Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Forbes.
We all know that every leader is a boss, but not every boss is a leader. We can break down the fundamental differences between a boss and a true leader in terms of opposites. Do you talk or listen? Do you demand or motivate? If you are a boss, you are followed because of authority. If you are a leader, you are followed because of respect and admiration.
Exceptional leadership begins with a positive view of people and ends with remarkable accomplishments. Consider the differences between a boss and a leader in the following areas.
A boss demands, a leader consults
A boss says, in a very loud voice, “I need you to get this done now!” In most cases, such a command is probably met with disdain and frustration. Did this approach cause the employees to deliver a sloppy and sub-par outcome? We should be wary of barking orders to workers who hope to be treated with respect. When a boss demands results and places stringent expectations upon an employee without asking for perspective, his credibility suffers.
On the other hand, a thoughtful leader will politely ask, “Can you, based upon your current workload, focus your time and attention on this important project?” Even in a flurry of stress, great leaders know that getting top results from their team means being sensitive to what employees have on their plates. Highly praised leaders recognize their workers are not slaves but wonderful individuals who appreciate an opportunity to express their opinions in any discussion that impacts their assignments. This sound approach will generate excellent performance by an appreciative work force.
A boss dictates, a leader empowers
An ineffective boss proclaims, “Do it this way, or else!” Just as teenagers turn a deaf ear to parental lectures, employees will quickly tire of “your way.” If your organization is not exceeding expectations, it could be your fault. Do you dictate which processes and resources should be used? Do you micromanage daily tasks because you know best? A boss who declares “it’s my way or the highway” will be left with a near-empty parking lot; and the few who remain will be running out of gas.
A terrible boss will say, “This is the way we do things around here.” The clear message to an employee is “don’t think, I will do that for you.” A narrow-minded boss limits the creative process and self expression. He kills innovation and increased productivity. In time, employees who fall under this management style cease to care or try. They see no value in making suggestions to improve lackluster performance.
A genuine leader gives his people authority and responsibility to act and will ask, “How do you plan to solve this situation and how can I help you?" Such an approach demonstrates to employees that they are talented and possess good judgment. Just as teens crave independence, employees seek to “own” their assignments. Individuals who are given the opportunity to evaluate and implement various problem-solving approaches will surprise and delight. Leaders know when employees are empowered, great things happen; productivity soars, motivation is high and retention increases.
A boss talks, a leader listens
Bosses like to hear themselves talk. They are wildly impressed with their own knowledge and skills. They have all the answers. Being so bright, they have no need to understand what’s on the minds of customers and employees. They are described as pompous and arrogant. Personnel may try to get a word in edgewise but soon cease trying; it’s too frustrating. Since this know it all boss lords over everything, employees soon close their ears to incessant babble. Sadly these self-declared geniuses don’t understand why their departments never receive acclaim and recognition.
Effective leaders have huge ears and use them to listen to the voices of their people. They are anxious to know what’s on the minds of their teammates and actively seek their views on every critical topic. Such leaders spend time getting to know the work force and encourage one and all to speak. They celebrate and reward great ideas that emanate from a highly regarded work force. This leader and his team are seen as best in class and are constantly in the limelight. To work for such a leader is a privilege and joy.
In my lifetime, I have seen both types of managers; a few miserable bosses and happily, a handful of highly remarkable leaders. Without a doubt, I always did my best work for the men and women who were esteemed leaders. Today, I look back on these great mentors with unbound gratefulness and appreciation. As to the bosses I served, they are a long-forgotten and unpleasant memory.
An exceptional leader is a manager who cares deeply about his peers and treats them all with respect and genuine appreciation. Are there other differences between bosses and leaders? As always, I welcome your ideas and thoughts. You can contact me at @AskAlanEHall or via my personal website, www.AlanEHall.com.
Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is chairman of the Utah Technology Council.