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Boss or Leader?


There have been numerous versions of the following chart over the years.  It is a simple yet insightful look at the difference between being a “(bossy) boss” and being a “leader”.

Obviously there is more to this story but generally I like this chart.

I think that almost everyone struggles with their new role when they become a boss for the first time.  There are a million pitfalls, and very often you are “damned if you do” and “damned if you don’t”.  If you have been promoted above your former peers it can be especially difficult .  They might complain because you’ve become “too high and mighty” to socialise with them, or they might complain that “they don’t know where they stand with you”.

Some of the classic issues that you need to deal with relate to:

  • Letting other people do their job, especially things you could do better yourself.  Coaching is tough, (a) for many people the natural tendency is to do it themselves, (b) some people need to be shown, others need to be told and some need to be hand held … most managers have trouble with that much patience!

  • Changing a relationship

    with a former peer, from peer to boss.  You cannot be their “friend” any more.

  • Giving feedback

    … both good and bad.  Many people have trouble giving positive feedback, most people have trouble giving negative feedback.  This results in people being “shocked” to find out things are not going well.

  • Accepting that

    we are all different.  Your new report might not do things exactly the way you would have done them, but they may be just as efficient (or even better).  That is tough for some new (and old) managers to get their heads around.

  • Hiring

    people better than themselves

    … a biggie!  Leaders recognise that if they can hire great people it will bring success, many bosses are threatened by great people.

  • A new boss will have trouble dealing with their level of authority … in the extreme, when a salesperson “loses it” with a peer it’s a manageable issue, if a manager “loses it” with someone the ripple affect is huge.  Managers have to be cognisant that

    their new found “power” can create bigger ripples than would have been created by the same actions previously.

The transition from new boss to “leader” is a journey that require self awareness, a willingness to learn, some patience and a thick skin.  We all make mistakes but if you really “want it” there is no magic, just a commitment to learn.

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I’. And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I’. They don’t think ‘I’. They think ‘we’; they think ‘team’. They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit…. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.” Peter Drucker