There’s “Go” and then there’s “Let’s go.” There’s “Do this” and then there’s “Let’s do this.” As a supervisor, which are you more likely to say? If it’s not the latter, you may want to keep reading.
Demonstrating leadership is invaluable to the growth of any team yet oftentimes, it’s not valued enough nor understood. If you’re handing out duties and only caring whether they get done by the end of the day, it’s no wonder your team simply refers to you as “the boss.” But if you’re connecting with your employees and helping them achieve their own goals, then you’re acting as a true leader.
Below, five prominent executive and leadership coaches from Forbes Coaches Council discuss the key differences between a boss and a leader, and how you can make the transition yourself.
Know How You Demonstrate Leadership
Jenny Clevidence of Jenny Clevidence believes the difference between a boss and a leader ultimately comes down to the culture a supervisor promotes.
“If an individual is truly a leader versus a boss, you will see a culture of leadership. This means that everyone in the organization has an opportunity to lead in some way. People feel ownership, accountability, meaning, and are engaged in their work when a true leader is in role. When you have a boss in role, people tend to feel that they are doers, task masters, and are generally disengaged or going through the motions.”
With a leader by their side, employees begin to see tasks as opportunities to learn and fulfill their company’s mission rather than boxes that need to be checked off by the end of the day. Jenny also says teams become more productive, resulting in greater trust to carry out the tasks at hand.
To successfully transition into a leader, Jenny says awareness is the first step. Executives should start by understanding what it means to lead and evaluate how they may or may not demonstrate leadership qualities.
Be a coach
For executive and leadership coach Dr. Christi Hegstad, president of MAP Professional Development, leadership is a way of life while a boss only exists where their power does.
“A leader wants to see others flourish, and will contribute to that flourishing however they can,” says Christi. “A boss exists within an organization, whereas a leader can lead at work, at home, at the grocery store, and all places in between. By inspiring change, influencing decisions, speaking on behalf of someone without a voice, and a myriad of other ways, one can demonstrate leadership.”
And because “being the boss” is simply just a role, Christi believes it’s possible to be both a boss and a leader.
“I coach many executives who technically are ‘the boss’ and supervise a number of employees, but they truly care about their employees’ development, want to see them succeed, and strive to support their growth. That is leadership.”
Lead by example
Executive and leadership coach Rey Castellanos, CEO at Feed Your Wolf, says a boss derives their influence through authority while a leader earns their influence through trust and respect.
“A great leader can quickly move teams beyond obstacles and be a model for team members to strive for. They will often inspire you to be better while showing you how to get out of your own way and invite you to be a leader yourself.”
For Rey, the most powerful way to demonstrate true leadership is to lead by example—something he believes many executives neglect to do.
“I’ve seen and worked with many high-achieving and high-profile leaders who struggle to walk their talk. Today, you don’t have to look far to find companies that outwardly promote company values they don’t practice themselves.”
Get to know your team
Ahalya Kethees, founder of leadership and career coaching company Oli Leadership International, believes a boss demands while a leader inspires.
“Bosses may be effective at getting things done and the fear they instill may even be motivating; however, they’re not unlocking the potential of the team and they’re definitely not creating a positive, healthy work culture that people want to be a part of.”
After coaching executives for years, Ahalya discovered the most effective strategy for transitioning from a boss to a respected leader is getting to know your team on a more personal level.
“What’s most important to them? What do they value? What motivates them? What gets them excited? What are they worried about? What are their fears? If you can answer these questions with clarity and certainty, then you can start to inspire and engage your team in a way that’s meaningful to them. And when they’re inspired and engaged, you’ve created the conditions for extraordinary results.”
Connect, don’t demand
Dave Ferguson, executive leadership coach and founder of Living to Lead, believes the difference between a boss and a leader rests in the way they get their employees to perform.
“A boss is in the business of pushing workers while a leader is in the business of creating followers and developing them into leaders. A leader will be highly intentional about building relationships with the team they lead while a boss will be more inclined to get results through people, rather than with them.”
In business, Dave believes working with always achieves greater results than working for.
“Would you rather work with a leader who worked alongside you to accomplish the mission or for a boss who just told you what to do and watched from their post? Teamwork in business starts with the leader but ends with the team. When a leader is successful in helping followers achieve their own goals, the overall team and company prosper.”
Every team has a boss, but every team wants a leader. Don’t just simply fit the requirements of a manager; rise above them. Find ways to get to know your team. Encourage them. Support them. Show them you’re there to help, not command. Your team won’t be the only one that benefits from it. Your business will too.