Sit down class, because you’re about to GET LEARNED.
Look, you don’t need another article going on about the differences between a “leader” and a “boss”. We have enough of those floating about the interwebs already; and many of such articles are fundamentally flawed in the way that they don’t realize their creation of a false dichotomy.
Let’s just get this out of the way from the outset: the two are not mutually exclusive.
Just because you’re one doesn’t mean you can’t be the other. It’s like asking someone if she is a mother or an employee; or if someone is a painter or an artist; or if someone is a politician or a lying sack of &%#$!
Alright, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s dive right into the fundamentals:
A BOSS is someone whose job is, among other things, to make sure you, as an employee, get your work done.
A LEADER is someone whose role is, among other things, to drive you, as a person, toward a goal.
Get it right: “Boss” is a position. “Leader” is a role. This is not to say that one is automatically better than the other – they are just simply different things; and I would know this because in my years of working and volunteering under various organisations, I have seen, in equal measure, good bosses and bad leaders.
Here’s a better question: Are you being led well?
I won’t be going into the specifics of bossing well, because there are entire college degrees dedicated to the art of bossing well. In a nutshell, if you’re: a) being paid what you’re worth; b) being paid on time; and c) not being unduly harassed at the workplace, your boss is probably bossing well. But that’s another article for another day, and possibly another writer.
Let’s talk about leadership.
It’s a nice and fluffy term. Like mushrooms. And, just like mushrooms, it could be potentially toxic if you’re not careful which varieties you take into your life. At the risk of sounding like that old man in the kopitiam who keeps repeating himself, I’ll say it again: there are good and bad leaders.
Leadership is a role, which means anyone can be one. But to clarify, paraphrasing the immortal words of Ratatouille’s Anton Ego, this does not mean that everyone can become a great leader; but a great leader can come from anyone. You have leaders in your life, whether you realise it or not. It could be your parents, your pastor, your best friend, or even that guy who sits next to you in the office. Yes, even your boss could be your leader.
But how do you know if you’re being led well?
ONE: Your leader knows what you want, and leads you accordingly.
This is true across the board, whether you want to be eventual CEO, to provide for your family, to find a boyfriend, or to discover your true destiny as the Dragon Warrior. Your leader’s first course of action is to know what you want.
A bad leader doesn’t care what you want as long as his or her goals are met, whether it’s to improve their KPI or to increase their company’s revenue. A bad leader may find out what you want as a function of formality, but then goes on to do his or her own thing anyway.
I’ve a friend who, after 6 months of unemployment, was tired and willing to take whatever came his way as long as it was a job. As fate would have it, he scored an interview with a company, and there the boss asked: “What you studied is completely different from what you’re applying for. Why do you want this job?”
After some silence, my friend admitted that he didn’t really care what job he’s got as long as he’s got one. After some prodding, he revealed that he would like a job where he could lead teams and organise events.
The boss slid his resume back across the desk. “Maybe you need to think seriously about what you want,” he said before showing him the door.
Now see: that boss obviously wasn’t the nicest person on earth, but that right there was leadership in motion. He found out what my friend wanted, and upon realising that his company was not where my friend should be, wasted no time in showing him the door. He, in that brief moment, led accordingly.
TWO: Your leader leads by vision, not by fear.
“Vision” is another one of those words that get thrown around a lot; and I mean A LOT like it’s automatically a good thing. Within the narrow definition of corporate-speak, “vision” simply means ‘an imagined picture of an ideal future’. A vision doesn’t immediately put your company on the path to the ranks of Fortune 500, but it’s a start. Baby steps here.
What does it means to lead by fear? It means that your leader’s decisions are more like reactions to external circumstances, rather than propulsive action to reach a goal. If your leader is constantly going on about “I don’t want to do this, but the investors/CEO/economy/competitors are saying/doing this and that…” your leader is leading by fear.
Which is why among the list of people I hate dealing with are the folks from middle management. Most of them are constantly wrapped up about “but I’m not sure if my boss will like this” or “I’m not sure if I can get approval to do this”. Friend, your job as leader is to make it happen. There’s no such thing as a risk-free venture.
If your leader has a vision, you’ll know it. You’ll hear about it. And if your leader gets point number one up there right, you’ll be excited about it. You’ll want to be where this leader is taking you.
But life isn’t perfect, and most leaders, ideal as they come, are motivated by a mixture of vision and fear. How do you know which holds more dominance over them? There’s no hard and fast rule. Talk to them. Get them sharing. Then evaluate for yourself.
THREE: Your leader is self-assured.
I can name a couple of things worse than a leader on a power trip – gamma rays, rattlesnake poison, cluster migraines – but the chances are higher that you’ll meet the former sooner or later in life.
If your leader seems more interested in seeking validation or feeding his or her own ego, it might be time to reevaluate their importance in your life. Bad leaders of this variety are black holes, and you have to be careful you don’t get sucked in, because you’re gonna get crushed.
A good leader is confident in his or her own ability, and plan out things despite the risk of unpopularity. Their job is to get the job done – to be held in high esteem is secondary and sometimes just a bonus. Once you’re assured of your leader’s competence in the first two areas, this is the quality you should be looking for.
I’m exceeding my word quota by an insane margin typing all of these [EDITOR INSERT – “You are forgiven”], but I hope we’re all learning something here. Don’t let a cool, nicely-designed infographic or a ten-point article fool you into believing that there is any difference between a boss and a leader. A boss is a managerial position in a company’s hierarchy; a leader is anyone who undertakes the responsibility to – you guessed it – lead.
Whether you’re leading or being led as you read this, mull over these points as you go along; and I hope that through this act of telepathy called writing, I have managed to add something of value into your life.
Over and out.
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