Boss vs Leader: Which One is Best

boss or leader

Do you feel that you repeat yourself over and over again to your employees, team, or staff? Do you find yourself saying, “We’ve already talked about that.”? Unfortunately, this happens far too often; myself included when I was younger.

My Experience

Years ago, I hired a close friend to “manage” my technicians in a service company I owned.  “Joe” was well liked, great with our clients, and always did exactly what I asked. In fact, he was so well liked, he never ever angered anyone he supervised. No one ever spoke negatively about Joe. Except me. I told Joe every week, week after week, what results I expected from his people. Each week, he would ask the same questions, and I would frustratingly repeat the same answers. Whose fault was this? I already said that he always did everything I asked.

Here was the issue. I never challenged Joe to make independent decisions, or built his leadership ability. One day, for the hundredth time, Joe asked me to make a decision on a service issue he was more than capable of handling. I grinned, politely put my hand on his shoulder, and asked him gently, “If I was 6 feet under and suddenly unavailable, what decision would you make?”  That began a process of showing Joe how to lead, and showed me that I needed to get out of Joe’s way.

How many times have we, as business owners, stepped in and interfered in workplace projects that we should allow our team to complete?  We justify this behavior by telling ourselves, “No one can do it like I can.” It is because of that exact mindset that you have to keep on doing it, more and more each year. Even worse, you hire a manager and don’t allow him/her to learn and grow. This is referred to as dictownership: Certainly not a motivating work culture!

Your Plan

It is vital that we teach our management team how to lead. Even more critical is confirming that they desire to lead. A person put into the position of forced leadership is ill-advised, and creates a miserable work culture for those that are expected to follow. While a leader can play the role of a boss, not every boss has the ability to transition to being a leader.

Below are some characteristics that separate a boss from a leader.

A boss instructs, but a leader truly teaches.

A great leader shares their knowledge, and understands that leveraging talent and skill only makes the “team” stronger, increasing morale. A leader is always willing to learn from those they lead, too.

A boss commands, but a leader listens first.

Every person has issues inside and outside of the workplace. True leaders are always prepared to listen empathically to the issues that concern their people, whether it’s a workplace concern or one that arises in their personal lives. When an employee comes to the workplace and are mindful of a troubling or personal matter, a leader is sensitive to issues that affect job performance.

Leaders praise in public, and criticize in private.

Employees are always watching how leaders deal with co-workers, especially when their performance is not up to expectation.  There should be a time and place when a leader holds people accountable. This is not in front of others. A huge part of encouraging someone whose effort may be lacking is to meet with him/her in private, especially when he/she expects an embarrassing public exposure.

A boss blames, but a leader takes responsibility.

Business owners can make the mistake of thinking they are supposed to have all the answers and never err in their companies. Your people know when you are mistaken, and not admitting your error in front of them damages your character. If you want to be labeled as a leader and a person that your team wants to follow, admit publicly when you are mistaken, and correct your error immediately.

Being a Leader

I remember my first week of basic Air Force training: right at the entrance to Lackland AF base a sign stated, “LEAD, FOLLOW, or GET OUT OF THE WAY.”  I was 19. But whether you are 19 or 89, who we are is expressed in what we do, think, and share with our coworkers, employees, and clients.  You have a choice to do any of the three, but if you want to lead, you need to understand what it means to be a leader.

A boss says, “Go”, whereas a leader says, “Let’s Go.” When bosses rule instead of leading, there is a disconnect between authority, respect, and workplace morale.  Many bosses that have been put into leadership roles without ever having been taught the difference, painstakingly fail at their first opportunity to lead. Make sure you and your employees are aware of what it takes to lead, so that your company can perform at its best and your team can function together most optimally.

About The Carli Group

Michael and Mary Carli are co-owners of The Carli Group, a Business Advisory service based in Oldsmar, Florida. Entrepreneurs since age 12, The Carlis are experts in Small Business Systemization, Development Strategies, and Exit Plans.
They can be contacted at