The difference between a boss and a leader

Contrary to what many may believe, 'boss' and 'leader' are not synonymous terms.

While the basic notion is the same – a higher-level individual who oversees a group of subordinates – the many nuances of leadership mean there is a clear set of criteria that distinguishes effective leaders from those who are simply in a position of power.

Making sure you fit into the former category should be a big priority in your leadership development efforts. With that in mind, what are some of the key characteristics that separate leaders from mere bosses?

Leaders know it's a shared journey

One of the main traits of a good leader is an awareness that in order to reach a common goal, everyone has to work together – including the people at the very top of the organisation.

Instead of merely delegating tasks to workers and ordering them to get the job done, a leader will be prepared to roll up their sleeves and help out. While a boss will tell their employees to “Do this”, a leader, on the other hand, will gather the troops and say “Let's do this”.

Countless studies over the years have provided strong evidence that the best leaders are the ones who take an active, tangible role in the organisation and get everyone working together. According to the 'What Makes a Leader Effective?' report from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), being participative – namely, encouraging collaboration and inclusiveness – is one of the most sought-after characteristics in leaders.

Respondents to the survey ranked it as one of the top leadership traits, giving it an average score of 4.5 out of 5 in terms of its significance to an effective leader.

Leaders don't just tell individuals what to do – instead, they'll find ways to bring everyone together and harness the power of the collective.

Leaders coach and teach

While self-development for frontline leadership is of course crucial, leaders understand they also have a responsibility to coach and mentor their subordinates.

One key area in which bosses and leaders substantially differ is how much they invest in the personal and professional development of their people. Bosses are likely to see their employees as assets to get the job done with no intrinsic value to the organisation.

Meanwhile, leaders know that people are central to the success or failure of their organisation and will take steps to ensure they are growing with it.

Leaders inspire and motivate their employees

It is often said that while bosses only see the black and white, leaders can also see the grey in between.

Leaders know how to look beyond mere numbers and performance appraisals to know what really makes their employees tick. They are likely to possess a high level of emotional intelligence and therefore be able to read their staff accurately and inspire them for success.

In fact, the CCL study reported that charisma, exemplified by “strong enthusiasm, and by inspiring and motivating others”, is the most important characteristic that defines an effective leader. Respondents gave this trait an average score of 4.7 out of 5, putting it squarely at the top of the list.

The mark of a great leader is largely determined by the attitude that peers hold towards them. When employees have an inspirational leader they truly look up to, they will be motivated to come into work and play their part in the wider purpose of the organisation.

Do you feel you are a candidate for high potential leadership? Knowing the differences between a boss and a leader can set you on the right path.