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Are you a Boss or a Leader?

I'm always interested in the distinction between a manager and a leader or in old world 'boss'. 

The word 'boss' in this context for me has very negative connotations but is part and parcel of our working lives. 

If we look at the language above to be a 'boss' is automatically associated with bossing someone about and the other words associated below.

  • Order about
  • Give orders
  • Dictate
  • Impose one's will
  • Bully 
  • Push around
  • Domineer

I'm not sure I would like a boss given the above and even though it's only a word the power of association means we have to think carefully about how these roles are perceived but ultimate how we bring the behaviours associated with the role to life.

I came across an interesting article from Inc.com called 'Are you a Boss or a Leader' with 10 characteristics that will help you identify if you (or your 'boss') are having a positive impact on your employees.

Are you a Boss or a Leader?

Is 'Boss' an outdated phrase now?

Do you agree with the characteristics?

Anything more you would add?

I'd be interested in your thoughts and experiences


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  • Some fantastic discussion and recommendations on this thread!

    I came across a lovely quote on Linkedin this week, which I think sums this all up for me (Paraphrasing):

    When I have a discussion with a manager, I feel like he/she is important.

    When I have a discussion with a leader, I feel like I am important. 

  • Great conversation thread and I love that it's been built on over so many months!  Bay and Ingrid I love your contributions, and the Simon Sinek Why, How, What.  Mr S also has a great clip about leaders creating circles of safety which I highly recommend - http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_why_good_leaders_make_you_feel...

    As much as I believe in there being a need to shift away from tell and more into ask, and to shift away from fear-driven into outcome-focussed I don't believe it's all of one or all of another.  I see Management and Leadership being on a continuum along which the person doing the job dances depending on the situation they find themselves in.  In my coaching work I draw from the person sitting opposite me and rarely give them any input or thoughts of my own - that's the deal when they sign up to work with me.  However, as a leader, I don't believe that approach can work all the time.  It can be used alot more than it is now, but I'm not sure about always.  What's different about a great 'Manager' is that they tell / advise AFTER they've first listened and understood. 

    Or they tell when they're talking about what they need in the working relationship with their team - and which the team should be able to do too.  When we feel confident, safe and supported we can assert for our own needs while still considering the needs of others.  If none of us did this in life we'd be like leaves being blown in the wind, at the mercy of the next request that came along, whether it met with what we were focused on or not.  Oh.....maybe we don't assert that much!

    My overall belief is that a manager/leader/boss should be there in service of their team, clearing the organisational rubbish out of their path, developing them to be at their best and enabling them to be confident in their ability to self-solve - in that way they can get on with delivering the outcomes needed for the team's collective success.

    • Thanks for your contribution, Helen. I loved the talk, particularly the distinction between leadership and authority and made a note of the quote, "Leadership is a choice, not a rank." 

      • Pleasure! Glad it's helpful.
  • It's a very interesting discussion. Leadership qualities are so desirable and all the rage at the moment of course.

    In an old fashioned manufacturing environment we still refer to our bosses as bosses, with the possible exception of those who have made it to the dizzy heights of the senior Leadership team. I doubt they very often get referred to as leaders though - just plain old "SLT"!

    You may find it surprising that a common moan is still that SLT don't lead by example, do as we say not as we do, one rule for them another for us.

    (Even though they have all done a "shadow of the leader" course and lots of other leadership training...I am sure they could quote the theory chapter and verse!)

    We offer externally provided personal development programmes to all our managers, including self awareness and leadership training, and we are now rolling it out to "stand in" managers. (I think we may even roll it out to operators sooner or later although it may have to be internally delivered.)

    They all understand the difference between a leader and a manager, yet their own job title is "xxxx manager" and they are expected to lead and manage teams of people. Their staff will still refer to them as the boss. The staff will discuss the differences between a good boss and a rubbish boss. They don't use the term leader to describe their managers.

    I wonder if the term boss will ever be outdated. It doesn't seem to be at our place. The dictionary definitions above would describe a bad boss of course.

    (Just out of interest, has anyone conclusively demonstrated for a manufacturing environment, that a team with a bossy "bad" boss is less productive than a team with a "good" boss? )

    • Our operational, non managerial staff describe themselves as workers rather than followers. (They work for their boss, rather than follow their leader.)

      They would probably associate "leaders" with military or political roles if asked.. or possibly expedition type of scenarios. If asked about the leaders in our SLT I think they would describe them as "functional directors" (I might have to check that now I've written it - haha!)

  • Mike, there is possible inconsistency here. You start of with the statement "the distinction between a manager and a leader or in old world 'boss'" implying that a leader and a boss are synonymous. Yet further on you refer to an article that distinguishes between a boss and a leader, which implies something else. At least to me it does, for it implies that a manager is a boss and not a leader.

    As I say it may just be me, but anyone who tells someone to do something is anything but a leader. And that I think is the nub of the problem in today's workplace. We have environments that are entirely measure driven and consequently managers become bosses (often because they have no choice if they are to meet their own objectives) and as a result we all end up disengaged, hating our managers and bewailing the lack of leadership in the world! That is why I am focusing all my efforts on creating environments that are purpose driven, where everybody has the same end goal and understands their role in it and has a sense of belonging that makes them want to do what is needed without being told. I believe that is ultimately called "distributed leadership" where everybody is enthusiastic engaged and accountable for their own performance.

    For me that stems from the definition of leadership that I stated earlier: "A leader is someone who makes others want what he wants." It is not telling them what he wants. It is not even asking them to do what you want! 


    • Whole heartedly agree Bay....a leader is someone who brings people together for a shared purpose and goal. I love the Simon Sinek talk - How great leaders inspire action. The golden circle as he calls it - perhaps managers all to often focus on the what and the how where as a good leader starts with the why. People buy what you believe. 

      Love this video.

      • Great talk from Simon! Get the point across with the right amount of passion:)

  • Mike, my immediate reaction: SERVANT LEADER

    Went on to the Inc. website (via my login and the Online Journals on the CIPD website, as Inc. is subscription based) and found the following article which gives a good impression of the meaning of the term

    Leigh Buchanan, In Praise of Selflessness: Why the best Leaders are Servants. In: Inc., May 2007, Vol. 29, Issue 5.

    The essence is: Employees' happiness and satisfaction is no.1.

    One of the people he quotes is Wolfskehl who, in the weekly meetings of his brain child Action Print First, was used to telling his employees what to do. He says that his epiphany arrived after he read "Change Your Questions, Change Your Life" by Marilee G. Adams, who advises leaders to stop telling and start asking. (Yes, a copy of this book is on its way to me, Ingrid, courtesy of amazon.co.uk)

    Buchanan continues: "The prospect of upending the dynamic at his company scared him (Wolfskehl, that is - Ingrid). "I worried that everyone was going to tell me all the things I was doing wrong," he says. But Wolfskehl steeled himself, and at one meeting he opened the floodgates with these words: "Today we're going to start talking about your problems and how I can help you." "Once I started asking how I could help, amazing things started happening in my organization," he says. "In a two-year period, we had a 30-plus percent improvement in productivity. The solution was so obvious. It's just sad that it took me 15 years to get there."

    Intrigued? My suggestion: Read the article & the book!

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