It’s downright sickening: We constantly interchange the terms boss and leader without appreciating the distinct differences—and there is a big difference. If you were to be exposed to a traditional boss for one week and then work with a real leader the next, you would most certainly realize the difference. In fact, it’s possible you would run a mile from the boss and then cling desperately instead to the leader. That’s how much they differ.
Let’s take a look at the hallmark differences between the two, where this author has spent years studying and meeting both types on a regular basis:
- “Ego thinker”
- One who focuses on –
- Tunnel visioning
- Order giving
- Empire building
- “Threatening and pushing”
- Is in-charge and self-interested
- Induces ultimate resentment
- “People thinker”
- One who focuses on –
- “Shaping and integrating”
- Is effective and stakeholder-attuned
- Provides the “sparkle,” even if quietly
With such a stark difference, why would we welcome a boss into our midst? Of course, the reality is that only about 10-12% of our work population are natural leaders and, at the other end of the spectrum, only about 10-12% are the true boss-dictator types. Unfortunately, to date we haven’t clearly defined the two. We are often unable to easily identify them—either when we hire or promote them.
We only savor the joy of leadership or suffer the consequence of bosses after the fact. According to more than one Gallup poll, we are usually more than 80% in decision-error when hiring people or leaders. The only way we can mitigate against boss types is to detect them very early on and try to encourage them to use their egos in more productive ways. Regrettably, we generally misjudge and confuse that early-on push and shove behavior from potential bosses with probable leadership traits.
Bosses are also advocates of the conventional management system that we’ve developed over the past 100 years. It generally conforms to five steps: Project the desired numbers; Plan for those numbers; Organize to make those numbers happen; Direct everyone to achieve those numbers; and Control everything to ensure those numbers are secured. This creates our current “stop-n-go” and “have to” work situations that so many of us are required to endure.
With modern societal norms and fresh emerging workforce generations—millennials and Gen-Z—they find such approaches outdated, stifling and belittling. Their thinking has been particularly shaped by economic upheavals and their work experiences over the past 10 years. Those feelings have been egged on by some of the more enlightened academic environments they have grown up with, which were more collaborative and empowerment based. Owing to the knowledge age and tremendous information resources at their fingertips, these generations feel enabled to contribute much more quickly rather than wait their turn. They are disenchanted with their conventional management systems.
In contrast, our more enlightened leaders will pursue the following approach: Envision together where are we going; Position ourselves properly for the journey; Engage all those who will directly contribute toward getting us there; Collaborate with everyone who will assist getting us there; and Orchestrate everything in the most positive and productive way to meet all-around expectations. Such activities create a seamless flow and “want to” workplaces. According to recent Gallup polls, only about 30% of our current workforce “wants to.”
Even though all indications are that there are only around 10-12% natural leaders in society, these are spread throughout all the different types of organizations within our work population. However, there are many more who have inclinations toward the leadership domain, although they are unclear about how to get there. Consequently, if we can seed more natural leaders in the right places, have them act as clear role models, and educate the “potentials” with the right leadership behaviors, we can then breed many more.
On the other hand, if we don’t deal with the “boss” types, who’ve also managed to convert others with similar inclinations, we will continue to have disappointing levels of people engagement as indicated in the Gallup polls. This is a situation we’ve allowed over time immemorial, which is probably why we have so many dictators in the world. They surround themselves with their home-bred, boss-inclined types. It’s time we take a stand and demand something better. We could start doing that by stop using the term “boss” as a term of endearment, since in reality they are not especially endearing.
Do you have a better endearing term for your leader-person? This writer is still stuck with “my leader.” If the person concerned is a genuine leader, what more of an accolade can you use?
Peter A. Arthur-Smith is the founding principal with Leadership Solutions, Inc., based out of New York, and is the author of “Smart Decisions: Goodbye Problems, Hello Options.” He anticipates a new publication, “Radical Leadership Breakthrough: Embrace the Five Phases of Enlightened Leadership,” within the not-too-distant future. Feel free to share your views at: firstname.lastname@example.org.