difference between a boss and a leader

Leadership: The Basics

difference between a boss and a leader
The Difference Between a Boss and a Leader, uncredited Internet Meme

Dear Son,

Leadership is a topic I write about, teach about, and train others in extensively.  It is a topic that is often very poorly understood.  A lot of people mistake commanding, directing, or managing people for leading them.  The fact of the matter is that leadership can happen in all of those contexts, but it doesn’t necessarily happen in them.

The first thing that you need to know about leaders is that they are first and foremost servants.  A good leader is doing what he does not because he wants to be in charge, not because he wants power, and not because he wants to control other people.  A leader leads because he wants to see others achieve their goals, and so he is providing them with the guidance so they do the best possible job they can as a team to accomplish something great together.

This means that a leader is not manipulative, controlling, or bullying.  if he is any of those things, he has already failed to be a leader.  Instead he is persuasive:  he knows how to convince others to join in the team effort because the result will be good for them, too.  Which means he makes sure that the team’s success gives back to everybody what they put in and a little more.

It also means that the leader is sensitive to the people on his team (and that team can be anything from a family, to a sports team, from a work group at school, to a company.)  He must be good at making sure they are on board with the goals and vision of the group.  That means having a solid working relationship with them, and learning their strengths and their weaknesses.  That way, that he can encourage each team member to play to their strengths, and use those strengths for the good of the team.  Which will make them happier to be a part of the team.  And he can make sure that someone else is covering the tasks where that team member is at their weakest.

A good leader pays attention to what the people on his team need, too.  If one of them is down, sick, or struggling, he takes them aside where they can talk privately, and he finds out what is going on.   Then he figures what the team can do to help him get back on the game, whether that is moral support, a little help shouldering the work, mentoring, or some plain old appreciation.

Speaking of appreciation, the leader is also a master of gratitude.  He knows that every team member, if they are given the jobs that play to their strengths, is doing a big part in making sure every member of the team wins.  And so he makes sure they know that, too, by showing appreciation and gratitude to team members when they are working hard.

The best leaders also take it upon themselves to make sure that the people on their team grow as people.  he doesn’t just want them to do their best, he wants to help them do better than they’ve ever done before.  That means he learns to be a judge of what a person is doing and how that is working for them.  When he sees where they could improve their performance he approaches them with an air of the utmost respect and gratitude, and gives them direct and honest feedback – especially suggestions, of what they could try.  He even helps them figure out how they can tell if his suggestion actually makes an improvement.

A Leader isn’t all talk, either.  While motivating, persuading, and delegating to others is a major part of leadership, he also has to be an example for the group.  He has to be willing to roll up his sleeves and do the work alongside them.  A wise leader never asks a member of his team to do something he wouldn’t do himself.

Most importantly, leaders make the hard decisions for the group.  When someone makes a decision, if something goes wrong, the person who makes the decision must be willing to take responsibility for figuring out what went wrong, undoing any harm done by his mistake, and figuring out how to do things better next time.  That can be a pretty heavy job and take courage, not everyone feels safe being accountable.  That is why a lot of people prefer to follow than to lead.  But a person with a healthy mind, isn’t afraid of making mistakes, they know that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback; that every mistake is an opportunity to be better next time.

Sometimes he makes those decisions by telling people what to do, but often he does so by asking.  In either case he makes sure that he is clear about what he wants, and if the team member he is asking to do something doesn’t seem clear, he takes the time to show what he wants.

A great leader doesn’t believe in blame.  Blame is when you try to make another person into the bad guy when something goes wrong.  That is an emotional thing, and blaming someone, then punishing them doesn’t actually make anything right.  What does make something right is to point out the mistake, and figure out what has to happen to fix it, then either make that happen yourself, or delegate that job to a member of the team.

Leaders sometimes make those decisions overtly, like when they make decisions about who does what part of a job.  Other times they make them in less obviously.  For example it is the leaders job to explain the goals of the group in a learn and understandable way.  His choice of words can shape the actions of the whole team.  likewise, he creates the vision for the team: a description of what he wants the team to accomplish – the changes they want to make in the world, and what he wants for every member of the team.  the vision is what will inspire the members of the group and help them make their own decisions.

And of course, a good leader does want members of the team to make their own decisions.  he wants to inspire them to bring their creativity and innovative ideas into their work.  They can’t do that if they have look to him to make every decision.  Which means a leader encourages them to take initiative, he praises his team members when they make good decisions on their own that line up with the vision and help the team accomplish their goals.

Like all components of Character, leadership is something that happens in how you deal with other people in your day-to-day life.  You might lead a team as a coach, a business as a CEO, or a club as its president; but to be a true leader is to be willing to lead every day.  When there is a problem and no one else is doing anything about it, being ready to step up, describe the problem, and get the other people involved in helping you solve it is the sign of a true leader.  As is remembering that your whole community is a team and when you see a member of it struggling, doing your best to see what you can do to lift them up.

As a father and husband, my role is very much one of being the leader of our family.  And part of that will also be to show you leadership everyday in the way I interact with youI hope to be a good leader in your life, son.  And I hope I teach you to be a great one.

In hope,


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