Boss vs. Leader: Which One Are You?

If your employees are leaving, it could be your fault. Yes, we hate to point fingers, but the Gallup report, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, found that managers are the greatest indicator of whether an employee will stay with a company, and that half of employees left because of a bad boss.

That can have grave consequences for your ultimate business performance, considering that competition for talent is at an all-time high, with unemployment at an all-time low. If employees aren’t happy, they’ll jump ship.

However, with a style shift, it’s possible to become a manager who inspires loyalty and performance. What it boils down to is whether you are perceived as a “boss” or a “leader.”

Here are five strategies that great leaders employ to make the shift.

1.      Bosses micromanage; leaders delegate.

A boss who micromanages is saying “I don’t trust you.” Often this tendency is fear-based; if someone else accomplishes a task in a more efficient manner, the boss might worry that it reflects badly on them. Or, they might just be a power-hungry maniac who believes in “my way or the highway.”

By contrast, a leader knows that great ideas can come from anywhere. By providing the team with a summary of the desired end result, along with direction as needed, a leader empowers colleagues to customize the work product in their own way, resulting in an increased sense of ownership and often a new best practice.

2.      Bosses horde power; leaders cultivate talent.

Bosses want to be in the spotlight, all the time, fearing that an employee who shines on their own merits might either overshadow them, or worse, take their talents to a new company. The sad fact is that an employee who isn’t offered appropriate opportunities will leave anyway, but on poor terms.

A true leader knows that the best reflection of their influence is seeing their team succeed. That’s why they focus on inspiring and motivating their employees to be better. They realize that a career is a marathon, not a sprint, and watching an employee be promoted – or even sometimes move to a new company – can be an opportunity for them in the future. That’s why leaders will help support and develop their employees’ unique talents and expertise.

3.      Bosses point out weaknesses; leaders encourage improvement.

Employees routinely say that they crave feedback: In fact, a PwC survey reports that that 60 percent of survey respondents would prefer more frequent feedback. And believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be all positive to be well-received.  According to another study, an overwhelming 92 percent of respondents said that constructive criticism, when delivered correctly, was an effective way to improve performance. The key tip, of course, is to make sure you are delivering it correctly.

That’s where bosses and leaders diverge. A boss is apt to point out flaws in a way that can diminish morale (worst-case scenario: in front of others!) while a leader’s goal is to help their employee grow. That’s why a leader gives targeted, specific feedback in a private setting, and helps employees develop a path to reach new goals, such as providing additional training or mentorship.

4.      Bosses blame others – and also take too much credit; leaders take responsibility and share glory.

If something goes wrong, you can be sure a “boss” will be looking for a scapegoat, while a leader will be wondering what role they played in the misstep and how they can improve the process. They are also apt to look at any “failure” as a learning opportunity – fail fast, learn the lessons and apply them next time.

And just as that boss is going to place blame, you better believe they’re going to soak up the accolades as well, failing to attribute success to a group effort. A leader, by contrast, knows that a successful team effort reflects positively on him or her and also realizes that sharing the glory will boost morale and inspire the team to continuously improve their performance.

 5.      Bosses close their doors; leaders encourage team interaction.

Of course, we all need to close our doors at times for heads-down work, but bosses delight in sitting behind a big desk and a closed door, removing themselves physically from the team. A leader wants to walk around the office or production floor, get to know their teammates and be integrally involved in day-to-day processes. That allows them to work individually with employees on skills they need to bolster, as well as remove unnecessary roadblocks that might be impeding workflow.

When you come right down to it, the name says it all. Nobody likes to be “bossed.” Everyone likes to be “led.”

Phill O'Kane
About the Author
Since 1946, family owned and operated O’Kane and Tegay Insurance Brokers have been there for the times in life that need to be covered, but you rarely think about. Our San Francisco based firm offers a wide range of insurance products and services, including personal automobile, homeowners, workers compensation, property, commercial automobile, general liability, and surety; with personal expertise in commercial insurance for multi-unit property owners, business commercial property & causality, and Construction. We’ll be there when you need us most, and that’s what set us apart from our competitors, doing the right thing the right way. Specialties Business Auto Insurance, Builders Risk Insurance, Renters Insurance, D & O Liability Insurance, General Liability Insurance, Business Liability Insurance, Bar Restaurant Insurance, Food Truck Insurance, Apartment & Lessor Risk, Workers Compensation and Umbrella Liability. Ready to talk? Feel free to connect with me here on LinkedIn, drop me a line at , visit me online at or call me directly at (415) 242-8756.

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