Elijah Lewis

Motivational Speaker,

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What is the difference between a Boss and a Leader? What are some elements and key features that play into both of them.

Some people call themselves a leader when they act boss like and vise versa. Does a boss act differently than a Leader and is the world divided between the two? Are there certain places in which you ca find one and not the other?

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    R H

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    May 27 2014: I would say that a 'leader' is by default, chosen by the group - either actually, or by the sheer talent, skill, and confidence building ability they display. A 'boss' is imposed, usually chosen from outside the group concerned. More 'respected' for their position and title than talent and skills - whether or not those talents and skills exist within them. And just like all Cognac's are brandy but not all brandy's are Cognacs, all 'leaders' are 'boss' but not all 'boss's' are good leaders - in my opinion.
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      May 28 2014: So can a manager of a department store be considered as being a boss or a leader? Are you saying that their is not such thing as electing a leader? Would Obama be a boss or a leader and why?
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        R H

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        May 28 2014: Hi. Thanks for responding. As I defined the terms, a leader is "chosen by the group", but a boss "is imposed...whether or not those talents and skills (leadership) exist within them". So in that, a dept store mgr could be a leader, a boss, or both. Also, therefore by definition, leaders are 'elected' and Pres. Obama would be a leader because he fits the definition (elected). But again, since he's the leader he's also the boss - as is the dept store mgr. But if the dept store mgr (or the Pres) 'ruled' without the consent of the group or was imposed on the group against the group's (majority) wishes, then, according to my definitions, they would be 'boss' - not leader. Make sense?
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    May 28 2014: there are lots of bosses and precious few leaders. true leaders get assassinated by bosses. leaders care for the people they lead, bosses exploit them.
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      May 28 2014: I really like your answer Scott. Can you name a point in time in our history in which this has happened?
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        May 28 2014: i find it a very complex question.

        many great leaders have been "removed" - martin luther king, JFK, lennon, ghandi, lincoln..

        there are very complex issues involved and, to be honest, i'm not speaking from any kind of authority on the subject.

        as i see it, a true leader does not wish for the responsibility of leadership.

        a boss (as i perceive the term) is just someone in a corporate or systemic hierarchy that is paid better than anyone else and can delegate responsibility as they see fit.

        we have no leaders in politics these days. we have only career bureaucrats or (worse) puppets of career bureaucrats.

        true leaders are very, very rare but can take any form in any sector.
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      May 29 2014: I couldn't agree more. Well said.

      What I find to be quite ironic is that a leader generally doesn't have the powerful fancy title that most "bosses" have, yet "bosses" are generally threatened by the presence of a leader. Generally speaking, the leader could care less about usurping power by moving up the "corporate ladder," but these "bosses" are threatened nonetheless.
  • May 28 2014: A boss tells you what to do, a leader shows you, hence the word follow.
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    May 27 2014: "A boss is a person who exercises control or authority, specifically, one who directs or supervises workers or employees" http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/boss

    "A leader is somebody whom people follow, or as somebody who guides or directs others, while others define leadership as "organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadership

    There are similarities between leaders and bosses. Both exercise some degree of control and influence to achieve a goal or objective of a company or group. Generally, a boss has a formal designation or title given by a superior officer or supervisor/manager while a leader may or may not have a formal title or designation. To be a leader, one has to possess certain special or unique traits such as charisma and influence while to be a boss the only basic requirement is a formal title or designation.

    Do you know of a leader without charisma and influence? Do you know of a boss without charisma or influence?
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      May 28 2014: I am sorry to say this Rodrigo but I do not. where do you think you can find these kinds of people (bosses and leaders) is the world divided between the two? Do bosses control the high class part of our society and the Leaders only control the lower and partial middle class?
  • May 29 2014: Bosses want to be bosses most of the time they will lie, cheat and do whatever they think is necessary to become bosses.
    On the other hand leaders could care less.
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      May 29 2014: So are you saying that their is no such things as a boss who doesn't lie cheat and or steal?
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    May 27 2014: I'm thinking maybe a leader, such as a political leader, has to persuade people to follow him or her. Whereas a boss more or less tells you what to do, although most bosses I've had pretty much make good choices in what they tell people to do and if people ask are willing to explain the reason why they asked them to do it.
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      May 28 2014: I would not say that necessarily Greg. " I'm thinking maybe a leader, such as a political leader". I think that it would have to depend on the independent person. Some "leaders" of our country or some who want to be a "leader" in our country would be considered the boss because of their intentions.

      You also stated that " A leader has to persuade people to follow him or her. Whereas a boss more or less tells you what to do." I would also have to disagree on this statement and/or thought because I can persuade people to think a certain way or to get people to vote for me to be their designated "leader" but in the back of my mind I have boss like intentions more than I would or should have leadership intentions.
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        May 29 2014: maybe a leader has to lead when getting into new and difficult situations, or situations that are really big, whereas for a boss it's a little more cut-and-dried what he or she has to do and the situations aren't as big. But for sure the distinctions aren't that clear-cut, a leader is something of a boss, and a boss is something of a leader.
  • May 29 2014: "most of the time" does not imply all. To be reasonable let's replace "most of the time they will" with "some will even".
    The key here is that they WANT to be bosses.
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    May 29 2014: A "boss" is generally a derogatory term used to describe a higher-level manager with a fancy title that grants them authority, while a leader doesn't need the powerful management position or fancy title that goes with it. Essentially, a leader is humble, well-respected, and motivates by example. On the other side of the spectrum, a "boss" usually relies on power and prestige to threaten, coerce, and "lead" by fear.

    Overall, one will find "bosses" in almost every sector, but leaders tend to be rare (for the very reasons that Scott pointed out). Not only that, but leaders tend not to self-identify as such.
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      May 29 2014: For the most part I can understand as of why you would make the statements that you made. However, I do disagree with that fact the a boss is a "derogatory" term.

      If you receive the title or give yourself the title of a "Boss" you generally are allowing people to believe that you are disrespectful and that you use your power to control people.
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        May 31 2014: You bring up an incredibly valid point. It's not that the label of "boss" is derogatory in and of itself, but it's that one generally allows for others to believe that one is being disrespectful or is using one's power to control others. What I wonder is if this if the label itself can lead to a metaphoric "self-fulfilling prophecy" of sorts. With using the label "boss," can this change a person's personality and/or management style?

        If this is the case, then perhaps using the label "leader" could have a more positive effect. Perhaps if the business world could start implementing more "leadership seminars" and promote "leader" as a positive buzzword, we could hypothetically have more leaders in the workplace. Thoughts?
  • May 28 2014: There is a very interesting discussion going on in Linkedin in the HBR group on "What is the single most important quality a leader should have?" which relates to this discussion. Depending upon the culture of the company, the boss may not be the boss even if that individual holds the title.

    The major element of a boss/manager is to get work done by others (this is tough for a lot of people who will say I can do it x times faster if i just do it myself). The boss must also make tough decisions and protect the people under him/her.

    I have been on teams where the leadership switched from 1 team member to another depending upon the situation and area.
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    May 28 2014: Is it possible to become both a leader and/or a boss.
    • May 28 2014: yes but it is not easy - some people think leadership comes with the title of manager but it does not.