels tomorrow.

They know that what works today may not work in the future, and so employees must be inspired to continue to add value and improve processes, systems and skills.

Bosses Seek Titles and Power; Leaders Can Lead Without Being in Power

Simon Sinek once said, “A boss has the title; a leader has the people.” A key requirement of a boss is to use their authority and power to influence employees in the business. This allows them to coerce them into working the right way and following the right standards.

They don’t use power to control or manipulate. They motivate, coach and encourage workers to take action, by listening and helping them solve problems, whilst leading by example.

Leaders Get Joy From Others; The Boss Gets Joy From Their Success

A leader gets joy by seeing that their team members are succeeding.# under their guidance.

Leaders inspire positivity and confidence in others by being positive themselves, which then provides motivation to take on tasks with gusto. This process of self actualisation and acheivement is the fuel that keeps the leader going.

They often get motivated by developing their employees and building a solid team, who are committed.

The boss, however, takes pride in their work and has a sense of accomplishment when they see things done right or better. They are focused on output and the end goal, over that of the process of people development per se.

Leaders Create a Positive Environment; The Boss Creates a Negative One

Leaders create an environment that is positive and motivating. They seek to reward through empowerment, building great relationships, providing autonomy and developing key skills. They are always looking for ways to encourage people to do better, be more innovative, or take risks without fear of being blamed for mistakes.

Bosses on the other hand, set out to create fear, in order to ensure that their goals are understood and achieved. They reward for compliance (goals met, standards followed) and punish those that don’t acheive these standards, through demotion, disciplinary action, and lack of bonus.

A Boss Can Gain Respect Through their Power and Authority; A Leader Earns Respect Through Their Actions

Bosses usually lean on their seniority to influence employees through fear and rewards. This can work in the short term, but often, it alone won’t create a happy group of people.

On the other hand, leaders gain respect through their actions. They lead by example and base their results on a leadership style that brings their employees with them. They gain goodwill and trust through respect, care, honesty and integrity.

In the long term, this benefits the entire organisation because employees feel valued and inspired to follow their leader.

Related Questions

What is a good boss and a bad boss?

A good boss is one who is a leader at heart. They look to their people and engage them to inspire them to success. A leader inspires each employee, motivating them to confidently achieve their goals, whilst ensuring they have enough time for rest.

A bad boss is often a micromanager – someone who doesn’t trust others to do things on their own and who lacks the desire to delegate actions to develop others. Instead, they manage people often by coercing them into action.

What is a True Leader?

A true leader is someone that always has open and honest conversations with their employees, no matter the situation. They work hard to coach and develop each individual, whilst creating the right environment for the team to thrive and become self directing. They serve their team by putting their own agenda and ego aside, and always communicate effectively.