Sure, being a boss puts you in a position to lead, almost by definition. After all, you have a group of people who report to you, get directions from you, and who should look up to you. But being a leader is less about being in charge and more about, well, leading. For example, you don’t have to be a boss to be a leader, and many bosses aren’t leaders at all. So, where does the difference lie?
Whereas a boss hands out assignments and is concerned mostly with the outcome of those assignments, a leader is in the trenches with their employees. Guiding employees towards a great outcome, while simultaneously trusting their competency to finish it, is how many great leaders handle projects.
A great leader understands that they may not always be right or the smartest person in the room. They regularly ask for feedback and employee opinions on a number of different office-related topics. A boss, however, gives orders and expects them to be done in a certain way with little to no regard about improving the process or experience.
Everyone stumbles into unknown territory at some point during a project at work. Many bosses will use intimidation to coerce an employee towards the finish line, completely disregarding their fear or apprehension towards their assigned task. Leaders, on the other hand, talk with an employee who is stuck and helps them through to the finish line using empathy and empowering words—most often by reminding the employee what they’re good at and how they can maximize their strengths.
Actions not words make the most difference when it comes to empowering employees. Leaders understand that their behavior and actions are closely watched and they lead by example. Bosses most often feel they operate on a different level than their employees. While they say one thing, they do another, sending signals to their employees that their word is untrustworthy.
All in all, the difference between a boss and a leader is all about attitude and values. The above characteristics promote equality and respect. They show their employees that their work and opinions are valued and important to them and the company. A boss will often sit back and take credit for the work that is done well and scold or intimidate employees who they feel fall short, never taking any accountability.