Michele Bolitho, Self-Understanding and Everyday Enlightenment
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Bosses and leaders: Three profound differences between these two top positions

With the right skill sets and plenty of practice, anyone can be a boss. Not everyone can be a leader. Here are three profound differences between being a leader and being a boss.


One - boss or lead

Bosses, in essence, are bossy.

Their role is to give orders. It’s by way of giving orders that they’re able to keep control.

Bosses are controllers. That’s their job. When the workplace is under good control, it functions efficiently and productively. Ideally.

Leaders lead. They lead by example. In the culture of the workplace, a leader who has the best interests of the workplace at heart, will inspire confidence and positivity. All contributors will feel encouraged to do good work. They’ll be very giving with their time and talents, just like their leader. Unlike their counterparts who work under a boss, people who work for a leader will not be run by fear.

Two - the bossed and the led

Leaders have followers. Bosses have subordinates.

Followers follow a leader whom they admire. It’s the admirable qualities of a leader that followers feel inspired by. A leader may model qualities for instance, like commitment, confidence, focus, dedication and resilience. Those who work for a leader aim to replicate these qualities in themselves. Simply put, people who follow a leader aim to be like their leader. Leaders are liked – even loved.

Bosses have subordinates.

With human groups who share a common cause, such as workers in the workplace, it’s best if there’s only one boss with the authority to give orders. And ideally, this boss gives clear concise orders. Subordinates will then know exactly what’s being expected of them. They know they should comply with the expectations of their leader, which are being put upon them [from above].

Subordinates work under a boss. This is perceptive reference to their position, power-wise, relative to their boss’s in the hierarchy of power. They know their position. For fear of losing it, they should know ‘their place’ and keep to it. When following their boss’s direction, they shouldn’t put a foot wrong along the way.

Three - co-ercion or co-operation

Bosses motivate.

To motivate is to move. Dynamically, in this context, to motivate is typically to push. It’s to put pressure on for the purpose of moving people on towards a definite goal, or outcome. The way that bosses traditionally put pressure on the workers underneath them, is to use fear tactics.

Fear is the common motivator in normal daily life. The more fear-driven a person feels, the bossier they'll become. (Have you ever noticed this yourself?) They'll be aiming for more and more control.

Fear of loss, when evoked by a boss, can have a powerful effect on subordinates.

Fear of loss can have many iterations for the worker, beginning firstly, with fear of losing their employment. This big, initial fear provokes fear of losing income, which devolves quickly to the fear of losing one’s home, then to the fear of losing one’s loved ones, who would not want to live with such a loser.

This fear of abandonment is a deep, deeply personal fear. It can quickly motivate workers (who have no conscious awareness of its influence) to comply with their boss’s orders to the best of their ability and the greatest extent of their energy.

Leaders inspire. 

In-spire comes from Latin spiritus, which essentially means divine breath. True leaders act like catalysts. They stir the spirits of the people they inspire, who then become more creative and productive.

A powerful leader, already inspired, will effortlessly inspire those who admire and choose to follow them. They co-operate. In co-operate, co is with. Leaders literally work with.

Note here I’m using terms of volition and cooperation. This is a very different vibe to the sense of fear and compulsion that a traditional boss will conjure up, in order to achieve the best results.

People give their best for a leader because they love to. People give their best for a boss when they’re afraid not to.

People give their best for a leader because they love to. People give their best for a boss when they’re afraid not to.


With the right skill sets and plenty of practice, anyone can be a boss. Not everyone can be a leader. I’ve suggested three big differences between being a leader and being a boss.

Leader and boss – these two different modes of attitude and interaction are rarely distinct in daily reality. Most people in top positions in today’s world will be a mix of both leader and boss. It depends on how they feel about themselves at the time.

If someone in a position of authority feels good about themselves, they’ll naturally inspire. If they don’t they won’t.

Motivating requires effort. If a person in a top position is holding fears for their own position and is motivated by that fear, then they’ll feel strongly motivated to use the power of their authority to put the necessary focus and effort into pushing for maximum productivity from those below.

Here power is more accurately understood as force. The one who bosses may use threats, like the threat of a daunting deadline, as well as the losses it could threaten if not successfully achieved.

Leading by example does not require effort. Bossing does.

Leading by example does not require effort. Bossing does.

With true leaders, no force is required, because inspiration’s like a natural call to action. Bosses on the other hand give orders.

To be effective to the max, orders should be clear and well-defined, where definitions are effectively limits. They should be obvious and firmly set.

Subordinates should follow the directions from their boss with full compliance. There is no room for error. Usually, deviation into a different way of doing things won’t be tolerated. In a world – or shared reality – where authority is often interchangeable with power, any move which may appear to countermand the instruction given by the boss, or deviate from it in any way, could threaten the authority of the boss.

Leaders on the other hand will give direction, but if a follower can see a better path to take, which would likely produce a superior outcome, rather than just same old same old, then a true leader will be open to such a suggestion and to following a more inspired way.

Being a boss can be exhausting. Going home exhausted after a hard day’s work is what our current culture counts as desirable, however. Many workers see this a wise model to emulate if they want their employment to stay safe. Fear can dominate and motivate most of us. This is the main way of today’s world.

Today’s world, by its fear-affected nature, has many more striving, driving bosses than true inspiring leaders.

Think of bosses and leaders you have known. Are you one of them perhaps? What are your impressions of the differences? As a worker, would you have a preference? Do you like a mix? I’d love to read your comments 🙂

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About the Author Michele Bolitho

I'm a writer and speaker (more info coming soon)

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