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When Leadership is Required, Bosses Need not Apply

At some point or another we have all used the terms leader and boss interchangeably but the two are not the same. Both roles may be necessary but they have different functions and objectives and they achieve their goals by totally different means.

Over the years I have come across many examples of bosses and leaders and I have noticed that they exhibit certain shared qualities or characteristics. Here is a chart outlining some of them.

Leaders come in all forms, shapes, and sizes. Don’t just look at your superiors or other people of authority as leaders because a leader can be a fellow colleague or co-worker, a friend, or any other individual that knows how to guide and motivate a group of people and get them to do their best. True leaders don’t need window dressing like an office, title, or any other psychological crutch to lead; instead lead by how they conduct themselves, how they treat and motivate others, and how they transmit their ideas.

Don’t be fooled by that famous phrase, “leaders are born, not made.” That is not true. A person can learn to lead. All leaders are taught, trained, and developed. It takes knowledge, effort, and experience to be a successful leader. All others are only wannabes.

A leader gives direction and sees beyond the day-to-day, they see WHY something has to be done instead of focusing on HOW it has to be done (that is the job of a boss). A leader identifies a need or opportunity and entrusts and empowers their team do the job. Leaders inspire and develop people. Leaders know that when employees excel and grow, they do as well.

One of the most powerful tools a leader has is the ability to listen. A leader doesn’t have to be the smartest or most vocal person in the room, their role is to take in the information available, filter it, and translate it into relevant strategies. The next time you’re in a meeting look around and observe how normally the most vocal person in the room is not the leader. A leader will listen, observe, analyze, and ultimately verbalize. When a leader transmits an idea their words are precise, concise, and actionable.

A leader also incorporates other qualities like humility, respect for others, honesty, consistency, and the desire to mentor. When all these qualities come together, they create a leader that can provide the support, direction, stability, and trust that all employees and companies need.

Just like I have seen many successful leaders, I have also seen quite a few bosses in action. I know that bosses may have very good intentions but generally they fall short with their execution. I have come up with some humorous descriptions of bosses, on purpose, to make them memorable. I am sure that you can come up with a few descriptions of your own. Here are some examples:

  1. The “Do as I say, not as I do” boss: this boss doesn’t set the tone or an example for their subordinates, instead they do whatever they want, because they are the boss, and expect their subordinates to just fall in line.
  2. The “Sinatra” boss: this boss believes in doing things “My Way” and they are not open to feedback, suggestions, or ideas of any kind from others.
  3. The “Intimidator” boss: this boss intimidates subordinates, usually publicly, with threats ranging from belittling their work, official reprimands or even termination.
  4. The “I am the boss” boss: this type of boss thinks their subordinates have very poor memories so they have to be constantly reminding everyone that they are the boss, they are in charge.
  5. The “I can’t get dirty” boss: this boss doesn’t go into the trenches, if needed, with their subordinates. Instead, they just watch while the others work always making sure they never get their hands dirty.
  6. The “I always win” boss: funny how this boss will flip-flop based on the outcome of every situation. This boss finds it hard to make decisions or give opinions for fear of not ending up on the winning side.
  7. The “Spotlight for me, blame for you” boss: many of us have seen this boss in action. This boss is quick to take all the glory but is even quicker to place the blame on others.
  8. The “Projector” boss: watch as how this boss projects their own insecurities and shortcomings on others in order to deflect them away from themselves.
  9. The “You can’t have a better car” boss: it’s hard to believe but I have seen this. This boss doesn’t want their subordinates to have better things than them. One time a boss told a subordinate to trade in their luxury car for a model that was inferior to theirs.
  10. The “Houdini” boss: now you see them, now you don’t. This boss wants to be front and center when everything is running smoothly but when things get difficult or there are “bumps in the road” this boss disappears and passes the responsibility to someone else.
  11. The ”Muppets Show” boss: this boss wants to be surrounded by followers that are easily dominated and controlled. They want to pull all the strings and not let their subordinates think for themselves.
  12. The “Talk, talk” boss: this boss can talk up a storm, tell you everything you want to hear, promise you everything but in the end they never come through when it’s time to deliver.
  13. The “Here’s a fish” boss: this boss creates a dependency by telling people what to do instead of teaching them how to do things so they can be independent and empowered.
  14. The “Window dressing” boss: this type of boss is very common. The need a title, a corner office, an expense account, plus other perks in order to be a boss. Without those things they can’t do their job. The truth is that even with all those things they still can’t do their job.
  15. The “Going in reverse” boss: this type of boss is hard to spot because they are rare. At first they act like leaders but it becomes obvious they have an ulterior motive – to climb the corporate ladder. Once they achieve their target position they become bosses in order to keep their title.
  16. The “Hoarder” boss: these bosses hoard information or details by using the excuse of “need to know basis”.   The truth is they use this tactic as a way of trying to increase their importance to stay in power. They think that y keeping information instead of sharing it they become more powerful. Somebody needs to tell these people they are totally wrong.

Now that you have seen some of the differences between leaders and bosses you should evaluate your own situation. If you are an employee, an authority figure, an executive, or a business owner take stock of where you are and where you want to be. As an employee, do you see anyone around you that is a real leader? It can be a colleague, a superior, or somebody else. Talk to them and ask them to mentor you. Don’t be afraid because the worst thing that can happen is that they say “no”. But if they say “yes” everybody wins. If you are a boss, executive, or anyone else in a position of authority, see how many leadership qualities you currently have and focus on those you can adopt. Be honest with yourself because it is the only way you will be able to grow and develop. If you are a business owner evaluate how you are treating those that work for you. Keep in mind that the better they do, the better your business will do.

Albert Del Rio
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