On Leadership – Part 2: The difference between a boss and a leader

Leadership is valued greatly these days. Company boards are taking leadership courses, everyone is trying to get followers or audience rather than customers… In this rush towards leadership, companies often skip a crucial part (which is probably the main reason why leadership is not solving your problems the way you figured it would): The boss is not necessarily the leader.

It’s easy to think of the boss as the leader since there are quite some similarities (dedication, responsibility, final decision…). There is however one extremely important difference: a leader is followed because he/she earned respect. A boss is the person we listen to because he/she is higher in rank. This does not mean that a boss can’t be a leader, but it’s really difficult to figure out whether people are agreeing with you because your the boss or because they actually believe you.

A boss depends upon authority; a leader depends upon good will.

The solution is simple. Ask yourself the question: “Does this company/business unit/… need a boss or a leader?”. A boss will give you (if he’s doing his job correctly) fast results on the short term, a leader will give you (if he’s a real leader) dedication and a team that will stay focused on the bigger picture. While businesses are coming to terms with the usefulness of a long-term vision, choosing for a leader instead of a boss is far from common practice.

The main reason for this isn’t hard to figure out, a leader is elected, the board has nothing to do with it. When going for a leadership-driven company, everyone votes. Your company becomes a mirco-society where everyone has the same rights and duties. Once you’re working for a higher purpose, you need participants rather than employees.

Going from a boss to a leader means going from dictatorship to democracy. It’s easy to see why that would be better, but just because it’s easy doesn’t make it simple.

A boss says, “GO”; a leader says, “LET’S GO.”


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

One comment

  1. Pingback: What makes real leaders? | Keep the game, change the rules

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