Boss vs Leader: What's the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 8 October 2022

Published 22 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Bosses and leaders are both individuals responsible for overseeing groups of individuals. However, they have different characteristics that affect how they interact with their employees. Understanding the qualities of a good boss or leader can make you more enjoyable to work with and cultivate healthier relationships for you at the workplace. In this article, we discuss the differences between a boss vs leader, how to be a leader instead of a boss, what makes a good boss or leader, and some differences between good leaders and bad bosses.

What is the difference between a boss vs leader?

Some differences between a boss and a leader include:

Accountability

A leader is more likely to be accountable for mistakes than a boss is. Bosses may not be able to accept responsibility for mistakes caused by their own actions, leading them to assign that liability to someone else. Leaders, however, accept responsibility for any errors they may make. They also use these mistakes as an opportunity to reflect on their actions, learn from their mistakes, and change their behaviour in the future.

Communication style

Bosses and leaders maintain different styles of communication. A boss often has a one-way style of communication, only sharing information with employees but not receiving information back from employees. A leader, however, promotes a two-way flow of communication, encouraging an open style of communication where the leader and employees share ideas and information with each other.

Feedback method

Providing feedback is an important part of managing others. While bosses and leaders both provide feedback, they may have different methods of doing so. A boss is more critical when sharing their feedback, providing feedback that is not constructive and may be discouraging to the recipient. A leader, however, provides constructive feedback that encourages the recipient to succeed and includes specific areas of growth to help motivate them.

Focus

Bosses and leaders have different areas of focus in the workplace. A boss tends to focus only on themselves, worrying about their own career and personal goals. A leader, however, focuses on not only their own goals but the goals of the entire team. They strive to encourage the growth and success of everyone on their team.

Goal-setting

Leaders focus more on helping their employees set and achieve goals than bosses do. A boss may pinpoint flaws or shortcomings of their employees, but they may not help them create goals to grow. A leader may identify potential areas of improvement in an employee, and focus more on their strengths. They then develop goals and strategies to foster their employees' growth.

Read more: Career Goals: How To Set, Examples and Tips for Achieving

Leadership style

Bosses often have more of an autocratic leadership style, whereas leaders have more participative or coaching leadership styles. A boss is more likely to manage their employees, providing them with explicit instructions and little ability to make their own decisions. A leader, however, strives to inspire their employees to think creatively, innovate, and take risks.

Level of employee autonomy

Leaders foster a more autonomous work environment than bosses do. A boss is more likely to micromanage employees, reducing, if not completely eliminating, their level of autonomy in the workplace. A leader, however, empowers and encourages employees to make their own decisions in the workplace. They promote employee autonomy, supporting them in discovering their own solutions for issues.

Related: What Is a Micromanager? (With Advantages and Disadvantages)

Openness to new ideas

Boses are often less open to new ideas than leaders. A boss may consider themselves to be an expert on any topic or the ultimate authority figure on the matter, making them unreceptive to ideas from their employees. A leader, however, welcomes and is receptive to new ideas from others and gaining new insights.

Support

Leaders often support and empower their employees more than bosses do. A boss may have high expectations of employees and demand them to provide certain results, but they may fail to equip them with the proper resources or tools for success. A leader, however, may also have high expectations for their employees, but they are more likely to provide them with essential support. This includes providing them with resources or giving them advice when needed.

How can I be a leader and not a boss?

Consider these tips to be a leader instead of a boss:

Be self-aware

Be self-aware about your own performance and habits, and encourage others to do the same. This may help reduce tension during difficult times, and it fosters a sense of accountability and growth for the future. Self-awareness may also strengthen the bonds within a team because everyone can get to know themselves and one another better.

Be supportive

Demonstrate support for your team by providing them with whatever help they may need. This includes acquiring the necessary tools or resources, or taking accountability for a team's underperformance. Being supportive can help your employees trust you more, and this may encourage them to seek your guidance on other matters or ask for your advice about their goals.

Encourage collaboration

Be open about needing assistance in developing a solution, and admit when you may need help from others. Encourage your team to share their ideas with you, and strive to create an environment with a shared goal. This helps employees feel like you value their ideas and may make them more willing to contribute in the future.

Listen to your team

Listen to your team, and encourage them to talk to you often. Invite them to share their ideas with you or ask you for advice. It's also important for your employees to feel they can express their concerns about minor problems to prevent them from growing into bigger issues.

Related: How To Improve Communication Skills (With Definition and Examples)

Provide constructive feedback

Take advantage of potential teachable moments to help employees learn from mistakes and improve their skills. Provide them with constructive feedback, which is feedback that discusses an area of improvement and strategies for growth. Similarly, it's important to praise employees when they succeed by providing positive feedback, too.

What makes a good boss or leader?

Being a good boss or leader requires striving for excellence in the workplace and making a commitment to yourself and your employees. While being a boss differs from being a leader, some ways you can be a good leader include:

  • Be transparent. Be honest with your team about what's happening within the company and when you need help from your team.

  • Coach your team. Coach your team to succeed by educating and supporting them without micromanaging them.

  • Continue to grow. Seek new ways to develop your leadership abilities, and challenge yourself to become the best leader possible.

  • Embrace unique talents. Get to know each of your employees to learn more about their unique talents, and find ways to let them use their skills.

  • Focus on solutions. Explain the proper way to do something and why it's the right way rather than simply telling others what to do.

  • Include everyone. Create an inclusive work environment that welcomes everyone, values their ideas, and treats them with respect.

  • Influence others. Empower others to succeed by setting a good example and providing them with the resources to grow.

  • Measure success. Measure the success of your employees by what they achieve and their passion for work rather than their title or hierarchy within the organisation.

  • Provide feedback. Provide feedback to your employees so they know when they are doing a good job and ways they can improve their performance.

  • Set expectations. Set clear expectations for your team members about what their responsibilities are and how you will define their success.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

What are the main differences between good leaders and bad bosses?

Here are some differences between good leaders and bad bosses:

  • Communication: Bad bosses do not communicate well. Good leaders communicate an organisation or team's goals, mission, and vision clearly with their team.

  • Decisions: Bad bosses may struggle to make decisions or put themselves first in the process. Good leaders have strong decision-making skills, considering all options and determining the best choice for the team and organisation.

  • Employee relationships: Bad bosses may have favourite employees and treat their employees differently. Good leaders, however, treat all employees equally and are available and supportive to all team members.

  • Expectations: Bad bosses do not establish realistic or clear expectations for their team. Good leaders set clear expectations for each team member with specific job descriptions, tasks, and goals.

  • Feedback: Bad bosses rarely provide constructive feedback or are open to receiving it. Good leaders, however, welcome feedback from their team and provide employees with constructive feedback that helps them grow.

  • Recognition: Bad bosses fail to praise the achievements of others and may take credit for their team's accomplishments. Good leaders, however, always recognise individual achievements and hard work.

  • Supportive: Bad bosses often prioritise their own needs and show little concern for the needs or goals of their employees. Good leaders support their employees' goals and provide them with resources to succeed.

  • Trust: Bad bosses may betray the trust of their employees. Good leaders earn and respect the trust of their team.

  • Work environment: Bad bosses may make work unpleasant and may be difficult to be around in the workplace. Good leaders, however, strive to make work fun and make a genuine effort to get to know their employees.


Explore more articles