10 habits that separate a ‘leader’ from a ‘boss’

22nd Mar 2017
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John C Maxwell said that “a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” On the other hand, a boss is one who thinks he knows the way and marches his employees down it while relaxing in a comfortable chair.

The pointy-haired boss from Scott Adam's Dilbert comic is perhaps the best example of a stereotypical manager. He is portrayed as a clueless yet demanding character who couldn't care less about things like employee morale or work culture. Leaders, meanwhile, are people like Jack Ma and Elon Musk who empower thousands of people to work towards a collective goal. They lead by example and work harder than their employees. While the distinction between them is quite clear, here's a list of ten habits that explain what separates a leader from a boss:

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Praise more than they criticise

Leaders know that inculcating a positive atmosphere in the workplace results in increased motivation and productivity. A good leader is quick to praise employees for their work, and criticism, when deserved, is always meted out in private. Publicly admonishing an employee not only discourages them, but also everyone else in the company.

Take the blame but share the credit

Bosses will always look to blame employees for mistakes while taking credit for any good work for themselves. Leaders, on the other hand, do the exact opposite. They recognise the importance of every individual's contribution to making something happen and they make sure that their employees are aware of their importance to the company. Leaders also don’t hesitate to take blame when the need for it arises.

Ask for opinions

Bosses think that asking opinions from employees undermines their leadership. But leaders don't shy away from seeking advice from those who report to them. By asking employees to come up with suggestions and ideas of their own, leaders not only create an inclusive work atmosphere, they also discover new perspectives that they might not have gained otherwise.

Talk less, do more

Actions speak louder than words. Leaders understand the truth of this adage while bosses do not. A boss will spend most of their time talking about a ‘great plan’ that will solve a problem while a leader will actively attempt to solve said problem.

Never lose sight of the details

A leader understands the importance of every detail, no matter how small, and works to make sure that everything is perfect. They aren't distracted by the ‘big picture’; of course, the end goal must be kept in mind, but without faultless, incremental work, that goal will never be realised.

Create order out of chaos

Managing other people is a chaotic activity. Problems often arise faster than they are solved and they often arrive in droves. A leader is adept at creating an orderly set of actions that need to be taken in the face of overwhelming confusion. A boss, meanwhile, will unload the burden on the employees and expect them to come up with a solution.

Are confident, not arrogant

There is a thin line separating confidence from arrogance and leaders know exactly where it lies. They are assured of their capabilities but never let that get to their head. They know that there are others who are more talented and successful than they are. This quality of being self-confident without being arrogant is what instils trust in a leader.

Logic dictates their actions

It's common for bosses to bear personal grudges against employees and treat them unjustly for no reason. Leaders, on the other hand, act based on rational thought; they don't allow emotions to cloud their judgement and every decision they take is based on sound logic. This doesn't mean that their decisions are completely devoid of emotion. For example, an employee requesting a leave for a pressing reason is granted the leave by a leader not only because it is the considerate thing to do, but not doing so would result in the employee gaining a negative view of the company, thereby damaging his or her productivity and motivation.

Don't micro-manage

While focusing on details is important, shadowing employees’ every move is not the way to do it. Bosses and leaders both tell their employees what needs to be done but bosses micro-manage the work by dictating how it should be done and asking for frequent updates. Leaders, however, give a clear idea to employees of what is expected from them and then give them space to do their jobs. This gives a sense of ownership and responsibility to employees, and the lack of a controlling authority has proven to be better for morale.

Lead by example

Setting a good example is the one thing that first separates a leader from a boss. If the company is in dire straits and longer work hours need to be put in to meet targets, a boss will delegate the work to employees and go home while a leader will stay with the employees and work alongside them. Management tries to enforce culture while leadership creates it by exemplifying the culture every day.

If you're working in a managerial role, following these habits will transform you from an infuriating boss to a likeable and trustworthy leader. And this results in better work being produced, not only from your employees, but from you as wells.

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