While bosses and leaders may share some similar characteristics, they exercise very different approaches to having power and influence. Their position or official title may be related or even the same, but it’s the person and mindset filling the role that determines whether they’re a boss or a leader. 

I recently came across a cartoon drawing which visually addresses the most fundamental differences between the two roles. For visual reference, click here to see the cartoon. In sum, the image depicts the same situation twice, with one demonstrating a boss’s approach and the other a leader’s approach.

The situation is this: Three people are working together to pull a heavy load with a rope. This image is seen twice, stacked on top and bottom. 

In the upper image, a fourth person is sitting at a desk on top of the heavy load. Looking down on the team below, the uplifted person is pointing forward, assumedly telling the people below where to go. 

In the lower image, no one is sitting on top of the load. Instead, another person is pictured helping the team pull the load. This person is in front of the pack, helping the other team members. This fourth person points ahead while leading the pack.

Once you determine which image belongs to a boss and which to a leader—can you easily decide, if you were one of the team members, which part of the cartoon would you want to be on? 

Unless you enjoy feeling demanded, used, and fear-mongered, the bottom portion of the cartoon looks significantly more appealing. Being led and inspired is a much better, and healthier, alternative. As someone in power, having a team who wants to work with you is pivotal to your team dynamics. 

Every person in a powerful position has the choice to act as a boss or as a leader. Even if you’ve fallen into common habits of a boss, you can always transition your approach. Let’s explore the two management styles more in-depth to gain a full understanding of the core differences

Boss: Know-it-alls  | Leader: Lifelong Learners

People in high positions have earned their way by building experience and knowledge. For people with boss-like qualities, reaching a position of power instigates an ego-trip. Close-minded and bull-headed, bosses tend to believe their way is the best way—always.

While being “in charge” of people and recognized for your expertise is a strong testament to mastering your craft, there’s always more to learn and understand. Leaders, on the other hand, recognize the value of every person on the team, and invest themselves in becoming better through others. They’re open-minded and actively seek to improve their abilities. 

Bosses: Demand |  Leaders: Empower

As someone in a position of power, your job is to make sure your team’s tasks are completed. Going about this comes in different forms. Bosses demand results from their team. They can be cold, oftentimes being critical of their team and quick to point out mistakes and weaknesses. Sometimes, bosses even use fear as a tactic to make sure team members are performing adequately. 

Rather than demanding results from team members, leaders take a different approach. Instead, they inspire their team to want to perform. They create an encouraging, supportive, and safe space for each person to grow and learn. Leaders don’t command or boss around—they coach their team members and work with them closely to become better at their craft. 

Bosses: Me First  | Leaders: We First

A simple and very noticeable way to tell apart bosses from leaders is in their verbiage. When speaking about accomplishments or work that has been completed, bosses will say “I.” Their focus is on themselves, and the team’s accomplishments become the boss’s victories. While they’re quick to accept positive credit, they’re also quick to assign blame when things go wrong. Rather than working hard to seek solutions with the team, a boss will blame the team for the misdoing and demand them to solve the issue.

Leaders have a team-first mentality, and consider themselves a part of the team, rather than in charge of it. While bosses single others out in times of failure, leaders draw attention to individuals who demonstrate high performance. Leaders tend to only take credit themselves when it comes to failures. They’re not shy of accepting responsibility and are willing to admit when they make a mistake. 

Bosses: Use People  | Leader: Invest in People

Boss-like personalities are looking out for number one. Their “me first” mentality drives them to detach from others and focus on their personal road to success. Instead, they see people as tools to get what they want and get ahead. Being individually successful and producing results, in a boss’s eyes, is far more important than creating positive team dynamics and forming relationships. 

On the other hand, leaders deeply invest in their team members. They believe strong relationships contribute to a healthier and more productive work environment. Leaders want their team members to be their best self, and they put in the time and effort to help each person flourish. People and relationships are of the utmost importance to a great leader. 

Which One Are You?

Bosses can not only be damaging to the mental health of employees, but they also aren’t doing companies much long-term, holistic good. Bosses don’t inspire innovation and human connection the way leaders do. Our workplaces need more leaders who invest in others and forever seek new ways of thinking. 

Knowted is passionate about developing leaders and transforming the way we manage our workplaces. For more information on how Knowted can reach your company’s needs, check out some of the products offered.

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