Boss vs. Leader: How to Be Both

Just because someone is a boss, does not mean they are a leader. Though these terms are often used interchangeably, they are actually quite different. A boss manages employees and ensures that daily operations run smoothly, while a leader motivates employees and helps them reach their goals. Leaders find the perfect balance between managing and encouraging. 

Being promoted to boss is a huge responsibility and it can be challenging  to find this perfect balance. However, effective leadership is essential to higher performance, increased productivity, and better employee morale so it is important for bosses to strive to be great leaders. There are crucial differences between bosses and leaders so it’s important to analyze your leadership style to ensure you are steering your team towards success. 

1. Bosses command; leaders influence. 

A bosses primary role is to make sure that employees are following the rules of the organization and completing their tasks on time. A boss instructs others on what to do, but a leader inspires others to find the best solutions. Subordinates follow their boss because they have to, but they follow leaders because they want to. While a boss commands orders and assigns tasks, a leader influences employees by caring for them, listening to them, and encouraging them. 

2. Bosses explain; leaders inspire. 

A boss often explains a task and then hands it over to employees for completion. A leader, on the other hand, supports and guides employees through the process.  A good leader does far more than explain the parameters of a project. They inspire their people and make them excited about their work. 

3. Bosses delegate; leaders mentor.

A boss is focused on the company’s objectives and follows a strict protocol to achieve their desired results. They are focused on short-term goals and they tend to micromanage their employees to make sure things are done a certain way. Leaders, on the other hand, trust their employees to get things done their own way and they offer support as needed. Leaders focus on the strengths and weaknesses of their employees to mentor them and guide them through their shortcomings. 

4. Bosses are above the team; leaders are part of the team. 

Bosses are notorious for putting themselves on a pedestal and thinking of themselves as “higher” than their employees. They don’t take the time to get to know their employees the same way that leaders do and they don’t view their employees as equal contributors. Leaders, however, get to know their team members and seek to connect with them on a personal level. Great leaders are willing to get their hands dirty and work alongside their team members rather than commanding orders from the top. 

How to Be Both a Boss and Leader

To be a good boss and leader, incorporate specific behaviors such as thoughtfulness, communication, and empathy. Set clear expectations for your team and then work alongside them to guide them toward reaching their goals. Here are a few ways to be a better leader:


  • Provide your team with the tools they need to do their job well.
  • Provide helpful feedback and support on a regular basis.
  • Provide challenging, meaningful work.
  • Communicate regularly with your employees and encourage them to share concerns or feedback. 
  • Encourage them to think on their feet.
  • Model the behavior you want your employees to display.
  • Listen and be empathetic toward your employees.