Whether you’re a mid-level manager for an organization or the CEO, your leadership style will set the tone for those who follow you. And leadership is like a power that can be used for good or wielded for the dark side. Is your lightsaber red or green? Star Wars analogies aside, how you lead your teams will impact your company’s growth and success, like it or not. Every action you take will either be supportive or detrimental to your teams and their productivity. And that’s an awful lot of weight to carry for any professional.
So, as you explore better tools and methods for leadership and hone your skills, be mindful of two distinct differentiators. Are you a leader? Or are you a boss? How you answer and manifest your leadership style will ultimately determine whether or not you’re successful at the head of the table. It’s not the be-all, end-all method for evaluating your effectiveness as a leader. It is, however, a pivotal distinction to make as you work to better your methods.
If you’re not sure, keep reading. There can be gray areas between running your business like a prison versus running your business like the Silicon Valley free-for-all culture. These are the core differences to help you identify what kind of leader you are, thus allowing you to transform to become the best version of your company or department-leading self.
Are You Listening or Hearing?
The famed Tony Robbins often talks about leadership, more specifically about listening versus hearing. Under his philosophy, effective leaders don’t just “hear” others. Instead, they “strive to understand.” A leader will actively listen, make eye contact, be present, and focus on core motivators. Then, based on the information gathered, a leader will take action to make changes, provide solutions, and disrupt behaviors.
Alternatively, if you’re saying you’re open to suggestions but never implement them, you’re just being a boss. If you hear your teams share problems but don’t prioritize solutions, you’re not really leading. So, consider changing your approach to employees and colleagues that allow for active listening. Put some action steps in place after each conversation to demonstrate your ability to not only hear them but also a willingness to act in addressing their needs.
Are You Open-Minded or a Know-It-All?
Sometimes, as a leader, you feel compelled to have all the answers. Your teams look to you for solutions, knowledge, and experience. But it’s important to remember that even the greatest leaders don’t know everything. And a true leader will admit when there are questions. A boss, on the other hand, will pretend to know the answers for fear of losing power or credibility with subordinates.
Think critically about how you handle challenges and questions from your teams. Make diligent efforts to be open-minded. And this means, even if you think you know the answer, there might be a better, more efficient solution unknown to you. Ask your teams how they would handle the situation and get inspired. Walk them through your problem-solving process so they see how you approach challenges and the unknown. You’ll find that demonstrating your process is just as effective as providing an outright solution. And your teams will respect you more for being transparent and open.
Are You Speaking or Engaging?
When you talk to your employees, in a meeting, in private, or as a group, are you speaking “at” them or “with” them? There’s a difference between speaking to be heard and speaking to engage. A leader will embrace conversational nuances, like pauses between ideas and natural cadence, allowing others to agree, disagree, or respond. Look to connect with your people in more meaningful ways by allowing them to have a voice in the conversation.
There’s another deeper level of understanding when it comes to the power of language. Leaders use language to convey emotion and tell resonating stories as a method of engagement and influence. Bosses will use language to demand behavior or “lay down the law.” Choose your words carefully and make sure every sentence you utter makes a positive impact that welcomes an open dialogue.
Are You Setting an Example or Making Someone the Example?
Another key difference to note between bosses and leaders is the example concept. Leaders will set the example, often using themselves as key figures. Bosses will seek to make examples of others, thinking it’s the teaching tool needed for success. And there is some degree of “making an example” that does make sense. But it’s all in the approach. For example, if you want to share with the team the mistakes of others, then you also have to be committed to sharing the wins of others. When you routinely showcase both wins and mistakes, your teams will recognize your teaching efforts.
However, as an effective leader, instead of singling out anyone, it’s always more impactful when you make yourself the example. Share your mistakes and challenges. Your teams will identify with your example and will respect you for sharing with transparency.
Just remember, they’re always watching you. So, if you expect positive attitudes from those among your ranks, you should always preserve your positive attitude. If you expect them to work late, you had best be working right alongside them after hours. Make yourself the example and watch your employees follow suit.
Are You Dictating or Empowering?
Are you telling people what to do or empowering them to come to their own problem-solving conclusions? A boss will dictate steps and processes. A leader, however, will outline steps and processes, leaving room for the individual to be empowered to problem-solve on their own. If you feel your teams come to you for everything, simple and complex, it might mean they don’t feel as though they are authorized to make a decision without you. But to really create a business where everyone contributes as a well-oiled machine, you want your people to be able to call the shots in your absence. And they should feel confident they have all the tools and resources needed to make those decisions, even if they’re not the way you would make them.
Yes, there are always going to need to be rules for certain things. And processes ensure consistency in service delivery. So, some elements of your company operations will require some level of structure. However, don’t be afraid to loosen the reins a bit to allow for innovation and empowerment. Your teams will only get better as a result, thus improving your company operations as you grow.
Are You Dominating or Collaborating?
How much are you micromanaging? If you’re dominating every conversation or meeting with what you know, you don’t leave much room for fresh ideas or innovation. Be mindful of your presence and make changes to present yourself as an authoritative collaborator, not a domineering czar.
Today’s businesses have to be flexible, dynamic, and agile. The more collaborative you are as a leader, the more dynamic your company will operate. If you’re rigid with your people, they’ll be rigid with their roles and responsibilities. And there won’t be any room for natural inspiration or growth.
Are You Profit-Focused or a Change Agent?
Here’s another distinction to consider. What drives you? Are you predominantly motivated by company profits or professional achievement? Or are you more excited about the prospect of changing the world or bettering others? Bosses will always seek out profits first, whereas leaders will seek out change and innovation.
If you keep your eye on the big-picture prize, improving the lives of others and being a change agent, you’ll always be recognized as a leader. However, if you micromanage your goals to a singular focus of profits, you’ll always find yourself “chasing” the money. In the end, it’s the vision that will drive you and everyone around you. And that’s what drives revenue.
The metrics are important, and profit goals are essential. However, when you open your perspective to lead from a position of changing the world, you’ll always be growing. You know the saying about enjoying the journey, not just the destination. Business and leadership follow the same logic. Lessons learned and broad success of the whole, instead of the one, is where true leadership is defined.
Are You Generalizing or Personalizing?
In today’s workplace, employees need to feel connected and relevant to their companies. They want to know they’re aligning their abilities with a brand that shares their values. They want learning opportunities and growth. They also want flexibility and empathy. As a leader, you can look at your management style to determine if you are, in fact, a leader or if you’re still in boss mode.
A leader seeks to make everyone feel heard, insists each person has the tools they need to perform, and prioritizes happy and healthy workspaces. To achieve these dynamics, you’ll want to customize your approach to each situation. Avoid generalizing for the whole team when individual instruction is needed. And when one person makes a mistake, don’t punish the group to make an example. Customize the workplace experience in a way that you can still maintain standards without compromising the personalization needed to develop healthy working relationships with your teams. When you help your people meet their needs and reach their goals, they’ll be unstoppable as workers for your company.
Are You Assigning Blame or Taking Responsibility?
When the team fails, how do you handle it? A boss will look to break down the failure and assign blame. Alternatively, a leader will take responsibility for the loss or failure directly, then outline process breakdowns or areas of improvement.
In the first scenario, employees can often feel deflated for having been responsible for the team’s failure. In the second scenario, however, each employee will see the leader taking responsibility for having steered the ship in the wrong direction and be inspired to do or be better. When there’s no blame and leadership accountability takes its place, teams will feel connected to the failure without the stress. And they’ll be loyal to the leader who takes responsibility and seeks collective improvement.
Additional Questions to Ask Yourself
If you’re still not sure which side of the boss versus leader line you fall on, and there will be gray areas, you can delve further by asking yourself these questions. These questions can prompt you to begin thinking more like a leader than a boss with every situation. And like any muscle memory training, the more you recognize it, the easier it becomes to change.
- What can I do to make sure everyone feels “heard” in this scenario?
- Am I prioritizing self-improvement and wellness in a way that inspires others to do the same?
- Am I always looking for new and emerging talent from within my organization?
- Do I strive to achieve for myself, or can I be better at helping others become their best?
- Am I talking too much?
- Do my teams believe I hold myself to the same standards as them?
- Is this a mistake others can learn from?
- Am I too hands-off or hands-on?
- Are the processes I’m enforcing still relevant or necessary?
There will always be room for improvement. And again, there will be times when you’re great at leading and others when you’re resorting to boss mode again. The goal is to identify when you can be better and then taking the steps needed in the moment to create better experiences, one at a time.
What are your leadership goals this year? After reading this, do you recognize your pain points that need tweaking? However you decide to change, make sure you do so in the spirit of true leadership initiative. Be bigger and better than ever, and do it in a way that allows you to inspire the best of others. Success and growth will be well within your grasp.
Don’t be afraid to share your leadership journey with others. Let Ghost Blog Writers help you create thought-leadership blogs and articles for LinkedIn. We can help you capture the essence of your company brand along with your leadership voice to create compelling content that demonstrates your impressive leadership!