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How to be a Leader, Not a Boss

How to be a Leader, Not a Boss

For some people, being “the boss” simply means supervising and delegating tasks to their employees. At best, these bosses meet their basic requirements–that of a literal “manager.” However, very few people who utilize this style of management can truly be called “leaders.”

If your own personal leadership style isn’t effective and inspiring to the people on your team, you’ll never find a way to truly tap into your team’s full potential. To accomplish that, you need to be more than a boss, you need to be a leader.

Why it Matters

Proper leadership from management affects not only daily operations in the workplace, but the long-term success of a company. This places a lot of responsibility on your shoulders as a manager, but as they say, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

It’s now a widely recognized fact that employees more often quit because of a problem with their manager than because of a problem with the job itself. More often than not, this is the result of a communication problem. Simply put, your leadership skills translate to your company’s ability to retain employees.

What’s the Difference?

There are many striking differences between bosses and leaders, but ultimately, we feel that these differences can be categorized into three areas:

1. Communication Styles

Do you talk at your employees, or do you truly listen to their ideas and input? It isn’t possible to find the time in a day to talk with your employees about every detail of every task. But good leaders evaluate their workers’ opinions and input.

2. Motivation Methods

Do you demand things of your team, or do you attempt to motivate them to reach peak performance? Motivation doesn’t have to mean offering some sort of bribe or incentive (although they can help); motivation can be as simple as providing some encouraging words or advice.

It can also be highly motivating and energizing to have a boss who will “dig in” and work alongside her employees to accomplish mutual goals. Willingness to work on the same tasks can foster a feeling of camaraderie.

3. Perception of Employees

Do your employees fear or avoid you, or do you have a strong rapport that makes them feel like a valued team member? While Machiavelli, Robert Greene, and many other authors might feel as though fear is a good quality in a leader, we tend to disagree.

The primary problem with productivity driven by fear is this: it creates an unpleasant work environment. While fear (of being reprimanded, disciplined, or even terminated) may lead to bursts in short-term productivity, they are ultimately harmful to the overall mood of the workplace. Uncomfortable work environments tend to have very high turnover rates.

A Word on Delegating

We’re not trying to say that leaders can’t delegate tasks; indeed it’s an important part of the job description. But it’s important to realize that delegating isn’t about shouting orders, it’s about understanding the strengths of each individual employee. When you understand these traits, you can find the right tasks and roles for them; this will optimize the effectiveness of your team.

Delegating is also not quite as simple as giving orders then sitting back and waiting for the results. This is actually a very rude and off-putting management style. Imagine it from a worker’s perspective:

You are ordered to complete a task, but you didn’t feel you had all of the proper resources or know-how. However, you’re worried that if you fail, you’ll be the subject of disciplinary action or even potential discharge.

Realistically, how long would you want to work in an environment like this? Becoming a better boss comes down to a simple question: would you want to work for you?

Resources You Can Use

If you want to start on your journey towards becoming a true leader, there are many resources available to you.


There is no shortage of books about leadership, but frankly we prefer some of the classics. Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” is a classic from Ancient Rome that illustrates the mindset a true leader must have. For a somewhat more recent take, the works of Dale Carnegie are still ripe with potent suggestions about how to boost your influence, likability, and the confidence you inspire in your workers.

Classes and Seminars

If you’re interested in a more hands-on approach, it can be helpful to find a class or seminar about management techniques.

Leaders You Admire

If you desire an even more personal approach, find a boss or leader that you’ve admired over the years. Talk with them and try to find out the philosophies that guide their management style.

What a Leader Does

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of a leader’s complex list of tasks, we feel like the following behaviors are the most indicative of a truly great leader.

  • A leader leads their team (by example, and by motivation) towards the completion of common goals.
  • Leaders must be ready to advise, discuss, and listen to their employee’s valuable feedback
  • It’s important to rely on your employees’ confidence in you, as opposed to their fear of reprisal
  • Truly transitioning from a boss to a leader involves not only delegating tasks, but making sure to give credit where credit is due

What a Leader Doesn’t Do

Equally important is the list of characteristics that leaders should never exhibit:

  • A leader does not “bark orders” and expect blind allegiance from their workers
  • Good leaders don’t insult, berate, or criticize their employees’ performance; criticism should be constructive in nature, and not designed to elicit shame.