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  • Writer's pictureNavvir Pasricha

Are You A Boss Or Leader?

Go into any workplace in your city and the one common denominator is that there is always someone incharge. That person could be called a team leader, a manager, CEO, director or any variation of these. This person tends to have many responsibilities. They can be a decision maker, a motivator, a planner, an instruction giver, they hold others accountable and dole out rewards and punishments as needed. However, anyone who has been in a leadership position in the past 10 years will tell you that the profile of a manager has changed. Today we uncover why this is happening as well as delving into the differences between behaviors and traits of those labeled as bosses and those labeled as leaders.

But as a boss or a leader, my job remains the same… right?

In a nutshell, yes it does. The descriptives of the boss or leader don’t delineate between job functions or tasks. Rather, these descriptives speak to the methods and styles that a person in a position of authority uses on a daily basis. But why does that matter, you might be asking yourself? It matters because the workforce is changing and the expectations of a manager have changed as well. While we are not advocating for a return to such a time, gone are the days where a manager could yell at an employee and it be taken as “just part of the job”. The modern workforce requires more personal interactions and a higher degree of understanding than ever before. This is evident in the fact that many large organizations like Google, Facebook, Twitter and almost any company that makes someone say “I want to work for them”, have employment policies which sound insane to the worker of a decade ago. Policies like unlimited leave or indefinite remote working or nap pods or gaming rooms have become necessary to keep the workforce engaged and ensure an increased level of satisfaction in the job.

However, none of that matters if an employee feels that they are not valued by their direct manager. As a result, the expectation of a manager has changed to include responsibilities such as providing emotional support and encouragement, things that to the past generation were not required at all. In an effort to distinguish between these two leadership styles, certain traits have become labeled as signs of a leader while others are labeled as signs of a boss.

Traits of a Boss

It is very uncommon for a boss to be portrayed in a positive light barring the occasional rap lyric. Society seems to have agreed that a boss is a person who is stuck in the old ways of doing things. Therefore characteristics most associated with a boss include things like giving direction, criticizing work or attitudes, demanding certain deliverables be met. In a nutshell bosses use a top down approach, they are not bothered by how a task is completed, they only want to know that it was done correctly and quickly. And if it was not, bosses are more likely to sternly tell off a member of their team. An additional trait commonly attributed to bosses is that bosses tend to be more self oriented. This means they are more likely to ask what an employee can do for them rather than the other way around.

If you find yourself asking an employee to send a meeting invite out, take minutes, draft an email for you to send our or just crunch the numbers, you might be exhibiting more "boss" character traits.

Traits of a Leader

Leaders are often represented in an extremely positive light. Be it industry leaders or world leaders, the word just elicits a positive image. The character traits most associated with a leader are working on problems together, asking questions, offering support and providing feedback and room for improvement. Conversely, leaders opt for a bottom up approach and are as concerned with how a task is completed, if the employee had all the tools and skills needed to complete the task and the results of said tasks. A stark difference is that when something goes wrong they ask what they could have done differently to avoid the negative outcome and provide feedback to the employee on improvements as well. Lastly, leaders are often other oriented meaning they are more likely to ask what they can do for their employee.

If you find yourself asking how you can help out an employee, asking for feedback about your performance or encouraging an employee to leave work on-time, you might be exhibiting more "leader" traits.

Let me guess, leader good, boss bad?

No. Absolutely not. The fact is that in modern workplaces, there needs to be a leader and a boss. This does not mean that the workplace needs to sets themselves up like Dunder Mifflin and have co-managers. Quite the opposite, the manager needs to know when to use their boss skillset and when to use their leader skillset. This is part of a much wider leadership theory called situational leadership. In a nutshell it states that a manager must be aware enough of their employees to change their leadership style to suit the employees needs. Within the theory, the myth of bosses are bad and leaders are good is dispelled.

A manager would need to learn to shift styles depending on the employee his dealing with. For example, if a manager is dealing with an employee who is performing at a very high level and is beginning to feel bored or in need of a new challenge, using a leadership style will not suit them. The employer does not need the manager to offer support or to develop an action plan with the employee. What the employee would want are answers to questions like- what is next for me? Where am I going? How long do I need to stay in the same position and do the same thing? A manager might ask why do you feel this way? What do you want to do next? A boss on the other hand will flip the script and ask the employee what they have thought of as the next challenge in their career. Doing this puts the onus on the employee and lets the employee know that the manager trusts them enough to allow the employee to make that decision for themselves, giving them autonomy, added responsibility and by extension, making them happy.

Similarly, if an employee is just coasting by, using a boss approach will result in the employee feeling like the manager is being unfair, inconsiderate or even just a bully. That makes employee attrition a much higher probability. Meanwhile, a leader approach would result in the employee feeling motivated, encouraged and driven to deliver on the task.

So again, there isn't a one size fits all approach to being a manager. It really depends on the situation the manager finds themselves in.

Notwithstanding anything mentioned above, leadership is an ongoing field of study and many leaders and experts have spent years of their lives dedicated to perfecting this art. We can help you in your journey to further explore your personal leadership style. We also offer leadership training ranging from the basic do's and don'ts of leadership to more advanced theories and practices including role-playing to ensure your leaders are ready and equipped to handle the responsibilities of their roles.

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