People often confuse being a leader with being a boss. However, there are some basic distinctions between the two. Read on to see if you are a leader or a boss, and learn how you can be both a leader AND a boss.

Are You A Boss?

Being a boss typically involves being in a position of authority. This authority gives you permission to make decisions that others have to follow, hire or fire people, set the direction, and generally give orders.

Some people thrive on being the boss. They like the power, control, and respect that comes with the position. What people don’t realize is that being the boss says nothing about your inherent talents, skills, or abilities. Sure, people might respect you out of obligation. They might fear you because of your power. They might comply with your control. However, anyone can be put in the position of being the boss.

If you are someone who wants (or tries) to be the boss, consider this question: would you feel satisfied knowing that people only obey you not because they want to, but because they have to? Or, would you rather have people follow you because they look up to you and genuinely want to follow?

Are You A Leader?

Leadership, by contrast, has nothing to do with your position. Anyone can be a leader, regardless of title. You could be a laborer or clerk, rich or poor, old or young, or an average, everyday person and still lead.

What does it mean to lead? Some would argue that leadership involves being in charge and running the show, holding a dominant or superior position and exercising control over other people, or using a random list of qualities. However, for each of those definitions, there are exceptions: consider Tank Man in the Tiananmen Square protest, Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus, or stories like that of Colonel Sanders. None of these people were in charge, ran the show, held dominant positions, or exercised control over people. Yet, they are all considered leaders by many.

A simple definition that I like to use to describe leaders are people who bring out the best in others and inspire change. These are the people who change the world, who others want to follow, and who can turn mediocrity into greatness.

Now that we’ve compared the two, which would you rather be: a leader or a boss?

Examples of Everday Leadership

Given that we’ve seen a little how anyone can be a leader, let’s look at some everyday examples of leadership that demonstrate bringing out the best in others and inspiring change:

  • Asking questions that make people think
  • Presenting different perspectives on a situation
  • Challenging the status quo by speaking up
  • Pitching a new idea
  • Painting a picture of what’s possible
  • Coaching, mentoring, or teaching others
  • Recognizing and naming people’s strengths and talents
  • Serving other people
  • Soliciting ideas
  • Standing up for what you believe in
  • Being the change you wish to see

As you reflect on the above examples, think about who you’d want to follow: someone who demonstrated those behaviors, or someone who was appointed to a position of authority without virtue of their inherent abilities?

Notice how each of the above behaviors are under our control. In each moment, we can choose to practice them, no matter our job, relationship, or status. Being a leader means choosing to be a leader. We just need to make the choice.

The Good News About Leadership

Now that we’ve differentiated leadership from being the boss, here’s the best part: you can be both!

If you are in a position of authority, instead of relying on your status to influence others by force or intimidation, you can practice leadership behaviors. You can leverage the inherent power that comes with your position by bringing out the best in others and inspiring change that serves the majority, not the select few.

These are the types of bosses that people want to work for. People who work for these bosses don’t need external motivation, fear of punishment, or rigid rules to be successful. They naturally will be inspired, excited, and driven to do whatever it takes to produce high-quality work and make their boss look good. They’ll be the ones to innovate, pitch ideas, and take the initiative instead of waiting for their boss to tell them what to do. They’ll demonstrate genuine respect, admiration, and reverence because they’ll naturally feel those things.

So, regardless of your position, which do you want to be?