How do you tell the difference between a leader and a boss? Many times we use the two words interchangeably, but they’re really very different. If you’re a parent, do your children see you as the person who will lead them to a better life, or as the bully who keeps them quiet? If you’re the manager or the supervisor or the teacher or the pastor, how are you perceived? Leaders are respected; bosses are feared. If I asked your people about your “style,” what would they say? Let’s check this list:
A leader has a vision, a direction, a purpose. Every leader knows where we’re going and communicates the direction clearly and often to everyone. A boss may indeed know where we’re going but seldom shares it. Most “bosses” are anything but transparent. They keep as much as they can close to the vest. Ask an employee who has a boss for a manager: “Where is this company headed?” and the answer will be; “I dunno.” How many “bosses” do you know?
A leader listens. No matter what the crisis, no matter what the pressure -- if somebody has a problem or a better idea or an objection, the leader stops and listens. Managers who are leaders pull away from their computers and sit facing the employee. Tired dads put down the magazine they’re reading when their son wants to talk. Leaders listen. Bosses don’t have to listen because they know everything. How well do your managers listen?
A leader generates trust. This means no lies, no spins, no hidden agendas. “The truth with tact” is the motto of the leader. When the 7-year-old asks: “Where do babies come from?” we better have the kind of answer that will cause the child to trust us for more answers later.
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When the employee asks the manager: “Are we headed for a layoff?” the boss’s answer is: “Shut up and get back to work.” How can you trust a boss?
A leader solves problems. This means “defining the problem, identifying the root causes, trying solutions and picking the one that works.”
You can easily spot a boss; he either avoids the problem altogether and leaves it to his subordinates, or he jumps in before any analysis is conducted and makes it worse than before. How many of our world problems need real leadership: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Russia, Palestine, China and the European Union? How many of our U.S. problems still lack solutions; IRS, unemployment, our tax system, border control, the economy and our dysfunctional government? Where are the problem-solving leaders? Do we have a world full of bosses?
A leader is ethical. Hitler was the chancellor of Germany, and Mussolini was the fascist dictator of Italy. I remember both of them. Each one promoted a shared vision of their future. Each one listened to his top commanders. Each one generated so much trust that millions of men were willing to die for their Fatherland, and finally, each one devoted every waking moment to the issues at hand (no Vegas vacations). They both had all the elements of leadership except one: ethics. Both of them shared in the most horrendous holocaust of human beings we have seen in 1,000 years.
Modern bosses don’t murder -- physically. But unethical bosses can destroy the reputation, the position and the income of people they don’t like. What do you call that?
It’s not easy to be a leader. Bosses are a dime a dozen.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.