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Do You Know the Difference Between a Boss and Leader?


Whether or not you know the difference between a boss and a leader, your managerial style generally dictates how you are perceived by your employees. At its most basic level, the difference comes down to this: Leaders may sometimes be bosses, but not all bosses are leaders.

For better or worse, the term "boss" sometimes carries disparaging implications. But businesses depend on an individual to execute orders given by senior management and make sure employees do their most productive work.

Nonetheless, it's the negative aspects of being a boss that can lead to so much employee discontent, and sometimes ultimately costly turnover - an expense no business can afford for very long. In the worst cases, says Ben Connor at Business 2 Community, bad boss behavior "has resulted in businesses being filled with disgruntled employees" who lose faith in their positions and "reluctantly show up to their 'job' in order to draw a paycheck or become ravenous dogs fighting it out for the top spots."

Obviously, this is a scenario to be avoided. If a boss gives orders and a leader inspires, which is likely to be most beneficial for your company? Here are key differences to consider when it comes to positioning yourself as a respected leader:

Power and Control vs. Inspiration and Improvement 

In their worst manifestations, some bosses may focus on how much control they exert over others and on maintaining an "I'm always right" mindset. By contrast, leaders cultivate an environment in which employees learn to think and decide for themselves, becoming increasingly more self-confident and willing to address and overcome their own weaknesses.

In the same respect, when things go wrong, a boss can be quick to cast blame and accentuate an employee's shortcomings. A leader will instead highlight what was done correctly and work with the employee to learn from mistakes, anticipating their behavior will improve in the future.

Leaders cultivate an environment in which employees learn to think and decide for themselves, becoming increasingly more self-confident and willing to address and overcome their own weaknesses.

Inviting Feedback, Rather than Ignoring It 

A boss may either not care to get feedback on his or her actions, or may feel that inviting feedback is a sign of weakness. Leaders seek out their employees' opinions in a continuous effort at self-improvement. Entrepreneur Donny Gamble suggests asking employees questions like these: "Do you need more one-on-one time? Do you need more group meetings to make sure everyone's on the same page?" Also, he says, "Ask your employees what they're struggling with, if they need assistance with anything, and what you can do to help them perform their job more efficiently."

A Boss Micromanages, a Leader Empowers 

Looking over an employee's shoulder and being obsessed with supervising the tiniest details are classic characteristics of a bad boss. This sends the open message that employees aren't trustworthy and that any mistake they make may result in disastrous consequences for the business. Leaders understand that if they've hired correctly, their employees will grow into their responsibilities (sometimes with some gentle guidance and assistance), ultimately becoming adept at handling issues on their own and without the need for close supervision.

"As a leader, it is your responsibility to help your team succeed," says business blogger Alan O'Rourke. "If you're not helping them develop, grow, and reach their're not doing your job."

As a leader, it is your responsibility to help your team succeed. If you're not helping them develop, grow, and reach their're not doing your job. Quote from Alan O'Rourke.

Sharing a Vision, Not Keeping Employees in the Dark 

People often feel more motivated to contribute if they see how their efforts fit into the company's big picture. While a boss may be consumed with meeting daily or weekly deadlines – and may neglect sharing a view of how their work is helping the business grow – an effective leader shares his or her vision of the future. When employees have a sense of where you intend to take the company in the next two to five years, this information can give meaning to the work they perform every day, and can give them a greater sense of ownership in a successful team effort.

Leaders are an essential part of any effective business. The key difference can be, as Ben Connor notes, that those "being led forward are much happier, more productive, and more creative than those driven forward by demand."


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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