Leadership Explained: The Distinction Between Bosses and Leaders

Last Updated on Feb 14, 2023

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    When you see the term “boss vs. leader” you’re probably wondering if there’s really a difference. They both do the same thing…lead a team, right? Wrong!

    The significant difference between the two is in how they lead and it shows in the results.

    Join us as we examine the difference between a boss and a leader, their key characteristics, and how each impacts their team and clients. 

    Let’s get started!

    Key Takeaways

    • Leaders encourage and motivate while bosses reprimand and praise.
    • Bosses control and assign tasks, while leaders entrust their teams and guide them.
    • True leaders are open to learning and growing whereas bosses believe they have all the answers and knowledge in their field.
    • Good leaders foster relationships with clients and team members while bosses manage client expectations.
    • Bosses set unrealistic expectations and communicate commands, while leaders communicate and discuss tasks and expectations.

    Who Is a Boss?

    The best way to understand this is to imagine a pyramid. Each level of the pyramid represents a stage of the employment hierarchy. 

    At the very top of the pyramid is the boss—the one who controls all employees, assigning tasks to everyone.

    The boss is not only in charge of the entire operation but is ultimately responsible for its success or failure.

    Who Is a Leader?

    That sounds pretty normal, right? And where does a leader fit into a business? 

    A leader essentially has the same responsibilities that a boss has, but is more involved in the operation of the business. 

    Leaders pave a path for their team to follow.

    —Tony Robbins

    He (or she) uses inspiration and influence to guide their team. By setting an example for the employees, he leads the team toward a common goal. 

    9 Differences Between a Boss and a Leader

    For a long time, many people believed that a boss and leader were mutually exclusive concepts. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s examine the leader vs. boss difference and see which traits set them apart. 

    1. Reprimands and Praise

    In many businesses led by a boss, fear and stress are the order of the day. Employees are too afraid to take initiative for fear of being reprimanded if it doesn’t work out as planned. Their ideas are also seldomly acknowledged or praised.

    Leaders, on the other hand, understand that encouragement and praise inspire growth. By recognizing the small achievements of each team member, they’ll collectively aim for better. 

    The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority

    —Kenneth H. Blanchard

    Praise, appreciation, and encouragement keep the team motivated to keep improving and striving for the best results. 

    2. Control and Entrusting

    Since a boss shoulders the responsibilities of the business, they often lead by controlling their staff members—time demands and high expectations of performance are perfect examples of this. Again, this contradicts the ultimate goal as staff members are less inclined to perform as expected.

    Sparking enthusiasm and encouraging better performance, leaders entrust their team members with responsibilities. Leaders still hold the greater chunk of the responsibility, but by engaging the team, they’re more inclined to perform better—working harder toward a common goal of success.

    When looking at the characteristics of a boss vs. a leader, many would say this tops the list of requirements. 

    Many employees report that having a boss setting unrealistic expectations is a surefire way to demotivate the team. These demands often lead to unnecessary stress and a desire to seek new employment. 

    By approaching tasks with a realistic perspective, leaders prioritize the team’s development over the results. This perspective is a significant encouragement to achieve the best results. 

    3. Delegate and Communicating

    That said, the outcome of the shared duties also comes from how they’re communicated. This is a common boss vs. leader trait.

    A boss is more inclined to convey commands or orders than to communicate with the staff. They seldom allow a chance to discuss the instruction and work through any possible challenges—leaving the employees to fumble around in the dark. 

    When leaders distribute tasks, they’re open to discussing the expectations and any potential challenges and finding a solution. A good leader allows colleagues a chance to voice their opinions, providing support as needed.

    Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.

    —Seth Godin

    A good team leader understands that taking the time to discuss concerns and work through queries is beneficial for the company’s success. 

    With a clear understanding of potential pitfalls or delays, the informed boss or leader can manage client expectations better.

    4. Developed and Developing

    A significant difference in the comparison of a boss vs. a leader is how they approach development. 

    You’ll often find that bosses believe to have all the answers and knowledge in their field. In most cases, they believe themselves to be experts in the industry with nothing more to learn. 

    They’ve already reached the top, why bother trying to develop any further?

    Leaders have a growth mindset, are always keen to learn about new ways of doing things, and constantly improve themselves. They’re excited to try new methods, to test new theories, and learning from their peers. A great leader aims to stay abreast of any changes to their industry and is ready to change as needed.

    After all, how can you ensure that your team remains the best at what they do if you don’t?

    5. Expectation and Teaching

    Speaking of learning, let’s discuss professional experience. This is another notable belief between a leader vs. a boss. 

    Many bosses believe that employees with years of experience have greater value than those who don’t. They expect their staff to walk into a position, knowing everything they need to deliver what’s required, even though it’s a new environment. 

    My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.

    —Steve Jobs

    Leaders are also effective teachers, helping their team members obtain the skills they need to produce the best work possible. By taking the time to train employees, they show a level of patience and willingness to communicate that few bosses have. 

    By laying the foundation for further development, leaders encourage their team members to learn new skills and, ultimately, work toward leadership roles themselves. 

    6. Staff and Team

    A significant difference between a boss vs. a leader is how they treat their employees. 

    When led by a boss, the team’s success is seen as the boss’. With a leader, the team’s success belongs to the unit. The difference lies in how each one reacts to that success, do they share it or take it and run?

    7. Competition and Legacy

    Picture this: You’ve spent months or years working closely with someone you saw great potential in, watching them develop the skills they need to advance. After some time they decide to leave your business for a better opportunity or maybe to try out on their own. 

    How do you react? Are you proud to have played a part in their development and excited to see what lies ahead? Or are you angry and feeling betrayed at the loss of your valued protégé?

    A boss focuses on what their competition is doing in order to stay ahead. Leaders remain aware of their competition but focus on developing their legacy. Bosses want to remain at the top, leaders want to see their team thrive!

    8. Short-term and Long-term Solutions

    A final key characteristic of a boss vs. a leader is their focus. When presented with a challenge is the focus on finding a solution right now? Or getting to the root of the problem to find a long-term solution?

    The former explains the mindset of a boss. When facing a challenge, they often seek to find the immediate answer in effort of wrapping up the project and keeping the client happy. The focus is on a favorable outcome and company profits. Unfortunately, this is also often at the professional expense of those they’re overseeing. 

    Successful leaders see the opportunities in every difficulty rather than the difficulty in every opportunity.

    —Reed Markham

    Now leaders, on the other hand, work with their colleagues to identify the root of the problem before finding a solution. Their focus is on how they can prevent this issue in the future and how they can help their team prepare to handle it should it occur again. 

    They stay on track with their team and their goals. While the aim remains to keep clients happy and coming back with repeat business, they always work toward the betterment of the business. Long-term solutions that make a significant difference in operations are the key to a more profitable future. 

    The Impact a Boss or Leader Has on a Company

    The characteristics of a boss vs. a leader have a significant impact on the company they run, especially on the team and clients. Here are the most notable outcomes:

    Team or Employees

    When led by a boss, employees are often treated as a commodity. As a result, they take little pride in the success of the company. It’s a steady paycheck while they remain on the lookout for a better opportunity. 

    A boss demands blind obedience; a leader earns his authority through understanding and trust.

    —Klaus Balkenhol

    Leaders, on the other hand, build relationships with their team members. They’re interested in each member’s life, care about challenges and celebrate successes. As a result, the team is more invested in the company, taking pride in the work they produce. 


    Bosses often have an outcome mindset, this shows in client relations too. Tell them what you want from their business and they’ll deliver before moving on to the next. The focus is often on the end result and the financial reward. 

    When you work with a business with strong leadership, you’ll see passion in the outcome. For a business leader, it’s not only about delivering what you want, but making sure you’re happy enough to continue the relationship. They understand the importance of quality and passion.

    Are You a Boss or a Leader?

    When looking at the characteristics of a boss vs. a leader, which one are you?

    With the level of competition in the marketplace today, you may find yourself under immense pressure to produce extraordinary results. The fact is that how you do that is determined by your leadership style

    Whether you’re happy with the results of your team’s performance or not, there’s always room for improvement. Here are a few questions to help you determine if you’re a boss or a leader and which changes you should make.

    1. Do I talk or listen more?
    2. Do I inspire or strike fear?
    3. Am I open to continuously learning?
    4. Do I offer equal opportunities?
    5. Do I focus on short-term answers or long-term solutions?
    6. Do I allow room for mistakes or expect perfection?
    7. Do I help my team discover talents or only hire those with experience?
    8. Am I willing to train my team when needed?
    9. Do I hold myself to the same standards as my team?

    You’ll Get Out What You Put in

    Leadership style doesn’t only matter in the way you run your business, but how the companies you associate with run theirs. A good leader understands that you’ll get out what you put into your team.

    So why not associate your business with a team that’s not only invested in their own growth but yours too? That’s exactly what you’ll get when you work with Grassroots Content. Our leaders have created a team who goes the extra mile to see all our clients succeed.
    After all, if you succeed, so do we! So contact us today and see how your business can benefit from our team and great leadership.