At its base, being a “boss” is about power, while leadership is about inspiration and influence. Children provide a classic example of this. My 13 year-old daughter certainly understands the concept of being a boss, ordering her sister around, manipulating emotions in an effort to coerce and accomplish her own desires. However, she struggles with being a leader, which not only would provide more peace and quiet in the household, but would actually provide greater reward in terms of her relationship with her “tweener” sister and ultimately her desired short and long-term outcomes.
While this example may appear silly in a discussion about the “adult” world of organizations, its applicability in understanding the difference between leaders and bosses is remarkable. At its core, a boss focuses more on end results, attained through transactional and traditionally coercive means. A leader, conversely, focuses on the means, knowing that the desired end (or often an exceeded end) will result.
To be an organizational leader, one needs to focus on three primary activities: 1) Setting and communicating strategy and vision in a way that motivates and influences attitudes and behaviors, 2) Removing barriers that inhibit employee attainment of goals and desired outcomes, and 3) Developing the talents assigned to them for the betterment of the individual employees and ultimately the organization. All other traditional management and work responsibilities are secondary. If one prioritizes according to this principle, a leader emerges. If one fails to do so, a boss persists.