From the Desk of JT Thompson:

Boss versus Leader

I have had the honor and privilege of working in different leadership positions and have continually researched the definition of what a Boss is compared to a Leader to continually improve on my own leadership skills. Although it is technically a matter of opinion of what the difference is, I have always been fascinated with how an individual becomes who they are, which in turn plays a role in whether they are a Boss or a Leader.  What’s great about this topic is that everyone has an opinion and varying thoughts of what the two are. Questions, such as “Is it personality driven?” or “Can it be coached or taught?” are topics that have been discussed throughout history and the workplace. The Boss versus Leadership has been scaled from the team lead to world conquerors and have determined the outcome of everything to include, wars, political stability, the stability of a nation and of course, the valuable strategic decisions a company has to make on a daily basis that can either make or break the company.

There are several key qualities from what I have observed and always try to reflect upon on a daily basis on whether I was a Leader or a Boss for the day.  There are a variety of topics that technically separate the boss from the leader, but I only want to touch on a few and let the audience reflect on the chart to see where they fit. And with that, I believe that the number one trait and quality that separates the two is having compassion or being compassionate to others, whether it is related to the workplace or not. Compassion is one of the most important qualities to have in life, let alone in the workplace. A study at UC Berkeley titled “The Most Important Leadership Skill to Have” found that Compassion was the most important leadership skill to have above all else. It argues that compassion is so important because a leader acts on the feelings of empathy. A good example is if someone is suffering from a cold, it’s one thing to feel their pain, and it’s another to cook them some chicken soup.

Leaders are also very inclusive. I have always tried to use “we” as much as possible as I have always tried to enforce a more team-atmosphere wherever I have gone. Ideally, we’re all on the same page, and no one gets credit for anything but as a team we receive all the credit. We’re all one team and aligned on a collective mission, and the language leaders use on a day to day basis needs to reflect that compared to bosses who are more focused on the politics of a company and looking good in front of their higher-ups that they use the word “I” a little too much. Good leaders understand that it’s the people under them that make a company successful and not them. Instead leaders trust their team and delegate. Leaders are always there for feedback and to answer any questions. Giving team members a high level of direction of what one would ideally like to see and letting them run it provides a lot of empowerment and motivation.

This debate on what works and what does not can go on and will go on. But at a minimum my goal at the end of each day is to be able to reflect and say that I was a leader for that day and not a boss. “Did I take care of people?” And did I do my best each day as to answer with a profound “Yes.” This exercise helps me with my shortfalls and allows me to grow as a person, team member and leader as I try to improve in these areas daily.  Does it mean that a leader is weak or too nice? No, it does not. A leader knows when to disagree or enter debates on what is specifically the best decisions for the team, department and company. A leader welcomes questions and disagreements as this provides the brainstorming attributes that lead to the best decision.  So, have you taken some time to really think about if you are a “Boss” or “Leader?” And if so, take a look at the chart and see where you fit and where you can improve to help your team, department and organization as self-reflection on one’s self in the end, helps everyone around you.