Quality of leadership in relation to employees is a key differentiating factor behind the success of any organisation. In business, there’s no better feeling than being able to lead and inspire people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t.
The best leaders are typically self-aware, honest and willing to adapt for the sake of the entire group. Quality leadership exhibited to employees motivates them to do better.
Though often used interchangeably to mean the same thing, not all bosses are influential leaders. This distinction comes down to the characteristics of these two personalities.
Today’s article seeks to uncover some of these distinctions and give some pointers on how to be a more influential leader.
Who is a leader?
A leader is an individual in a management position who possesses the ability to influence and guide others by example. Leaders typically hold a dominant position with a vision to stay committed to an organisation’s goals.
Leaders typically have unique qualities such as: taking responsibility, great communication, influencing, appreciation, and foresightedness.
Who is a boss?
A boss is usually an individual in charge of an organisation. A boss takes control of employees and assigns tasks and duties to them.
In a company, the term ‘boss’ usually indicates a person who’s the owner of the organisation, or appointed as head of the organisation, unit or division. As such, a boss can be a director, supervisor, manager, or anyone working in senior management.
What is the difference between a leader and a boss?
The differences between a leader and a boss can be categorised based on the following metrics:
Authority and Influence
Leaders focus on influencing, mentoring, motivating, and enabling others to contribute toward organisational success. In addition, leaders are actively involved in guiding employees to grow and foster problem-solving abilities to add value to a company.
On the other hand, a boss is focused on results and less concerned with influencing and mentorship. They typically push staff whilst setting unrealistic standards and targets. As such, they rarely show empathy or the willingness to inspire change as a leader does.
Influential leaders spend time giving an audience to their employees. They typically understand the value of seeking the opinions of others whilst making decisions. They also praise and appreciate employees and are open to constructive criticism.
On the other hand, bosses tend to dominate conversations with employees. They expect them to listen and execute their commands with minimal or no direction. Essentially, they have no room for constructive criticism for the company’s betterment.
Leaders work in collaboration with employees to get the best results they can as a group. This involves iteratively asking for their input during the decision-making process. In essence, effective leaders are always hands-on whilst brainstorming with employees on the team to devise innovative solutions.
On the other side of the coin, bosses tend to be alpha and omega when it comes to decision-making. They aren’t usually open to getting input from employees, or even making iterative revisions when needed.
Focus on development
Leaders focus on development by creating value by setting an example. Leaders strive for change in their organisations by using their resourcefulness to get their teams the tools they need to thrive. They can sense stress and discontentment and transform it with positivity and passion.
In stark contrast, a boss mainly focuses on counting value than employee development. They don’t leave room for constructive criticism and expect employees to know what they are doing. Or to simply figure it out, which could cause them to disengage.
Attitude towards failure
Whenever a team fails, an effective leader takes the responsibility to figure out what went wrong before moving to blame other people. They know that project failures may relate to the workplace culture, existing systems, or a lack of oversight on their side. So, always seek to establish failures causes to find effective ways to address employees.
On the other hand, a boss typically distances himself from project failures and is quick to point fingers. This typically creates an atmosphere of fear and tension that consequently affects employee morale.
Why leadership matters?
Leadership plays a crucial role in determining the success of an organisation, as it impacts aspects of employee engagement, team morale, retention, and organisational culture. For example:
Impact on employee engagement and productivity
Whenever employees feel their leaders are actively invested in their success, they’re more likely to be motivated to be more productive. Good leaders can easily inspire their employees to go the extra mile, in contrast to bosses – as they create a work environment where employees feel valued and supported.
A Boss-like approach may lead to disengagement and lower productivity, as employees may feel that their contributions aren’t appreciated or that their work is not meaningful.
Team morale and cohesion
A great leader who fosters a positive team culture and encourages open communication during collaboration whilst celebrating employee successes can help create a cohesive and supportive team environment.
This, in turn, may help to build trust and increase morale, leading to better teamwork and more successful outcomes. However, a boss who is not supportive of team members may create a toxic work environment that can lead to low morale and team dysfunction.
Retention and talent attraction
Good leadership can attract top talent to an organisation whilst also retaining current employees by creating a positive work environment and offering opportunities for growth and development.
However, if leadership is poor and turnover rates are high, potentially talented candidates may be discouraged from joining the organisation and current employees may seek opportunities elsewhere.
Organisational culture and success
A great leader sets the tone for the organisation by embodying its core values and vision to help create a positive culture that drives success.
In contrast, a boss might not prioritise or re-echo company values via his lack of compassionate leadership characteristics, thus leading to a disorganised, low-morale and dysfunctional company that struggles to achieve its goals.
Practical tips for becoming a better leader
Good leadership can create a positive work environment that inspires employees and drives success. This is the reason why major organisations across the globe invest in leadership training programs. Here are some practical tips on how to become a better leader.
Set clear expectations and goals
True effective leaders frequently communicate their expectations whilst working alongside their employees, as their actions are aimed at achieving goals collaboratively. This is the distinction between inspiring employees and losing their respect.
Provide regular feedback and coaching
Successful leaders not only share constructive criticism and encouragement but also listen to feedback and questions. They essentially know that every employee they work with has something valuable to input, and they ensure their voices are heard.
Recognise and reward success
Effective leaders praise their employees and reward the time and effort they take in advancing their knowledge to benefit the company’s goals. These rewards can come in the form of promotions, financial bonuses or even a trip to a spa or a weekend getaway.
Lead by example
Influential leaders have to get “into the trenches” with their employees. Such leaders take practical initiative, whilst bosses tend to give orders and “supervise” from the sidelines.
This management style may hurt team motivation, collaboration and creativity. Whenever teams see that a leader is as invested in a project as they are, it can inspire them to do their best work.
Promote work-life balance and employee well-being
Capable leaders focus on making positive changes in relationships via an excellent work-life balance. They understand that employees are human beings with different personalities who need a human touch. In essence, they understand that business outcomes need to be balanced with relationships.
Continuously adjusting your approach
As a leader, you want your team members to know that their work matters and that it will lead them somewhere. This is the ideal scenario, as everyone will consequently feel like they’re making an impact on the company’s success.
However, achieving this requires continuously adjusting one’s management approach to get everyone engaged in what they’re doing so that everyone can feel part of something big.
Adopt a growth mindset
Businesses in today’s dynamic business landscape must be agile to succeed long-term. As such, effective leaders create strong teams with a thriving culture of innovation that focuses on continual growth. A growth mindset is not only open to new ideas but actively seeking them out.
Improve communication skills
Some of the best leaders are great communicators. They communicate in a way that is easy to understand and use language that is simple and clear. Leaders don’t have to talk like a professor or CEO. Rather, they can use language that’s more casual and conversational whilst being clear with employees.
The key here is not being too technical or formal— especially, if you want employees’ attention. Furthermore, practice listening (and remembering) what other people have said before instead of interrupting them or calling their ideas into question.
Encourage employee autonomy and decision-making
Leaders continually motivate their employees whilst encouraging autonomy in decision-making. In essence, this trust can ensure that employees feel valued whilst inspiring them to follow their leader’s example.
Foster a supportive and inclusive environment
Good leaders ensure to treat every team member equally, without bias or giving one person’s ideas more weight than everyone else on the team. Strong leaders ensure not to take personal preferences get in the way of ensuring a dynamic and inclusive environment.
Develop emotional intelligence
Great leaders are emotionally balanced and stick to the values they hold dear, with a continual drive to be excellent. This emotional balance allows them to instil these same values into their employees, not by force, but through influence.
How to assess your current management style?
Self-reflection and evaluation
To ensure that you’re a leader who effectively leads subordinates and guides them in different matters, you need to evaluate your management style continuously.
Being a boss or leader is a matter of psychology. So, self-reflect if you’re too strict with the employees to get things done. Or if you’re a good listener and positively supportive to boost employees’ morale occasionally.
Gathering feedback from employees and peers
Gather feedback from your peers to determine if you’re pushing employees rather than directing them. This management style typically forces employees to work without guidance and overcome unrealistic expectations whilst their manager hides behind a wall of inaction.
Overall, leaders should be open-minded enough to admit when they’re wrong or unsure about something. This attitude allows employees to feel comfortable voicing their opinion without fear of being judged harshly by others.
Identifying areas for improvement
An effective leader always seeks ways to self-improve in order to persuade employees to act in a specific manner. They are never shy to learn new things to achieve the goals of the organisation.
Good leaders are self-aware, honest, and willing to adapt for the sake of the entire group. They recognise that every leader is different and will have different strengths and weaknesses. As a result, they don’t try to be something they’re not. Instead, they work on becoming better versions of themselves.
All things considered, effective leadership is a skill. It’s something you can learn, practice and continually improve over time.
Leadership is not just about authoritative positioning, it’s also about effectively leading in that positioning. In contrast to being a boss, effective leaders are people with the psychological ability to inspire and lead others to get the best results.
Growth Academy’s virtual leadership development programs provide managers with a safe and comfortable learning space to learn without the constraints of physical interaction.
Co-founder and Managing Director
Stuart Harris, co-founder of Growth Academy Asia, has a vast background in corporate events and learning & development. As co-founder and managing director at Team Building Asia, Stuart has developed a large network of international clients over the past 20 years and brought an innovative perspective to the more traditional elements of team building, which lead to the founding Growth Academy Asia. With GAA, he aspires to disrupt the L&D industry with the immersive VR organisational and leadership programmes.