What’s the Difference Between a Boss and a Leader?

From an early age, my grandfather was an instinctual entrepreneur with a knack for building relationships and businesses. He always told me, “the sign of a good leader is having others follow them.”

The other day, this motto came to mind when my daughter sent me the following cartoon:

the difference between a boss and a leader


The cartoon depicts a “Boss” sitting atop a chariot at his desk, pointing a finger and dictating at three men pulling him forward. Below the image of the Boss, there is an image of an empty chariot with a “Leader” heading his team of pullers.

Today, I want to talk about the difference between a “Boss” and a “Leader.”

A boss is that individual that supervises his or her employees. He watches them to make sure they’re working and on task. At his worst, the Boss treats his employees like lowly servants. At his best, he gets the job done but goes no further. He has no interest in bettering his employees, encouraging them to take training courses or improve themselves;a boss is not a teacher.

A leader is something very different.


A leader is a motivator. He takes time to build teams of people who respect him. As the cartoon demonstrates, he is right in there with his employees, learning and collaborating with them. As my grandfather said, a leader’s team “follows him” because he believes in leading by example. His talents—his ability to get the job done, to be innovative, etc.— are inspiring to his team. I keep using the word “team” because that’s how the Leader perceives his people: not as lowly “employees” but as respected members of his work family, his “teammates.”


A leader must listen, learn and respect the opinions of others. No one ever learned anything by talking. Make your staff feel involved, and they will buy into your goals and aspirations; you will get where you are trying to go much quicker and with less friction. Does this mean that you should only listen and take advice from your top executives and advisors? Absolutely not. Let me share with you a true story that happened to my grandfather many years ago.


My grandfather was getting ready to walk into a building in downtown Washington, DC to purchase it from the owner, who had an office on the top floor. When he stepped into the elevator, he decided to hit the down button instead of the up button. He got out into the basement and walked into the building engineer’s office, where he met up with the man who knew the building better than anyone. He struck up a conversation with the gentlemen, and within 30 minutes, he learned not only what was right with the building but also what was wrong with it. He then proceeded to get back on the elevator to meet with the building owner and with this new knowledge, he saved himself a huge sum of money. His negotiating power increased dramatically when he took the time to listen to others. He ended up purchasing the building while maintaining an excellent and long term relationship with his engineer.


This true story has never left my mind. We never know what we can learn from listening to others. A true leader can gather information, process it and then implement those ideas while developing a bond with those who helped develop the solution. Never forget to share the credit with those who contributed. The outcome you will receive is a loyal and committed employee for life.


Today’s successful leaders are quite different. They will typically have employees that want to be fully engaged at all levels. Work matters to these people, and they want to be part of something good. Most importantly, they need to have the confidence, faith and belief in what the person in charge is doing.