• Matt Black

Leaders - 4, Bosses - 0 FINAL

A boss says, ‘Go!’ A leader says, ‘Let’s go! — E.M. Kelly

Tell me there isn’t a huge difference in the two approaches above. And all it takes is the word ‘let’s.’ The fact of the matter is this: leaders invest in their people, bosses instruct them.

If you’re unsure of this distinction, or can’t quite determine which type of person you report to, these 4 comparisons will help you make your mind up.

Guidelines vs. Rules

Leaders believe in ‘walking the talk’ and as such, establish flexible yet strategic guidelines in everything they do.

For instance, if a leader feels that coming in at 9:00AM on the dot isn’t essential for his or her team, they will make it clear that as long as projects are completed on-time (hey, early works too) and work is getting done, things are all good. That’s a guideline. The leader is essentially saying “listen, if you’re handling your business, don’t sit in rush-hour traffic longer than you have to.” This not only gives the team a little extra sleep, but also builds trust, accountability and shows your people that you care about them.

Bosses, however, rule. And they make rules. And they enforce their rules. End of story. Instead of being malleable and forgiving, rules are often binding and concrete. There is no grey – only black or white. Bosses are easy to spot as they typically stand behind their rules, even in the face of logic or innovation. If 9:00AM is the clearly established start time at your office, you better set an extra alarm to make sure you’re there. While many argue rules help maintain order, they also breed contempt, decrease productivity and contribute to an overall culture of distrust.

Participation vs. Observation

Human beings are motivated by validation, plain and simple. And what could be more rewarding than standing side-by-side with your leader as you work towards your objectives?

A team with a participatory leader who takes an active interest in the day-to-day battles is far more likely to succeed than their rudderless counterparts. Leaders work hard to generate buy-in with their teams by being present, sharing his or her ideas and by positioning their people for success. Participation is much more than checking in once a week, or sending out an e-mail that asks for updates on a project.

Bosses stand on the sidelines, or in the back row, and observe. They’re quick to criticize and often point out the things that could be done better, or more efficiently. The observational boss creates a palpable distance between him or herself and the team, which ultimately causes them to feel like they’re being watched. And most people don’t like to feel as if they’re being watched. That’s when paranoia creeps in and unnecessary pressure builds up.

People like to know how they’re doing, hear both the good and the bad, and be led by someone who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty and experience the highs and lows as an active participant.

Showing vs. Telling

Hey Matt, I really like how you presented during that meeting… let me show you another strategy you can use next time.”

Positive. Respectful. Effective. Showing your team how to do things is extremely powerful in that it allows them to understand that while you’ve provided them with a chance to play their own game, you’re also very engaged with their work, and that you aren’t afraid to correct them when needed.

Bosses just flat out tell you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it… oh, and what not to do as well (remember: rules). Being told this or that doesn’t always resonate. Especially from a boss who hasn’t built a rapport or any connections with their team. Bosses tend to expect everyone to dance to their beat at all times, even if they haven’t explained why or attempted to make sure their team is on the same page.

Motivation vs. Fear

Leaders always look for ways to encourage their people. Even in the face of great adversity, it’s extremely common for them to find the silver lining. By motivating their teams, leaders demonstrate time and time again that improvement is inevitable with a positive and reassuring outlook. They appreciate the fact that failure or conflict can be channeled into teachable lessons the team can learn from. Coaching moments like these are opportunities to build people up and focus on past successes by reinforcing good habits.

Bosses instil fear in their teams at every corner. “If you don’t ________, then ________.” Consequences, the unknown, and negativity are all cornerstones of the boss approach. In fact, the very survival of a boss is often dependent on a culture of anxiety. If the team is afraid to speak up, have a fear of failure, are constantly walking on eggshells around the office, the chances of a productive work environment are minimal at best. Fear forces people to raise their guard and focus on survival, rather than success.

What other differences are there between leaders and bosses? Is there an argument to be made that someone can be part leader, part boss? Feel free to discuss in the Comments section below!



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