The difference between a boss and a leader

Leader vs Boss

There are different styles of leadership, probably as many as there are leaders who exercise them. However, they all have one thing in common: they are positive styles of coordinating and directing large and small groups. What is the difference between a boss and a leader? Let’s find out:

Characteristics of a leader

  • Empowers: a leader does not hide their ability to change things, make decisions or influence the achievement of results. Far from that, the leader shares power: they encourage the people around them to take responsibility, to feel that they have the capabilities, skills, and talents to get what they want or need.
  • Inspires: because of their particular qualities and charisma, the leader becomes a person that others would like to be like or, at least, provides ideas and motivation to the people around them, becoming a reference to which they can turn to for answers. As we can see, there is a difference between a leader and a boss.
  • Model: a leader leads by example. They are authentic and spontaneous, and their behavior is coherent with the content they convey out loud. In addition to inspiring, they are an example of the process and the result towards which they want to lead the people who follow them.
  • Convinces: a leader does not have to wear themself out by exercising strong authority so that their employees obey them just because of their position or status. What they propose or state categorically that is best looks “so good” that others do not have a hard time getting behind it or agreeing to it.
  • Therefore, a leader (no matter in what context or in front of how many people) leads in the sense of leading others in a direction that they all assume is their own and beneficial. A leader is an authority.

Although some theorists differentiate between types of leadership, in which some would be good and others bad, from our point of view there is only one good type of leadership, which is leadership by definition, with the characteristics we have just described.

These characteristics can materialize in different ways, according to the particular style of each leader, but if they are not there we do not speak of bad leadership but, directly, of something else. In other words, there is no such thing as a bad leader and a good leader. The leader is either good or not, or they are good or they are something else, but not a leader. As we shall see, there are several differences between a boss and a leader.

the difference between a boss and a leader

What a (bad) leader does

  • Doesn’t share power, but rather takes refuge in it, using it rigidly as its main strategy to impose its points of view.
  • They are not someone others want to be like, they may even be disliked or not seen as someone with a desirable life, someone to approach or lean on.
  • They don’t lead by example. They are inconsistent and don’t do what they expect others to do. Therefore, they can’t be a point of reference for their employees, nor will they take them as a source of inspiration. On the contrary, they will see them as a model of what they don’t want to become, either as individuals or as workers.
  • They encourage compliance, but not obedience. The difference between a boss and a leader is a classic theme in social psychology. In both cases, the order is assumed by the employees, but those who obey do so because they have integrated the instruction and submit to it from within, while those who merely comply do so because they consider that they have no alternative, but in reality, they do not agree with what they are doing.
  • They manage in the sense of giving orders, commanding, making decisions that others must carry out. The boss has authority. As we can see, the difference between a boss and a leader is obvious at a glance.

Being a mere boss and not so much an inspiring and influential leader is not so bad. If the person is a good boss, that is more than enough. Not everyone has an inspiring personality and does not develop the ability to lead, that is rather exceptional.

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However, it is common that many people who face managerial tasks can do it in a very correct way taking into account some basic things without the need to go out of the ideal leadership manuals. What matters is that they take into account the needs of the team and their need to find a balance, as many people do not need to feel inspired by a leader to look up to, but are comfortable and work very well simply if they have the assurance that there is a solid person in charge, someone who will be able to make decisions according to their position and who will bring order whenever necessary.

You can be a leader within your small group of friends, as a team leader within your company, or as president of the government of an entire country. These are three completely different things but in all of them, the common denominator is your ability to be followed by others thanks to your attractive and charismatic personality, so that the group of people over whom you exert that influence is, reasonably, cohesive and with a sense of direction, of community.

What does it mean to be a leader? 

Some are renowned politicians (Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton), others are businessmen or executives of large companies (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos), show business stars (Bono, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey), or religious figures (such as the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

The leader has a strong internal locus of control: they hold the reins – of whatever it is – firmly, without squeezing to the point of hurting their fists but holding them securely. They feel they influence things that happen to them and have the power of decision to follow one path or another. So you don’t have to be Angela Merkel or the Dalai Lama to inspire or to have power. On a smaller, but more important scale, one has to be aware one has to be a leader for oneself, a leader of one’s own life. The same qualities that serve to move millions of people in one direction should serve to move in the desired direction the single most important person in each person’s life: oneself. A leader who does not control their own life can hardly be a reference for their friends and family, or beyond.

the difference between a boss and a leader

Do you remember the movie Invictus? It followed the rise to the presidency of one of the great leaders of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela. The film refers to a poem by W. E. Henley with the title that gave the film its name and inspired the former South African president during his long years in prison. The poem concluded with these lines:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

Isn’t it fascinating, to be the captain of your soul, to steer the ship of the person you are, regardless of what is to come?

We hope you found this comparison of the difference between a boss and a leader interesting. If, in any case, you feel you need help to develop your leadership skills and improve your company’s work environment, you only have to put yourself in the hands of those who know best.

Ifeel has created an emotional well-being program for companies, designed by its team of professional psychologists, which helps companies put the care of their employees’ psychological well-being at the heart of their company culture to boost productivity sustainably. 

Thanks to this partnership, HR managers can receive personalized, data-driven advice on how to conduct their leadership and, in this way, really take care of the human capital they are in charge of, fostering the mental health of workers while preserving good conditions for optimal productivity

Additionally, ifeel‘s emotional well-being program for companies offers employees a mental health care service structured at different levels according to their needs. They can access different mental health care tools with ifeel‘s app. They can also receive emotional support through a chat with one of the licensed psychologists on our platform. If additional help is needed, they can access the third level of the program: online psychological therapy with a psychologist who specializes in cases such as theirs. 

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