Tag Archives: Manager

Boss versus Leader – not so clear cut.

Boss vs Leader

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Intuitively, the picture resonates.  We’ve all had the petty-tyrant boss; the person who loves the sound of their own voice and is oblivious to the resentment and de-motivation they’re engendering.

And most of us can relate to the manager who loves to roll up his sleeves and jump in on the line.

But don’t be fooled.  There’s a problem with the scenario that this image paints, especially when it comes to larger teams with significant division of labour:

You can’t fly at 40,000 feet and be on the tarmac at the same time.

If you as the organizational leader are always “hands-on”, who’s doing your job?  To belabor the cheap analogies; if the captain is always in the engine room, the ship’s going to run aground.


Don’t “lord it” over your team.  Challenge them, but don’t be a slave-driver.  Be nice, respectful, sincere, and above all, just.  But recognize that their job is not yours.  They need to be accountable for their role, just as you need to be accountable for yours.

In a pinch, get in the trenches and dig.  But if you need to do that regularly, you’re not doing your job properly; you’re just a very overpaid member of the team.

When it comes to that bromide about being “Hands On”, here’s the rule to follow:

Be hands-on as much as necessary, but as little as possible.

And over time, given that a part of your job as “boss” is to develop your reports, you should be hands-on less and less.  That will be easier if you master the art of delegation.

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Apologies for all the links, hope they weren’t distracting and that you find some of the material useful.

Questions or comments – feel free.







What does “Leader” mean?

THE term “leader” is ambiguous.  You could use the word to refer to Steve Jobs, Adolf Hitler, the Pope, Jack Walsh, Henry VIII, Albert Einstein or Helen Keller, and in each case be referring to something very different.

There are titled “leaders” (CEOs, managers, supervisors, coaches, generals, etc.) with good leadership skills, and there are titled “leaders” with poor leadership skills, and everything in between.  They may all be called “leaders”, but they are far from the same.

Then there are untitled “leaders”, (rank & file employees, journeymen, scientists, professionals… anyone really…); individuals who possess good leadership skills but have no formal leadership role.  They may not have a title, but they initiate, communicate rationally, inspire others, seek knowledge, are accountable, passionate, and committed; most of the essential attributes of good leadership.

Added to this is the fact that the formal role of any titled “leader” is contextual.  Everyone reports to someone*.  Even the US President is accountable to the electorate and the supreme court.  The same person is a leader in one context and a follower in another.

And the best leaders, in the right circumstances, make the best followers.  They are non-defensive because confident, and thus are open to taking direction and constructive criticism, so long as its valid.  They recognize when another knows better and hence will willingly follow, even if that means relinquishing all or part of their formal power.

The reason this is important to understand is because if you want to develop good leadership in yourself, you need to know what to look for in others, and where to look.  Relying on the example set by most “Leaders” is dangerous.  Admiration and emulation of powerful individuals per se may well give a false impression, because more often than not the power they wield is political or coercive, neither of which is a basis for truly good leadership.

More to come on this; stay tuned.

*I can make a case that true leaders report to no one, but that will be for another post.