Are You a Leader or a Boss?

I f*cking HATE the word ‘boss’. 

“Pay the cost to be the boss!” 

“ [insert trivial act here]…Like a muthaf*kin boss!” 

“Boss up or get bossed around”

We’ve spent most of our adult lives trying to live up to these empty phrases (and thanks to social media, we’re pretty much desperate to be ‘CEO goals’). I get it, it’s enticing; bosses get sh*t done, and we wanna be of the sort. 

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If you scan your respective social media TLs, there’s no shortage of self-proclaimed “bosses” who don’t have the slightest clue on how to successfully sustain a brand, their customers, clients, or employees. Through years of academic and work experience, I’ve learned that there are bosses, and then there are LEADERS. In case you haven’t figured out, I prefer [to be] the latter. Let me break it down for you why: 

BOSS IS A POSITION, LEADERSHIP IS A SKILL. Every leader can be a boss, but not every boss is a leader. 

Listed below, you’ll find some clear differences between the two:  

Bosses tell, leaders TEACH

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my professors, in my relationships, and even drafting my resume, it’s the “show, don’t tell” model: it’s always better to demonstrate action instead of just saying empty words. 

Anyone can feed you information, but are they taking time to make sure that you understand? Leaders will let you know the whys and hows of everything to figure situations out on your own (open to questions, of course). 

Teaching is more effective than telling because it saves time and relationships—everyone involved will be better for it in the long run. You know how that old saying goes: “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” 

Bosses know things, leaders know people

Most bosses are subject “experts” (I use quotes because…debateable), but leaders are people experts—they’re great with reading people and situations, then acting accordingly. 

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Great leaders tend to have high emotional intelligence because they know how to manage relationships effectively. They know the difference between displaying sensitivity and being emotional, which is important. Sensitivity refers to how in tune we are with our feelings, and emotions are our reactions to those feelings. Leaders know how to articulate feelings and empathize, but are skilled at controlling their reactions in any given environment. 

Bosses hold you accountable, leaders hold themselves accountable  (for mistakes) 

If there’s an error or something goes wrong, a boss will not hesitate to put your head (and your head only) on the chopping block. A leader, however, assumes more of a team coach role, and will turn each mistake into a learning opportunity. A leader will foster your growth to promote self-accountability. 

Bosses just want to win, leaders want YOU to win 

Bosses will try to keep you all to themselves if you’ve proven to be an asset in your job position, with little consideration for your professional development. For example, I used to have a VERY petty boss. I was afraid to tell my supervisor when I decided to go back to school for my Master’s because I knew she’d react negatively to my absence. Needless to say, that wasn’t an environment for advancement.  

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A leader will always put YOU first, no matter how that affects them. Whether it’s a promotion, relocation, career change, or an offer and pay increase from a competitor, a great leader will always be one of your biggest cheerleaders (see what I did there?)  

Bosses build your fear, leaders build your confidence 

Notice how I spoke about being “afraid” above? Bosses typically like to rule with an iron fist, and will scare you into obedience. It’s not a ‘life or death’ type of fear, but more so a fear of potential consequences. 

For example, the supervisor I spoke about above had a reputation for passive aggressively punishing her employees—she’d give us less hours (i.e. less money) if we didn’t completely kiss her ass, for lack of a better phrase. Essentially, this was her way of making sure we did things her way, with little pushback. This is NO way to lead. 

A true leader empowers his or her team to be independent thinkers. Leaders work to pull out the strengths of each team member, while helping to improve their weaknesses. Instead of feeling threatened by opposition, effective leaders welcome and encourage differing viewpoints. When employees feel better about expressing themselves, this does WONDERS for building confidence on both an individual and organizational level. 

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So, there you have it. Are you more clear on the distinction between a leader and a boss? We hope that these insights will help you better navigate your professional journey! 

Written by: B.Sierra


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