Leader vs. Boss 

Leader vs. Boss 

A leader is someone within an organization who possesses the ability to influence and lead others by example. Leaders inspire, support, and encourage those beneath them and work continuously to achieve objectives. A boss is someone within an organization who gives direct orders to subordinates, tends to be autocratic, and prefers to be in control at all times.

The difference between leaders and bosses

If one searches for the definition of a leader and boss in the dictionary, the definitions provided for each are very similar.

Both roles require the individual to be responsible for others, but while leaders lead subordinates or teams, bosses are in charge of them. 

This subtle difference and its various ramifications are explained in more detail below.


Leaders prioritize their employees and are said to be people experts. They are empathic, sensitive, and understand effective conflict resolution strategies. 

Bosses prioritize results and are said to be subject matter experts.

While unhappy workers are said to cost businesses as much as $550 billion per annum, a boss will nevertheless pursue profit over the well-being of their subordinates.

Leadership style

Leaders motivate their workforce by setting an example and inspiring others to follow them.

They don’t command respect but instead trust that employees will look up to them based on their fair and proactive leadership. 

Bosses, on the other hand, tend to use fear and bravado in an attempt to command respect from their subordinates.

This may be effective in the short term, but ultimately, it causes employee burnout, resentment, and conflict.


Most leaders work in close collaboration with employees and understand what it takes to build a positive culture.

They know the names of those around them and are aware of their unique strengths and weaknesses.

They also enjoy celebrating wins and feel like just another member of the team working toward the same goal.

Bosses do not work in close collaboration with employees. They see their role (and indeed themselves) as separate or superior to their employees, and they do not take the time to understand them on a personal level. 

Leader examples

Examples of successful business leaders include:

Walt Disney

Who favored the participatory leadership style and valued the contributions of his teams and peers.

Richard Branson

The Virgin founder has a somewhat unique leadership style that emphasizes fun, joy, and laughter.

He also prefers to praise people when they do well as opposed to criticizing them when they don’t. 

Boss examples

Here are two examples of bad bosses:

Alejandro Rhett

The ex-VP of fashion brand J. Crew once made 175 staff redundant and then boasted about it on Instagram.

J. Edgar Hoover

The former FBI boss was notorious for his unconventional workplace rules and was feared by his employees.

He did not allow them to drink coffee after 8.15 am, for example, and insisted they be on-call 24 hours a day in the event he needed them for menial tasks like mowing his lawn.

Key takeaways
  • A leader is someone within an organization who possesses the ability to influence and lead others by example. A boss is someone who gives direct orders to subordinates, tends to be autocratic, and prefers to be in control at all times.
  • Leaders are empathic, collaborative, people experts who understand what it takes to build a positive culture. Bosses are results-oriented, adversarial, subject matter experts who maintain distance between themselves and subordinates.
  • Examples of successful leaders include Walt Disney and Richard Branson. Two examples of bad bosses include former J. Crew VP Alejandro Rhett and J. Edgar Hoover.

Read Also: Leadership vs. Management.

Types Of Leadership Hierarchical Organizational Structure hierarchical-organizational-structureIn a hierarchical structure, you have a company organized in a vertical manner, where groups follow a top-down decision-making approach, where most decisions flow from the top to the bottom of the organization. One example is Apple’s organizational structure today.Flat Organizational Structure flat-organizational-structureIn a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner. Holacracy holacracyA holacracy is a management strategy and an organizational structure where the power to make important decisions is distributed throughout an organization. It differs from conventional management hierarchies where power is in the hands of a select few. The core principle of a holacracy is self-organization where employees organize into several teams and then work in a self-directed fashion toward a common goal.


flatarchy-organizational-structureChange Management change-managementDistributed Leadership distributed-leadershipDistributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.


* This article was originally published here