LEADERSHIP / MAR. 20, 2015
version 4, draft 4

7 Characteristics that Distinguish a Boss from a Leader

The boss from hell has been depicted on the silver screen many times. From "Swimming with the Sharks" to "Horrible Bosses," it seems that everyone has had to handle a difficult, bombastic and excitable boss, manager or supervisor at least once in our working lives. It can be the hardest time for anyone.

See Also: 5 Ways a Bad Boss Can Kill Employee Productivity

At times, a boss tends to confuse himself with a leader, and many employees make the same mistake. A boss and a leader do not go hand in hand: a boss dictates while a leader helps. A boss is selfish while a leader collaborates. The list of difference between the characteristics of a boss and a leader is vast.

Despite the constant complaints, troubles and portraits staff members have regarding their superiors, it appears to never change. With conferences, meetings, training sessions and the abundance of articles available at our disposal, bosses never try to change their managing ways and attempt to become true leaders in their profession.

Let’s face it: without leadership, a company can crumble before us and everyone suffers.

Here are 7 attributes that distinguish a boss from a leader:

1. Authority vs. Team Work

The boss is the authority of the office. This person will make the rules, maintain the fate of employees and determine what will and will not transpire in the workplace. The boss is all-knowing and all-powerful. Meanwhile, a leader will consider teamwork as the best course of action rather than dictating. A leader will gauge the opinions of others, seek input from subordinates and include everyone in the decision making process.

2. Orders Employees vs. Coaches Staff

Bosses, superiors, upper management and supervisors may command, order and dictate workers to perform certain tasks without consultation, direction or advice. This initiates resentment on the part of the worker. However, a leader will work with staff members and fill the role of a coach in some way or another. A leader will help team members understand projects better, teach them tricks of the trade and answer questions they may have.

3. I vs. We

When a project is completed on time and on budget, the boss will tend to say "I" and "me" a lot as opposed to "us" and "we." Of course, the boss may utter "them" and "you" when the project is a failure, over-budget and late. A leader will always refer to "we" no matter what the circumstances may be. Whether it’s a success or failure, over or under-budget, on-time or delayed, a leader will include himself and the team despite the outcome.

4. Generates Fear vs. Creates Enthusiasm

When a boss is a curmudgeon, the workplace may seem like a prison or purgatory, and you’re just biding your time until you can exit the premises. The boss incites fear, anxiety and stress. What does the leader produce in the workforce? Well, just the opposite: enthusiasm, excitement, collaboration, meaning, progress and many other positive characteristics.

5. Places Blame vs. Fixes the Problem

A project has been delayed by two weeks because of some issue with the computers or the client requested changes at the last minute. Instead of conjuring up solutions and creating workable remedies like a leader should do, the boss will instead place blame on others, establish widespread panic and point the finger at everyone else except himself.

6. Ignores Workers vs. Communicates with Employees

A boss will only communicate with his employees when he has to espouse or expostulate, or if he is receiving gifts and treats during holiday parties. Meanwhile, a leader will always communicate with the team for status updates, inquiries, brainstorming and lunches. This prompts employees to look up to this leader for further direction and wisdom.

7. Commands vs. Teaches

Finally, the boss only knows how to do one thing: command, both work-related and as part of our personal lives. A leader understands how to teach, both work-related and as part of our personal lives. The boss never teaches or instructs, while a leader never commands or orders. 

See Also: Are you a Bad Boss?

The office is a lot more welcoming and a professional oasis when the boss or management maintains real, genuine leadership. Instead of making the lives of workers hellacious, entrepreneurs, executives, managers and other high-level employees must invoke the virtues of leadership into their own job. Talk to, never talk at. Instruct, never condescend. Collaborate, never demand. Leadership will lead to results, bossy will lead to failure. 

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