If you compare the terms boss vs. leader in the dictionary, you’ll find similar definitions.
Boss (noun): a person who exercises control or authority. Specifically, one who directs or supervises workers.
Leader (noun): a person who leads: such as a person who has commanding authority or influence.
You can see the overlap in the technical definition of the two terms. However, the connotation of the titles sets them apart. A boss can be a leader. But a true leader leads with or without the title of “boss.” And bad bosses don’t possess any traits associated with a quality leader.
So what are the true differences between a boss and a leader? Let’s talk about what each term means and how you can become a leader yourself.
What Is a Leader?
A leader isn’t a position you apply for. It’s a mindset followed by actions that inspire the people around you to strive for something more.
No promotion can automatically make you a leader. Leadership doesn’t come from authority, but from how you work with others. Leaders want the team to succeed, and they’re just as willing to put in the hard work like the rest of the team. A boss manages others, without putting in the hours themselves. A leader creates an inspirational atmosphere by showing their willingness to participate in a project on every level.
To become a leader, you need to possess a variety of traits: charisma, dedication, compassion, and loyalty, to name a few. You lead not with a title or dictation, but through your actions. If your teammates see you putting in extra hours because you believe in the project, they’ll want to match your drive.
But it’s not just about working hard. Leaders focus on showing compassion for the people around them. They want to help others if they’re struggling. Someone can be an incredible worker but a bad leader. If the top-performing salesperson always has the best numbers, but treats everyone else on the team like garbage, no one will feel inspired. No one wants to work with, let alone take direction from, someone like that. Leaders don’t just want success for themselves, but they want the whole team to succeed together. Sometimes that requires nurturing others on the team who need a bit of assistance reaching their full potential.
What Is a Boss? Why Aren’t All Bosses Leaders?
A boss is a position you apply for. Whether you’re the Team Manager or CEO of a company, being a boss is something you put on your resume. It’s your job to direct the people on your team.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the boss is good at doing that in a meaningful way.
Michael Scott was the manager of Dunder Mifflin. He was the boss. But he definitely wasn’t a leader.
General Leia Organa was a leader in the Resistance. She inspired everyone she came in contact with. People trusted her because she practiced what she preached, demonstrated her skills on the battlefield, and genuinely cared for everyone fighting under her command.
In a perfect world, all bosses would be leaders, rather than having the debate of boss vs leader. However, not all bosses possess the right traits to lead by example or with compassion.
Boss vs Leader: How to Choose Leadership
So you hold the position of boss (or you hope to someday). How do you avoid falling into ineffective boss-like traits without leadership skills?
- Bosses demand results from their team. Leaders inspire the team to reach higher and work harder. A leader influences the team by showing that they too are willing to work hard.
- A boss focuses on their own career and success. Leaders think about their team first and foremost.
- Bosses quickly point the finger at someone other than themselves, never taking blame and looking for quick fixes. Leaders take accountability for their role in a team’s shortcomings. A leader understands that mistakes happen.
- Bosses will micromanage, thinking this breeds results. Leaders empower their team to manage their time on their own.
- Bosses will tear people down and are quick to belittle people underperforming on the team. Leaders will build their team member’s confidence, making sure they all feel supported.
- Bosses communicate in a top-down fashion, leaving no room for their workers’ voices. Leaders encourage two-way communication so that everyone has a say.
- Bosses assume that they know everything, so there’s no point in listening to others. A great leader listens and encourages employees to share their perspectives. They accept constructive criticism and stay open to new ideas because they want to constantly improve.
If a boss is doing their job correctly, they’ll inspire everyone on their team to be good leaders in their own right. When everyone works hard, cares for others, and believes in the team, everyone succeeds. So when comparing boss vs leader, choose to be a leader, regardless of your job’s official title.Published in
Author, Artist, Photographer.
Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.
She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.
She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.