Differences Between Boss and Leader: How Managerial Styles Can Affect Workplace Productivity
6 min. Read
Last Updated: 04/22/2020
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Knowing the difference between a boss and leader, and behaving as the latter, can have a significantly positive effect on your workplace. For one thing, your managerial style generally dictates how you are perceived by your employees. At its most basic level, leaders may sometimes be bosses, but not all bosses are leaders.
The term "boss" can carry negative or disparaging implications. These negative aspects of being a boss can lead to employee discontent, and sometimes ultimately costly turnover - an expense no business can afford for very long.
But in virtually all business environments, the effectiveness of the workplace depends upon having an individual to execute orders delivered by senior management and who ensures that employees do their most productive work.
If a boss gives orders and a leader inspires, which is likely to be most beneficial for your company? Here are some 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 focus on how much control they exert over others and on maintaining an "I'm always right" mindset.
By contrast, effective 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.
By contrast, a leader highlights what was done correctly and works with the employee to learn from mistakes, with the goal of improving their behavior in the future.
Inviting feedback, rather than ignoring it
A boss may not care to get feedback on their actions, or may feel that inviting feedback is a sign of weakness. Leaders, on the other hand, seek out their employees' opinions in a continuous effort at self-improvement. One approach to being a leader involves adding more employee one-on-one meetings and/or group sessions to your schedule. Obviously, this can increase an already burdensome work schedule, but the potentially beneficial results may outweigh this effort.
If by pursuing this strategy, you learn more about work-specific issues or struggles your employees experience, and where and how assistance from you can make a difference, it is well worth the effort you put into the process.
Micromanaging vs. empowering
Looking over an employee's shoulder and being obsessed with supervising the tiniest details are classic characteristics of a bad boss. This style of management can send the message that employees aren't trustworthy and that any mistake they make may result in disastrous consequences for the business.
Effective leaders often choose to take a different approach. They understand that part of sound hiring decisions includes allowing employees to grow into their responsibilities (sometimes with some gentle guidance and assistance). With proper guidance and support, they may be more likely to ultimately become adept at handling issues on their own, without the need for close supervision.
Sharing the company's vision
People often feel more motivated to contribute to the organization 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 their 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.
Qualities of an effective leader
Some leadership qualities come naturally to potential leaders, including traits like optimism, persistence, and the ability to keep going after a setback. Other skills and qualities grow out of experience and earned wisdom.
Generally speaking, an effective leader needs some combination of key leadership qualities to serve as a foundation for all the other traits needed to keep a business running smoothly.
Some notable aspects of good leadership include:
Hiring for a range of talents and abilities. Starting with a vision of where the business is going --and what it will take to get there -- a leader must be able to find and recruit people with the right level of experience and ambition to transform that vision into reality. A leader's ability to inspire others and get them on board is critical here.
Focus. With the right team recruited and set in place, the next step is infusing that team with focus. Teams are necessarily composed of individuals with wide-ranging interests, skills, and objectives. Somehow, the leader must harness those disparate qualities into one tight-knit, high-performing team.
Enthusiasm. Often, leaders are driven by their vision to inspire others and convey a sense of enthusiasm about the work. In some ways, therefore, leaders are "evangelists," who know their objective is exciting others and building on that excitement to move forward.
Transparency. Leaders should commit to a policy of transparency so that all employees are on the same page. In some cases, companies choose to grant full access to shared email addresses and display online dashboards as a way of keeping everyone informed.
Positive outlook. Enthusiastic, positive-thinking leaders aren't just inspiring. In many cases, they are fun just to be around. They understand that success depends on hard work and ever-accumulating knowledge, but they also get that if they're not having fun in the process, no one around them will either.
Helping employees become future leaders at work
One of the key qualities of a good boss is grooming top-performing employees for leadership roles. Employees benefit greatly from this focus on professional growth and development. In turn, loyal and committed employees often play a decisive part in helping a business become (and stay) successful. Here are suggestions for ways to get to know your employees better and, on your own behalf, determine more about how to be a leader at work.
Believe in your employees. Your employees possess certain skills, knowledge, and experience. Once they have been trained appropriately, let them do the job they were hired to do, knowing that they will do their best. Provide the resources, training, equipment, and coaching they need to succeed.
Be flexible. Your employees have families, relationships, hobbies, and other commitments outside of work. Be flexible when possible to accommodate schedule variances due to outside commitments. Remember: consistency and compliance with company policy can be critical to avoiding claims of discrimination.
Know their strengths and weaknesses. Be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each employee. This can help you assign tasks that allow them to succeed as well as provide a challenge. Hiring a diverse workforce can assist in ensuring varied skills and strengths.
Acknowledge their achievements. Acknowledge and praise your employees when they complete a task well. Thank them verbally and consider other more tangible rewards. For example, a written thank-you note may help build a relationship of mutual respect.
Be grateful for their contributions. Unless proven otherwise, assume your employees are trying their best, even when they don't quite get it right. Thank them for their efforts; coach and train them to do better next time.
Let them do the work, but don't be afraid to get in the trenches with them. Empower employees by letting them do their jobs and provide opportunities to enhance their skills. Offer assistance when the going gets tough or they are overwhelmed. Always be willing to assist by doing the same work alongside your employees.
Emphasize teamwork. Highlight groups within your business through projects and goals that require teamwork to accomplish them. Then reward the teams that do an exceptional job.
Let them help you. Don't try to do all the work yourself. Delegate some nitty-gritty and glamorous tasks. Your employees were hired to do a job, so it's important that you respect their expertise and let them do it. You'll find you have more time to spend on matters that truly need your attention.
Talk straight to them. If there is a problem, let them know you are concerned and discuss ways you can partner to develop a workable solution. The employee will be more likely to take ownership of the problem and solution if given some input in the matter. Listen and try to understand the obstacles to the employee's success.
Let them grow...and sometimes, let them go. Encourage your employees to pursue professional growth opportunities. Offer opportunities and challenges to grow. If one day an employee outgrows your organization, part politely and professionally.
Support for current and future leaders
As noted, some individuals seem to be born for a leadership role, while others achieve this status by working hard and demonstrating enthusiasm and commitment for the people who follow them.
But even innate leaders need help growing a business. These individuals understand they're not able to handle all of the crucial responsibilities involved in operating a company, so they make a point of delegating tasks and providing the support needed to get the job done.
Whether you're in a leadership position at present or aiming to grow into a role as a leader, it's important to offer training resources and tools available. Consider leveraging a range of HR resources designed to help managers, supervisors, and employees thrive in their respective career paths.