A great leader is different than a traditional boss — leaders simply get better results. But what’s the difference between boss vs leader?
Many leaders have excellent management skills, like organization, guiding people, and knowing where to focus (the boss part). But the most effective leaders go beyond day-to-day managing — they inspire and motivate.
In my coaching practice, I encourage clients to strike a balance between leadership, management, and coaching, to boost self-motivation and performance in team members.
This article lays out the key differences in leaders vs bosses, the benefits of expanding your leadership skills, and practical steps for striking the perfect balance.
Why leaders need to think beyond management
A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting.— Russell H. Ewin
Anyone who has ever had a bad boss understands the level of stress caused by poor management in the workplace.
A toxic boss not only affects the well-being of each team member but also hurts business. Take a look at these startling statistics:
- Three out of four employees say their boss is the most stressful part of their job.
- When employees don’t feel valued by their boss, 50 percent look for a job within the next year.
- 65 percent of employees say they’d rather have a new boss over a pay raise.
Effective leadership, on the other hand, can lead to outstanding outcomes.
Strong leaders build trust, which results in improved work performance, collaboration, and innovation. When team members feel valued, they are open to sharing their best ideas and working towards creative solutions
Rather than relying on power and control (like a boss), leaders use influence and inspiration to lift up those around them.
The good news: you can learn leadership skills and strengthen them through practice.
Management vs Leadership vs Coaching
Successful leaders use a threefold approach that strikes a balance between leading people, managing work, and coaching performance.
Every interaction you have with team members, whether it’s a group meeting, a task-oriented email, or a performance review, could be classified in one of these three areas:
1. We manage when we discuss tasks and timelines.
2. We lead when we talk about vision, purpose, and aspirations.
3. We coach when we partner to nurture and grow.
How to balance the three components of your leadership style will depend on you, your team, and the office environment.
For example, I’ve seen an effective split in which the leader allocates their time like this:
- 50% management
- 35% coaching
- 15% leadership
In other cases, a leader may have less involvement in daily operations. That means they can spend less time on management activities to prioritize leading the organization:
- 20% management
- 15% coaching
- 65% leadership
Let’s go deeper on management vs leadership vs coaching, to find out what each one looks like in practice.
Management concerns itself with acts of consistency and facilitating a group to accomplish a goal.
When we manage people and projects, we exert energy and time toward influence.
In short, managing is organizing people and resources, influencing them towards an outcome. We make sure everyone knows what they need to do, how to do it, and when it must be done.
Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to motivate and empower others to contribute to the whole.
When we lead, we create inspiration.
Our efforts as leaders focus on the big picture of organizational success. We lead by keeping the “why” of what we do front and center
Whenever vision and purpose are at the center of your discussion, that’s leadership. Leaders do this by setting the big-picture direction, getting buy-in, and celebrating progress towards a shared goal.
Coaching creates momentum and consistent growth. It requires an on-going alliance built to support action while promoting focus
Coaching is a function of facilitation.
Coaching occurs when you have one-on-one conversations to deliver feedback and offer insight, guidance, and accountability. In essence, coaching facilitates growth in the individual.
Leader vs Boss: 7 Ways to Improve Leadership
Understanding the key differences between leaders and bosses is the first step towards improving your leadership style.
Here are the best ways to start inspiring and motivating — instead of just managing.
1. Inspire confidence, not fear.
Have you ever worked for a boss that made you feel unsure or even afraid to speak openly? In doing so, bosses miss out on open dialogue and learning from different perspectives.
Leaders inspire confidence in team members to express ideas honestly. In turn, employees will share valuable insight, even if it doesn’t always line up with the leader’s perspective.
2. Take joy in the success of others.
Bosses have a more narrow-minded approach to business, taking joy in their own individual success. In some cases, they take credit for employees’ successes, rather than celebrating them.
Instead, leaders take pleasure in seeing others rewarded for their hard work. They see the big picture: when one succeeds, everyone succeeds.
3. Encourage team members to become more successful than you.
A boss will stifle employees in order to maintain dominance. But as a leader, you want to motivate team members, even if it means that they excel beyond their current position.
Nurture employees to live up to their potential, much like a parent. An employer that invests in developing talent through coaching, is one that retains highly-skilled and loyal employees.
4. Focus on influence, not authority.
Bosses tend to assert power by controlling and micromanaging. They insist on compliance, rather than collaboration. This approach leads to the stagnation of progress.
It also creates a feeling of disempowerment and resentment — signs of a toxic workplace.
Instead, great leaders understand the benefits of co-creating processes and solutions with the team. They influence employees to work hard, not through authority, but through inspiration.
5. Nurture self-accountability.
A boss blames employees for negative outcomes, instead of working with them to improve. Leaders without self-accountability create an environment of fear and toxicity.
Coaching conversations help to align individual growth with organizational success. This type of conversation provides a forum for employees to set long-term goals while receiving guidance and support to achieve success.
6. Learn from other leaders.
Just like your team members can radically improve performance through coaching, so too can you. A professional leadership coach can help you learn how to identify your strengths, and work around your weaknesses, bringing the vision you have for your business to life.
If you don’t have access to this coaching, build relationships with leaders you admire — work to find mentors, supportive friends in similar positions, or a mastermind group.
7. Practice self-reflection along the way.
Developing effective leadership requires practice, patience, and learning from mistakes. So make a habit of reviewing your current approaches using the following questions:
- What am I doing when I’m most effective as a manager?
- What does the organization need me to manage well?
- What am I doing when I’m most effective as a leader?
- What does the organization need me to do as a leader?
- What does the organization need me to do as a coach?
Boss vs Leader: Find your effective leadership balance
Now, I challenge you to apply this three-pronged approach to leadership in your own life. Take your first steps to transform yourself from a boss into a leader by following these strategies and discovering your ideal balance.
You can become a successful leader through learning, practice, and patience.
If you haven’t been providing any coaching to your team, set one meeting this week to try it.
Next week, add an activity to promote vision and purpose.
And if management takes up too much of your time to add these crucial activities, learn how to delegate: