More Than a Manager: Why Bosses Fail and Leaders Succeed

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Leader is a boss, but not every boss is a leader. What makes the difference between leaders and bosses?

Have you ever wondered why the business world values leaders instead of bosses?

While the world at large tends to use these two words interchangeably, bosses and leaders have discrete skills sets that can help them, or harm them.

Let's talk about what makes the difference between leaders and bosses, and why it helps them succeed.

Bosses Demand Obedience, Leaders Invite Conversation

As an employee, which do you prefer; having your boss demand unquestioning obedience to themselves and the company policies, or having the person you report to engage you in respectful conversation, discussing why they need something done, and how it supports the company mission?

Most employees know which one they'd choose, so why do so many bosses still expect to be able to bark commands and get good results?

To be a good leader, approach your employees with respect. Understand that they're autonomous people, and that while you can request that they do this thing or that one, and offer consequences if they don't, it's actually impossible for you to control their behavior.

If you want an automaton, hire someone to write you an app. If you actually want a human touch, give your employees the freedom to be human and you will get more done in a shorter amount of time.

Related Article:Problems at Work? 10 Signs That It's Not Them, It's You

Bosses Blame, Leaders Give Credit

As an employee, have you ever found that when your team makes a mistake, you get the blame, but when your team does something right, your boss gets all the credit? There's nothing more frustrating than a boss who doesn't understand their own ego.

One way you know you're working with a leader is that they protect their team from fallout when something legitimately goes wrong (within reason), while lifting the team up when they do things right and achieve success. After all, part of being a team leader is being held responsible for what the team does, for better or worse.

If you're in a position of leadership and find yourself passing the buck, be very careful. Make sure you're not being a boss.

Bosses Talk, Leaders Listen

How often do employees go to meetings and find themselves spent twenty minutes – and more – listening to their boss talk? They sit through the meeting, frustrated and annoyed, wondering why they couldn't just get this information in a conference call.

Leaders know that meetings which are only in place to disseminate information are a waste of everyone's time. The only reason to have a meeting is to invite real conversation on a topic. Leaders want to hear what their direct reports have to say about a new opportunity, policy, and company direction.

Of course it's impractical for a company to take feedback from its employees on every single issue or change that it contemplates over its history; this is why boards and C-suites exist. But good leaders will take the time to hear and respond to feedback from their teams as often as it takes to be able to represent them well to the rest of the company.

Related Article: So You’re the Boss—Now What? How to Be a Successful Leader

Bosses Are Friendly, Leaders Are Good Co-Workers

While peers can frequently be both friends and coworkers, it's generally difficult to retain that kind of relationship with someone who is on a different level of authority than yourself. That doesn't stop many bosses from trying, especially when they work in a customer service oriented business.

The culture of many retail or customer service oriented companies is very "we're all in this together," which is fantastic, but any company knows that some employees are more in it than others. A manager, CEO, or entrepreneur is by definition more invested, or at least differently invested, than the part-timer.

Leaders are aware of the different investment levels that different employees have, and work within those limitations. Even within full time employees, there's a difference between the person who is working their first job, gathering skills before they someday start their own business, and the person who has worked this career for two decades and is excited about working within the industry to make it the most that it can be.

When you empower your employees to act entrepreneurially, they can become your best brand advocates.

Great leaders understand their teams and know how to motivate them, engage them, and bring out the best in them. Bosses may get better results in the short term, but they'll quickly work their teams into exhaustion, anger, and bitterness, which will quickly turn into misery and upset.

If you're considering whether to be a boss or a leader, opt to be a leader, every single time.

Related Article:So You’re the Boss—Now What? How to Be a Successful Leader

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