Boss vs. Leader: Which One Are You?

boss vs leader

Leadership is when an organization’s business processes are aligned with its vision and mission. True leaders inspire others to be their best while providing clarity, purpose and guiding people to realize their set objectives. Unfortunately, not everyone in a leadership position is a good leader. A recent study by Robert Half reveals that about 49% of all professionals surveyed left their company due to a bad boss. As a leader, it’s essential to understand the distinction of “boss vs. leader” and understand how you can offer effective leadership that inspires, regardless of your official title. This piece focuses on the difference between a boss and a leader and how you can improve your leadership skills.

What Are the Characteristics of a Boss?

Almost every professional will work with a boss they don’t like in the course of their career. From making unreasonable demands and micromanaging teams to blaming others for their mistakes and taking credit for someone else’s accomplishment, bad bosses can make your workplace a nightmare. If you want to be a better leader, you have to understand the following traits of a bad boss and avoid them:


A boss uses their authority to micromanage their teams and other employees working below them. Aside from causing anxiety and stress in the workplace, micromanaging prevents your employees from demonstrating creativity and innovativeness in projects. It also kills enthusiasm for projects and leads to talent attrition because employees generally dislike being micromanaged. There are many methods to achieve tasks, and just because an employee is doing it differently doesn’t mean they are wrong. Learn to trust your team and give them room to be innovative and creative.

One-Way Communication

Lack of effective communication in the workplace impacts productivity, efficiency and resource utilization. When you fail to communicate enough with your teams, you cause confusion and frustration. One-way communication is characterized by a lack of clear instructions about a project and failure to provide feedback after completing a task. Inadequate communication also hurts productivity because employees will have to consult you during project implementation. A good leader provides all the information the employees need at the beginning of every project while ensuring they get constant feedback on an ongoing project.

Blames Others

A bad boss lacks personal accountability and won’t have qualms about blaming someone else whenever something goes wrong. They also alter rules or office policies to shift blame onto others for their own mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, and influential leaders look for solutions such as offering more training or changing jobs to minimize the damage of those mistakes.

Poor Listener

A bad boss never listens to the suggestions of others because they believe they already know it all and don’t need alternative ideas. Even if you are an expert on the subject, this is a bad approach — the best leaders, of course, are always learning.
When people in leadership positions fail to listen, the results are often disastrous. A boss who doesn’t listen demoralizes their employees because they have no way of motivating and showing them that they care and value their contributions. Also, a leader who doesn’t listen believes communication is all about talking and will keep talking down to those they lead without giving them a chance to give their views.

Takes Undue Credit

Bad managers typically take all credit for accomplishments coming from their team. Bad bosses expect their teams to work hard to make them shine. Such an attitude kills enthusiasm and creativity in teams and impacts productivity–since employees don’t feel appreciated for their efforts.


If employees regard you as unapproachable when they have work-related or even personal issues, that’s a sign that you are a bad boss. Bad bosses typically put up a wall between them and those they supervise, which ultimately leads to workplace issues. When you are unapproachable, you won’t be effective at mentoring or resolving issues at work. This may also make it a challenge for you to get critical feedback from employees.

A Sense of Entitlement

An organization works better when there is team spirit and collective responsibility. A good leader serves their subordinates and nurtures them toward their goals. However, a bad boss expects to be served by those below them while demanding things that you haven’t necessarily earned, such as praise, a pay raise or reward.

What Are the Characteristics of a Leader?

A true leader brings people together to get things done. They don’t rely on their power and authority over others but on their team’s genuine trust, skills and competencies. A good leader builds trust with those they lead while facilitating collaboration and nurturing a team spirit that rallies everyone to support one another to reach a common goal.

The following are some of the characteristics of a genuine leader:


Ethical leadership is more than avoiding corporate crime. An ethical leader treats everyone fairly while creating an environment that encourages employees to do the right thing. As a leader, you are a role model, and it is your duty to develop organizational values and model them. This means that you have to design and align your morals, be a champion of ethics, establish a clear code of conduct and lead by example.

A Good Communicator

Effective leadership goes hand in hand with effective communication. A good leader has mastered the art of communication and will balance between listening to and communicating with a range of people across roles in an organization. The quality and effectiveness of communication in your organization directly impacts the success of your business strategy.

Empowers Others

While bosses command, leaders inspire and empower others. A good leader will go out of the way to teach employees why and how to do what needs to be done. They will delegate tasks and offer to coach and mentor—closing any existing skill gaps. As a leader, it is your responsibility to understand the diverse skills and backgrounds of your teammates and provide the tools and mentoring needed to build capacity among them.


Strong and excellent leaders are accountable for their results and those of their teams, whether good or bad. Holding yourself and your employees responsible for their actions is an effective way to create a sense of responsibility. In essence, accountability in leadership means giving credit where it is due and taking responsibility for blame where necessary. Being accountable and leading by example is an effective way to build trust with your team.


When you are in a position of power and authority over others, it can be tempting to feel entitled instead of acting with humility. However, exceptional leadership focuses on team dynamics more than self-promotion. A good leader cannot be effective if they focus solely on themselves rather than on the well-being of their team. Being humble and approachable with your team makes you more relatable and compelling.

Delegate Duties

Some leaders are used to doing all the work themselves while struggling to let their teammates handle some of their responsibilities. However, great leaders go out of their way to elevate their team and delegate some of their core responsibilities to their teammates–providing their team with all the resources needed to succeed. A leader who delegates duties is not scared of their junior staff’s success and doesn’t feel threatened by them in any way. When you delegate responsibilities, you allow your team to shine while ensuring more work is accomplished within a shorter time.

Open-Minded and Creative

Being an excellent leader means being open to new ideas and perspectives from others. Good leaders understand that there are several ways to accomplish tasks. They are more willing to change how things are done and bring in new talent that inspires new ideas. They also listen to their team and are more inclined to adjust their strategy where necessary.

What Separates a Boss from a Leader?

There are primary characteristics that differentiate a boss from a leader:

A leader focuses on sustainable solutions while a boss prefers quick fixes: A boss teaches subordinates what to do while a leader shows them how and why to do it. Leaders strive to make learning sustainable and transferable to workplace situations, while bosses cultivate an environment of over-reliance and micro-management.

Leaders have a higher emotional quotient than bosses: While a boss is the subject matter expert, leaders are emotional and people experts. Great leaders are very sensitive but good at controlling their reactions.

A boss manages work while a leader leads people: A boss seeks to control people and push them to accomplish given goals. Leaders influence, inspire and motivate others to contribute to organizational success. They seek to inspire rather than control.

A boss commands while a leader listens and speaks: Bosses give orders while expecting their subordinates to listen and obey. Leaders always listen to the opinions of everyone, regardless of their titles. Basically, bosses talk more than they listen, while leaders listen more than they talk.

A boss criticizes while a leader encourages: Although constructive criticism is healthy, constant and undeserved criticism can discourage a person. An outstanding leader balances between constructive criticism and deliberate efforts to reward employees whenever they excel at a task.

A boss creates circles of power while a leader creates more leaders: A boss hogs all the power and authority bestowed on them while eliminating perceived forms of competition. A leader creates other leaders by delegating duties and providing resources. They also strive to motivate and inspire employees–enabling them to grow, improve skills and assume leadership roles.

What is a Leader?

In any organization, the characteristics of the people in charge correlate to their ability to accomplish given tasks. Their traits also influence the much or the little their followers achieve. A leader finds ways to balance business foresight, character and performance. They are visionary, ethical, humble and accountable.

True leaders focus on changing their organizations, creating something new and making a difference in people’s lives. Leaders understand that when you put people first and help them develop their potential, profits come naturally.

If you need help to become a better leader, contact Building Champions today. Building Champions is a leadership development firm providing coaching and leadership training to teams, individual contributors, managers, executives and c-suite leaders. We believe that better humans make better leaders, and our coaching and training focuses on both business and life. Contact us today to learn more.


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