The Difference Between a Boss and a Leader

Let’s talk about the difference between a boss and a leader. I’m going to use an example from my past to illustrate that particular difference.

I commanded a battalion during the Gulf War back in 1990-1991 and we were one of the first units to make our way to the highway that connected Basrah, Iraq to Kuwait City, Kuwait. There was a lot of wreckage on that highway as the Iraqis had used that as a main line of retreat. They’d been hit by U.S. aircraft, both fixed and rotary wing, as well as artillery. So they were moving out of there pretty quickly. As I was going through some of the wreckage in one of the old bunkers, I came across this stick. A very attractive, hand-carved stick, probably belonging to an Iraqi officer or non-commissioned officer.

I keep it in my office and I think about this stick sometimes because in my talks I often use the definition of leadership provided by Dwight Eisenhower. “Leadership is deciding what has to be done and getting others to want to do it.”

This stick really is leadership in the Iraqi army. Because you can tell how carved it is that it’d be carried by an officer or an NCO and you can figure out what they would use this stick for— to demand people to buy into the direction that he wanted to take, with actual physical punishment. You could say that particular Iraqi officer was boss and not a leader.

What is a boss?

A boss is person who drives employees, depends on authority, inspires fear in those that work for him/her, says “I” a lot, looks for somebody to blame whenever there’s a breakdown, knows how it’s done (no matter what it is), uses people, takes all the credit, commands, and says “go”.

Ronald Regan once said “A good boss (but I would say a leader) takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.”

What is a leader?

In comparison, a leader coaches employees, depends on goodwill, generates enthusiasm, says “we”, fixes breakdowns, shows how it’s to be done, develops his/her people, gives a lot of credit to everyone else, asks questions, and says “let’s go together”.

So as you’re thinking about yourself, the future, and how you’re running your particular team, think to yourself… “Am I a boss, that depends on something like that stick, to get my organization to move forward? And you can get a lot of progress out of a stick. Or am I really a leader?

Remember one thing- all kinds of research suggests the following. People take a position for the job, but they leave that position because of the person they’re working for.

We want to hear from YOU! Do you see more bosses or leaders today? Share your comments below.