4 Ways a Leader Differs from a Boss

The art of leading is a tricky one. While everyone in a position of authority knows how to be a boss, not all know how to be a leader. And if you have ever worked for a boss who doesn’t know how to lead, you know just how difficult that can be. It creates an unnecessary environment of positional authority and can be extremely ineffective.

If you are in a position of authority, how do you know if you are being an effective leader or simply being a boss to your subordinates? Here are four ways that leaders set themselves apart from bosses.

Mentors vs. Employs

A boss is in the business of employing others. They assign tasks, give direction, and set deadlines and benchmarks. Bosses assign strict guidelines and tend to think that they know the best way to do the task, which means that there is little room for autonomy.

On the other hand, a leader mentors their teammates. Leaders offer professional development resources, advice, and true connection and collaboration. They trust those they work with to do the work in the best and most effective way, which means that leaders let others have autonomy in their work. Leaders help their teammates develop their skills and give as much as they take.

Listener vs. Talker

The typical idea of a boss tends to include telling you what to do. After all, they are in charge. But a boss who only talks and never listens, is probably not being as effective as he or she can be. If the boss exclusively talks, he or she limits the ideas in the room and the progress that can be made.

Leaders, however, have developed strong listening skills and know when it’s their time to talk or listen. Leaders understand the importance of hearing everyone’s ideas and enable the members of their team to speak those ideas or concerns. Leaders create a safe environment where everyone can contribute.

Vision vs. Completion

If someone is in charge of a project or a team, they probably care about completing that project. The boss puts all focus into the completion and finishing it by the deadline. Unfortunately, completion is all that they care about. Once they finish one project, they move onto the next and tend to forget about the previous one.

Leaders, of course, focus on completing a task, but they go one step further and work towards an overarching vision or goal. They don’t put in work simply to finish something; they put in work to accomplish something. Leaders know how to create a vision that motivates and empowers the rest of the team. When they finish the project, it means something much more than the completion of a project.

Equal vs. Above

A boss uses their positional authority to their advantage. If they need someone to do something for them, they can pull out the “Because I said so!” card, and they know it. They let others know that they are in a position above them and that they do not play on an equal playing field.

A leader doesn’t use their positional authority. In fact, leaders let the team know that everyone is in this together and on the same level. Leaders focus on being equal, rather than above, the team. While a boss may use “I” a lot, leaders use “we” in conversation.


If you are in a position of authority, you can use these marks to ensure that you are on your way to being a leader instead of a boss. When you show leadership tendencies, you can create a better environment for you and your team to accomplish any goal.