Leaders vs Bosses: What’s the Difference?

by | Leadership

Leaders vs Bosses: What’s the Difference?
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Leaders and bosses – people often use the two titles interchangeably to describe someone who manages a group of individuals, typically in a business environment. But in reality, each title carries different meanings. Sometimes it’s great to be a boss. Other times leadership may serve a situation better. It’s worth understanding the nuances.

What are the qualities of a boss?


1A person who is in charge of a worker or organization.
‘her boss offered her a promotion’

1.1 A person in control of a group or situation.
‘does he see you as a partner, or is he already the boss?’”

Oxford English Dictionary

A boss is someone with authority and command over a person, group, or scenario. Usually, they are focused on achieving goals and creating results.

Bosses face similar challenges as managers – their ultimate goal is to achieve the best outcomes through the allocation of time, people, and company resources, which are often limited in supply. Even Urban Dictionary can tell you that a boss is someone who gets *stuff* done.

The most important qualities of a boss include:

  • Efficiency – Bosses typically work with a time and budget constraint and attempt to get the most out of their capital. They value their employees based on how much they can do per hour.
  • Authority – Bosses exert control and power over their team through their position and title. Assigned tasks are typically enforced through fear of certain consequences, whether its demotion or severance.
  • Productivity – Bosses focus on getting things done and generating results- such as greater profits or new customers. Businesses are ultimately measured based on how much they can do in a single hour.

What are the qualities of a leader?


1 The person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.

‘the leader of a protest group’



1 Cause (a person or animal) to go with one by holding them by the hand, a halter, a rope, etc. while moving forward.

‘she emerged leading a bay horse’”

Oxford English Dictionary

While bosses manage, leaders lead. It may seem like a minor distinction, but it’s important. Leading involves guiding and directing others, usually taking the same journey alongside them. Instead of issuing orders, leaders empower.

Bosses and leaders are both concerned about getting results, but their approaches vary. Some articulate it by noting that bosses focus on improving the process, while leaders focus on developing the people.

Leaders do what they do with:

  • Teamwork – Leaders may sound like someone who tells people what to do, but they are actually great followers and listeners as well. Great leadership is as much about building a cohesive team.
  • Inspiration – Leaders don’t just demand action, they inspire action. The difference is that they coach and encourage team members to think and act independently. Leaders believe inspired team members have greater potential.
  • Courage – Leaders may be forced to make difficult decisions or take responsibility for others. They stand out from the crowd because they can make the choices no one else can.

What’s the difference between a leader and a boss?

Check out this video for the differences between a leader and a boss from Entrepreneur.

If you want to know how to be a leader instead of just a boss, take note of these key differences:

Giving Orders vs. Giving Directions – Bosses assign tasks and order people around. Leaders provide direction and inspiration for teams to act on their own.

Process vs. People – Bosses find efficiencies by improving processes. Leaders find efficiencies by developing teams of people and their unique skillset.

Short Term vs. Long Term – Bosses focus on daily or monthly results. Leaders focus on the yearly progress and long-term futures.

And browse through this infographic for more differences between the two titles.

Becoming a good leader

Leadership doesn’t always come from the top. It can come from the middle ranks and even lower levels of an organization. There are about as many versions of leadership as can be dreamed up, but one well-respected framework defines five distinct levels of leadership. At the end of the day though, leadership is more of a mindset for how to engage with others than anything else. It also involves knowing when to speak up and when to stay silent and listen. Leadership can certainly make you “a boss,” but being a boss doesn’t make one a leader.

For more information and resources on developing leadership skills, visit Expansive’s blog today.

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