The difference between a boss and leader

A 2019 study among US residents showed that one in two employees had left a job to get away from a manager and improve their overall life at some point in their career.

There is a difference between being a boss and a leader. One manages their employees, while the other inspires them to innovate, think creatively, and strive for perfection. Every team has a boss, but what people need is a leader, writes Mark Miller in his article, Are You a Boss or a Leader?


Not sure how to tell the difference between the two? A few people share what they think distinguish a leader from a boss.


Do not command, inspire


A boss is a leader whose strategic leadership is all about commanding and controlling.  According to Jean Claude Kiraga, an engineer, bosses want to be seen as the dominant forces in the office or in the business.

“They tend to manage their subjects through intimidation and fear. They think that it is better to always be in control of the team, rather than establishing trust and inspiration,” he says.

“I’ve decided things to go in this way, I want it like that,” that is how they talk, he adds, without welcoming any ideas from the employees.

When this happens, it shows that employees are undervalued and have no use for contribution, which makes them disconnected from the success and growth of the organisation.

“But leaders do not command, they inspire, instead of declaring statements of how things will be done, they get ideas from the employees,” he advises.

Kiraga adds that leaders provide tools and support needed for employees to accomplish their work in a smooth environment, this gives workers a sense of belonging and connection to the organisation.

A leader takes responsibility, gives credit to where due

Nathalie Munezero, a philanthropist, shares her testimony of a boss she once had who always blamed the team for any failure, but would not give credit to workers in case of a great milestone.

“When anything went wrong, he would start saying ‘it’s my staff who failed to get things done, having things not work out was not my fault,’ that was his general character,” says Munezero.

However, in case of any achievement, the boss did not want to give credit to anyone, but himself. “This is a problem for employees who are not given credit for their achievements,” she says.

“When anything goes wrong, they are fearful that the hammer will fall on them if the expected result is not produced,” she comments, adding that the method is no way to build a positive work environment and team.

Leaders take responsibility for everything that goes wrong and give their team all the credit when things go right. They know it is their job to make the path clear without obstacles to make sure their team is on the right track.

No one wants to work for someone who places blame when things go wrong. A leader will share the blame when things go sour and takes responsibility for the team’s actions, Miller says.

Leaders roll up their sleeves and get to work instead of waiting for people to report to them, Munezero says; they make themselves available to solve problems and jump in for support.

For Elnaam Uwineza, a leadership trainer, understanding if you are a boss or a leader helps you determine what you can do to become an even more effective leader in your office, business, or even your family.

“When you choose to become a good leader, and not an authoritarian boss, you will find it so much easier to leave better outcomes for your team and organisation,” she explains.

A boss will defend ego; a leader reveals vulnerability

It takes a lot of courage and strength to reveal one’s vulnerabilities. The easier route is to protect one’s ego, but what marks a true leader is being able to show vulnerability, writes Miller.

A boss will point out weaknesses; a leader recognises natural gifts

Most people know what their weaknesses are, but sometimes pointing out an area that needs improving is necessary. Only hearing what is wrong can make a person feel useless and doubt themselves. By pointing out someone’s strengths, they feel empowered as well it helps them to know how they can best serve their team, Miller continues.

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