How Does a Leader Differ From a Boss?

I love serving as a member of an Eagle Scout Board of Review. The view of true leadership, stated by a young man who has spent up to seven years studying and demonstrating leadership skills, is both insightful and awe inspiring. A question that I like to ask the candidates is simply, “What is the difference between a leader and a boss?” While no two candidates have ever given the same answer, here is brief summary of some of the answers I’ve heard.

  • Bosses – Bosses sit back and tell others what to do. They seldom do the jobs themselves. In fact, it’s very possible that they’ve never done the job they’re telling others to do. Bosses pass judgment … a lot. They seldom tell someone what they’ve done well; but, they can always tell that person everything that’s been done wrong. Bosses find fault and have a unique ability to crush a person’s desire to improve or create something.
  • Leaders – Leaders, on the other hand, tend to be very hands-on. They’re not afraid to dig right in and help get the job done. They don’t ask others to do things that they are not willing to do themselves. Leaders look for opportunities to provide genuine and deserved praise. Genuine praise is specific about what was well done (i.e., “you did a great job of identifying that client’s need and showing them how it could be met by our product) rather than an insincere and vacuous “nice job” or “you did good”.  When something has not been done well, leaders will typically help the team member review the job or situation, asking “what do you feel you did well? what do you think you could do differently/better next time?” They help team members discover solutions for themselves by asking guided questions and commending the team member when he/she comes up with the solution.

Great Leaders may be in charge of a project but they are not bosses. They do all of the things that leaders do above … and then some. They find ways to go the extra mile to help the team reach and surpass a goal or objective.

Click “Comment” below and share your experience with a Great Leader who led rather than bossed.

Tom Hoisington is a speaker, trainer, and author whose goal is to provide leaders and potential leaders with tools that empower them to build teams that are creative and cost effective along with a clearer understanding of how personality types interact within those teams. He can be contacted at

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