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a boss vs a leader

A Boss vs a Leader; What’s the Difference?

In comparing the terms boss vs. leader, many people often use the terms boss and leader interchangeably.

In our competitive world, being a leader is more important than being a boss to boost your performance and ensure greater success for your business. It helps motivate your employees rather than make them feel dictated and unappreciated.

A Boss vs. a Leader; What’s the Difference?

In an office environment, you need to be more like Elon Musk than Hitler.

My Transformation From Boss to Leader

When I started my first business, I was more of a manager than a leader. The business had reached $1,000,000 in sales, but it made me realize that if I wanted it to grow further effectively, I needed to lead my employees toward mutual success. It motivated me to find a business coach who helped me with personal development so I could win the battle of boss vs. leader.

The more I learned, the more I realized that it is one thing to have a plan and another thing to deploy the plan. I began to share the vision in every staff meeting and empowered my employees to feel a personal connection with the company. Thus, my business grew dynamically without my day-to-day involvement. I stayed focused on our business’s futuristic plans while our team handled the day-to-day operations with ease and more dedication than before. Many of our employees became extremely loyal to our business. Our sales rocketed to $8.5million, and our profits grew to more than $1,500,000 per year.

This immensely changing work environment encouraged me to share my vision with you. So let’s explore the differences between boss vs. leader because I intend to empower you with the ability to do the same for your trade.

With a close look at the definitions of the terms, you will appreciate the complexities at play. In the beginning, the two terms may seem somewhat alike and interchangeable. But a closer analysis highlights differences that present an entirely different meaning to both roles.

A boss says ‘go!’ A leader says ‘let’s go!’

 Definitions Of A Boss vs. A Leader


a boss vs a leader

  • Boss is a term that generally invokes a negative idea. Whenever we label someone as ‘bossy,’ we are not paying a compliment; we are insinuating that they are manipulative and commanding.
  • In a nutshell, a boss is simply in a special position of power and will have control over his/her subordinates because of their role.
  • The terms are distinguished by precision and power. Being a boss is a position demanding the capacity to give instructions and orders, assuring people perform the job the boss instructs them to do.
  • Bosses don’t request or hope for action. They expect and state what needs to be done, which can be very off-putting to today’s self-actualized employees.
  • A boss is compelled to instruct the subordinates on what is required and make sure the needs are met.


a boss vs a leader

On the other side of the coin, the word ‘leader’ is a term that incites positivity. When we say, leader people automatically envision someone more like a coach than a dictator.

For example, “she was a true leader” or “he was a prominent and proficient leader.”

Unlike a boss, a leader is known to be a person who guides the subordinates. Instead of just barking orders, leaders actually perform the task while showing others how to do the same.

Although the focus remains on getting the task done, a leader doesn’t only emphasize the end results but also on the process.   They determine the goal and continue to guide the subordinates throughout the process until their employees are fully trained to perform the tasks themselves. From there, the leader’s role is more motivational instead of supervisory.

In a battle of boss vs. leader, a leader will always find more success simply because there are mutual care and understanding between them and their employees.

2.  Underlying Focus of Boss vs. Leader

The primary concern of every organization should be the focused goal of the company. It generally provides the direction and, to a larger extent, commands the approach to work. So what differentiates a boss from a leader where the focus is concerned?

·        The Focus of a boss is profit and control.

A boss is typically concerned with ensuring top financial results that will guarantee the company’s continuing growth.

This is the sole objective behind a boss’s interest. But ego also plays an important role in the job function of a boss. They want the job done exactly as dictated, with no room for suggestions.

Notwithstanding, the orientation towards achieving the goals may exist because the boss might be accountable to others just as the employees are to him/her. As a result, if they cannot make subordinates perform the tasks as needed for financial growth, then their position might be at risk.

Simply put, a boss is concerned with the outcome and not the process itself.

·        For a leaderthe focus is on transforming people and the organization.

A leader is in a unique position to inspire change and transform the company from a lower to a higher status quo.

The objective of a leader is centered on achieving the vision established for a particular company. Such a vision is transformative for all stakeholders. Senior managers, employees, shareholders, customers, and vendors realize benefits because of a good leader’s vision.

The leader is engaged in supporting the subordinates to thrive as workers and as individuals. Continuous improvement of every aspect of the organization is the goal of a true leader.

So when it comes to boss vs. leader:

A boss does things right; a leader does the right thing.

 3. Motivation From Boss vs. Leader

The distinctive focus and orientation of a leader and a boss are similar when measuring the motivation behind their actions.

a boss vs a leader

·Bosses are motivated by standards and results.

Such standards are frequently defined by their capacity to improve productivity and profitability within the company.

A boss might employ a particular process that has proven to be fruitful regardless of whether or not their employees can adapt to it. At this level, the boss is concerned with identifying the best standards and then deploying them.

The supervisory role demands that the boss make sure the subordinates obey/maintain the established standards in their execution without any input.

·        The leader is motivated by the values they cherish.  

A leader will hold a vision, which is largely driven by their own values and mission. As specified earlier, these are not only money-driven goals but often deal with the type of business values the leader would like to achieve as a whole.

A leader’s vision can be on growth or sustainability or customer service, and these values will ultimately drive them towards success.

A leader’s personal values often become the business’s driving force and will broadly determine the way they lead. Moreover, the leader is not concerned about how that might be used to accomplish the jobs, so long as the subordinates retain the values as part of their performance.

Again, in a battle of leader vs boss, a leader differs from a boss in the style they aspire to motivate the team. 

Rewards and punishment typically characterize a boss’s effort to control and motivate the workforce. More often than not, the trend is centered on punishment, with employees being strictly monitored to assure that they do not stray from the expected standards.

As far as bosses are concerned, the worst a subordinate can do is quit following the process, as this could imply a drop in productivity and profit. They do not appreciate a new method or an unapproved one, even if it yields better results.

a boss vs a leader

On the other hand, a leader uses inspiration as a motivational tool. The leader wants the subordinates to be motivated by the very vision driving their actions. This ensures that the vision remains the ultimate goal that everyone in the team is aspiring to achieve. They may use diverse inspirational tactics, but the ultimate goal remains the same; to motivate employees to perform better.

A leader offers to grant positive rewards to their subordinates, therefore inspiring them to pursue their vision.

Rather than threatening and intimidating the subordinates to perform the task, a leader presents a challenge and grants a positive reward as part of the agreement.

When there is a problem, bosses blame people, but leaders condemn processes.

 4.  Boss vs. Leader: Objectives and Approach to Work

Bosses and leaders similarly have a diverse approach to work and setting objectives.

  • A boss approaches work as an administrator.

A boss can be seen as a supervisor since the approach involves telling the subordinates about the job at hand, guiding them on how the job should be performed, and monitoring to ensure the end objectives are accomplished.

They take a dominating approach to work, demanding that the subordinates adhere to the instructions as stringently as possible.

A boss will often possess an outlined plan that their employees must follow to the letter.

It is worth noting that this rigorous approach to work doesn’t require that the boss be very qualified to set objectives.

Bosses don’t need to be the hardest or meanest to threaten people into submission. A great boss has studied the practices. Knowledge is vital to being a boss, and the subordinates are required to execute tasks as they are told for the simple reason that the boss knows best. On this basis, an employee is not supposed to contribute any insight into the jobs or assist in setting objectives.

These employees are good with repetitive tasks but prefer not to take the initiative or engage in a dialog for fear of being punished for insubordination. They may have experience but usually have low aspirations. The boss wants their obedience to assure proper implementation. The boss supplies the resources but doesn’t participate in the procedures except for, of course, the supervisory role.

 Leaders determine the what; employees determine the how.

The leader approaches work via innovation and collaboration. 

Because change is their motivation with a focus on the ultimate goal of the company, a leader’s approach varies from one employee to another. They assist in teaching and transforming rather than instructing.

It is not about following specific methods and adhering to the procedures that are proven in the leader’s view. The basis is to discover new ways to complete tasks and still achieve profitable results.

So beyond the initial apprenticeship stage, the leader doesn’t tell the subordinate how to go about the task. In fact, a leader will encourage that the subordinates suggest new and improved ideas. This approach resonates strongly with the principles taught in Agile training classes, where empowerment and collaboration are emphasized over rigid hierarchies.

A leader will encourage and guide, challenging the subordinates to be as engaged in process improvement as possible. The method is more collaborative. A leader remains hands-on with the task to set the example for the followers but trusts the employees to run the process in the future, on their own.

Basically, a leader perceives work as an occasion to educate and empower subordinates. Every task is considered a means to increase the workforce’s knowledge and quality and not merely a process to attain the set goals. A leader focuses on the bigger picture rather than just the task at hand.

Since the leader encourages collaboration, employees develop a sense of loyalty and commitment to the company for mutual growth.

5. The Origin of Authority of Boss vs. Leader

Authority is one of the central elements that a leader and a boss have in common. Simply put, authority is the power or right to command, make decisions, and intensify obedience.

  • For the boss, the authority comes from the position.

A boss remains an ‘authority figure because of a title. Consequently, anyone attaining the position of hierarchy within the workplace, whereby other workers are less in power, automatically becomes a boss. This implies that a boss’s authority comes from an outside source, like the title and position, and not in the boss’s inner abilities to control the subordinates.

However, this is by no means suggesting that the boss wouldn’t be qualified for the position. It rather says that his/her ability to influence is not the reason for his/her position. The boss could be the most equipped individual for the technicalities of the task but not necessarily the ablest at leading the team.

The leader gets his/her authority from an innate need for mutual growth

A title doesn’t make somebody a leader, as leadership can be demonstrated even from lower positions within the workplace hierarchy.

Furthermore, a leader holds authority over subordinates because the subordinates willingly offer it to them. They do so because they understand that the leader can take charge and turn things around.

The authority of a leader is usually something that requires reinforcement and real proof. To sustain their authority, the leader must present results and proceed to inspire the subordinates.

A leader undoubtedly has authority, yet this authority is not used to create an unequal work setting. The leader treats the subordinates on an equal basis and not based on their position or title.

Employees will abandon a boss but will take a bullet for a leader.

 6. Communication and Administration of Boss vs. Leader

Communication might have a positive or negative influence on teamwork.

A boss will often have a commanding style of communication.

boss pointing with megaphone

Because the approach to work emphasizes administrative features, communication in this scenario is often one-sided. The subordinate doesn’t engage actively in any discussion as the boss doesn’t encourage the need for a conversation.

The style of communication is established in directions, where the subordinates are only allowed to pose queries on how to best follow the directions.

Generally, the boss’ communication centers on passing the message across and ensuring they are fulfilled.

7. Accountability for Boss vs. Leader

Accountability is another focus area where bosses are distinguished from leaders. The major difference, in this case, is determined by the condition of responsibility and the way they both share accountability in the group.

A boss delegates responsibility and assigns accountability to others

Since accountability is shared, the subordinate may get the blame should things go awry.

The rigorous processes and stress on standards can suggest the boss finds it easy to locate the individual at fault. Whoever doesn’t adhere to the precise commands from the boss can be blamed for failing the project.

There exists no self-reflection with a boss. If the project fails, it only means one thing, which is ‘someone didn’t adhere to the procedures laid out by the boss.’ Once failure strikes a project, the boss entirely focuses on identifying the person or technician at fault.

Emphasis is on making someone else accountable for any failure.

Amusingly enough, a boss will not share the appreciation as much if the project is a success.

Failure is wholly blamed on the incapacity to follow orders, while success is attributed to implementing good procedures. The focus here is on the procedures and not especially the subordinates who obeyed them. The belief is that as long as the procedures are suitable, anyone could follow the rules. So, when success is achieved, the boss gets credit for it.

With the leader, accountability rests on them.

leader vs boss celebrating with team

Although a leader might share decision-making and responsibilities with the subordinate, they are ultimately responsible in the case of any failure.

Failures in the project are often opportunities for a leader and their team members to learn. They investigate whether something could have been done differently for better results. The leader identifies if their support was enough and whether the tools were adequate.

Moreover, the leader desires to obtain solutions to correct the failures rather than accusing the subordinates.

Accountability for leaders implies acknowledging mistakes yet not dwelling on them.

In addition, a leader acknowledges that everyone is a vital part of the team, and the entire team must work efficiently to succeed. Leaders believe that success is earned through teamwork, and as a result, will share success with the team.

Concluding views

To conclude, the roles of boss vs. leader may seem similar.  But as you look deeper into each role, you will identify remarkable differences. The difference is centered on the approach you take towards your subordinates and the objectives you fix for yourself.

‘A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.’-John Maxwell.

Boss vs. leader

Regardless of how you define a leader, you can aspire to be a difference-maker as far as success and failure are concerned. A great leader has an innovative vision and understands how to transform his ideas into real-life accomplishments.

On the other hand, a lot of bosses are basically that – a boss. They have reached a position in the controlling sector of the corporate pyramid. They occupy a good office and a special parking space. They make decisions that impact the direction of the business and control cash flow. Yet, none of these make them a leader.

However, the great news is that bosses can grow into leaders if they are open to a more productive and innovative approach.

By acquiring leadership skills, bosses can become the kind of leaders who hire and keep top talent while equally nurturing employee growth and growing a company’s output subsequently.

Want to become a great leader? Below are some of the leadership qualities that distinguish a good leader from a bad one.

Qualities of leadership

leader with thumbs up

1.       Honesty and Integrity

The highest quality of leadership is integrity. With no integrity, no actual success is conceivable, no matter the field of work.  Honesty and integrity are two vital elements that characterize a good leader. You wouldn’t expect your followers to be honest when you lack the qualities yourself.  Leaders thrive when they remain steadfast to their values and central beliefs.

2.       Confidence

To be an efficient leader, you must be very confident to make sure that others will be self-assured. If you are uncertain about your decisions and qualities, then you can’t expect your subordinates to follow you.

3.       You Must Be a Source of Inspiration 

The most challenging task for a leader is to convince others to follow. This is not possible until you can inspire your followers by serving as a role model. When things get hard, they look up to you and observe how you respond to the situation. If you set the example, they will follow you. You need to be a positive influence as a leader. This must be manifested in your actions, for instance, by staying calm under pressure.

4.       Delegation and Empowerment

As a leader, it is impossible to do everything right. You need to focus on principal responsibilities while assigning the rest to others. In essence, you need to empower your followers and delegate tasks to them.

If you proceed to micromanage your followers, this will build a lack of trust, and more essentially, you might not be able to focus on vital issues the way you should. Assign responsibilities to your subordinates and measure how they execute them. Equip them with the tools and support they need to accomplish the objective and help them realize personal growth.

5.   Vision 

Great leaders constantly have a vision and purpose. They do not merely envision the future themselves but regularly share their vision with their followers. Once their followers can view the bigger picture, they can be sure of where they are heading. A good leader works above and beyond and justifies why they are going in a particular direction to develop a defined but open plan of action to reach that goal.

The list continues with many more leadership qualities that you’ll want to adopt to join the elite club of great leaders. Among these are creative thinking and innovation, good communication skills, empathy, decision-making capacity, and commitment.

In a battle of boss vs. leader, it is always good to choose the latter because you can instigate higher productivity as part of a team. Remember, people only followed Hitler out of fear. But all aspiring and skilled employees strive to work for Elon Musk, the true leader of our generation.

Being a boss may feel good for the ego, but being a leader yields success.small business coach