Leader vs. Boss 

A leader is someone within an organization who possesses the ability to influence and lead others by example. Leaders inspire, support, and encourage those beneath them and work continuously to achieve objectives. A boss is someone within an organization who gives direct orders to subordinates, tends to be autocratic, and prefers to be in control at all times.

Key Similarities between Leaders and Bosses:

Responsible for others

Both leaders and bosses are responsible for managing and overseeing the work of their subordinates.

Hold positions of authority

Both leaders and bosses hold positions of authority within the organization, giving them the power to make decisions and direct the actions of others.

Influence on the team

Both leaders and bosses have an impact on the team’s performance and overall work environment.

Can provide guidance and direction

Both leaders and bosses can provide guidance, instructions, and direction to their subordinates to achieve organizational goals.

The difference between leaders and bosses

If one searches for the definition of a leader and boss in the dictionary, the definitions provided for each are very similar.

Both roles require the individual to be responsible for others, but while leaders lead subordinates or teams, bosses are in charge of them. 

This subtle difference and its various ramifications are explained in more detail below.


Leaders prioritize their employees and are said to be people experts. They are empathic, sensitive, and understand effective conflict resolution strategies. 

Bosses prioritize results and are said to be subject matter experts.

While unhappy workers are said to cost businesses as much as $550 billion per annum, a boss will nevertheless pursue profit over the well-being of their subordinates.

Leadership style

Leaders motivate their workforce by setting an example and inspiring others to follow them.

They don’t command respect but instead trust that employees will look up to them based on their fair and proactive leadership

Bosses, on the other hand, tend to use fear and bravado in an attempt to command respect from their subordinates.

This may be effective in the short term, but ultimately, it causes employee burnout, resentment, and conflict.


Most leaders work in close collaboration with employees and understand what it takes to build a positive culture.

They know the names of those around them and are aware of their unique strengths and weaknesses.

They also enjoy celebrating wins and feel like just another member of the team working toward the same goal.

Bosses do not work in close collaboration with employees. They see their role (and indeed themselves) as separate or superior to their employees, and they do not take the time to understand them on a personal level. 

Leader examples

Examples of successful business leaders include:

Walt Disney

Who favored the participatory leadership style and valued the contributions of his teams and peers.

Richard Branson

The Virgin founder has a somewhat unique leadership style that emphasizes fun, joy, and laughter.

He also prefers to praise people when they do well as opposed to criticizing them when they don’t. 

Boss examples

Here are two examples of bad bosses:

Alejandro Rhett

The ex-VP of fashion brand J. Crew once made 175 staff redundant and then boasted about it on Instagram.

J. Edgar Hoover

The former FBI boss was notorious for his unconventional workplace rules and was feared by his employees.

He did not allow them to drink coffee after 8.15 am, for example, and insisted they be on-call 24 hours a day in the event he needed them for menial tasks like mowing his lawn.

Additional Case Studies


  • Satya Nadella (Microsoft): Under his leadership, Microsoft shifted its focus from being “Windows-first” to “cloud-first.” Nadella is known for his empathetic leadership style, emphasizing the importance of growth mindset and innovation.
  • Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo): As the former CEO, she was known for her visionary leadership, emphasizing both performance and purpose, and driving the company towards sustainable practices and healthier products.
  • Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook): As COO, Sandberg emphasizes the importance of resilience, leadership, and team collaboration. She also advocates for women in leadership through her book “Lean In.”
  • Howard Schultz (Starbucks): Schultz is credited with building Starbucks into a global brand. He emphasized the importance of corporate social responsibility and creating a “third place” for people to gather.

Bosses (Negative Examples):

  • Travis Kalanick (Uber): The co-founder and former CEO of Uber faced criticism for fostering a toxic work environment, leading to numerous scandals and his eventual resignation.
  • John Schnatter (Papa John’s Pizza): Schnatter faced backlash for making controversial remarks, leading to his resignation as the company’s spokesperson and chairman.
  • Dov Charney (American Apparel): The founder and former CEO faced allegations of misconduct and was eventually ousted from the company after it filed for bankruptcy.
  • Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos): Once celebrated as a visionary leader, Holmes and her company faced allegations of fraud, leading to a significant downfall of the once-promising biotech startup.

Key takeaways

  • A leader is someone within an organization who possesses the ability to influence and lead others by example. A boss is someone who gives direct orders to subordinates, tends to be autocratic, and prefers to be in control at all times.
  • Leaders are empathic, collaborative, people experts who understand what it takes to build a positive culture. Bosses are results-oriented, adversarial, subject matter experts who maintain distance between themselves and subordinates.
  • Examples of successful leaders include Walt Disney and Richard Branson. Two examples of bad bosses include former J. Crew VP Alejandro Rhett and J. Edgar Hoover.

Key Highlights on Leaders vs. Bosses:

  • Definition: While both leaders and bosses hold authority in an organization, leaders inspire and motivate, whereas bosses tend to give direct orders.
  • Similarities:
    • Responsibility: Both oversee the work of their subordinates.
    • Authority: Both possess decision-making power.
    • Influence: Both impact team dynamics and performance.
    • Guidance: Both provide direction to achieve goals.
  • Differences:
    • Priorities: Leaders value people and their well-being, whereas bosses emphasize results.
    • Leadership Style: Leaders inspire and set examples; bosses use authority and often resort to fear.
    • Collaboration: Leaders work closely with teams, understanding individual strengths and weaknesses. Bosses maintain distance.
  • Examples of Leaders:
    • Walt Disney: Valued team contributions and participation.
    • Richard Branson: Emphasized joy and praised team achievements.
  • Examples of Bosses:
    • Alejandro Rhett: Boasted about staff layoffs on social media.
    • J. Edgar Hoover: Imposed strict and arbitrary rules, requiring employees to be available constantly.
  • Conclusion: Leaders cultivate positive cultures through empathy and collaboration, while bosses often focus on results, sometimes at the expense of employee well-being. Successful organizations often benefit more from leadership qualities that foster team growth and unity.

Read Also: Leadership vs. Management.

Connected Leadership Concepts And Frameworks

Leadership Styles

Leadership styles encompass the behavioral qualities of a leader. These qualities are commonly used to direct, motivate, or manage groups of people. Some of the most recognized leadership styles include Autocratic, Democratic, or Laissez-Faire leadership styles.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Blue Ocean Leadership

Authors and strategy experts Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne developed the idea of blue ocean leadership. In the same way that Kim and Mauborgne’s blue ocean strategy enables companies to create uncontested market space, blue ocean leadership allows companies to benefit from unrealized employee talent and potential.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.

Ethical Leadership

Ethical leaders adhere to certain values and beliefs irrespective of whether they are in the home or office. In essence, ethical leaders are motivated and guided by the inherent dignity and rights of other people.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a style of leadership that motivates, encourages, and inspires employees to contribute to company growth. Leadership expert James McGregor Burns first described the concept of transformational leadership in a 1978 book entitled Leadership. Although Burns’ research was focused on political leaders, the term is also applicable for businesses and organizational psychology.

Leading by Example

Those who lead by example let their actions (and not their words) exemplify acceptable forms of behavior or conduct. In a manager-subordinate context, the intention of leading by example is for employees to emulate this behavior or conduct themselves.

Leader vs. Boss

A leader is someone within an organization who possesses the ability to influence and lead others by example. Leaders inspire, support, and encourage those beneath them and work continuously to achieve objectives. A boss is someone within an organization who gives direct orders to subordinates, tends to be autocratic, and prefers to be in control at all times.

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is based on situational leadership theory. Developed by authors Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard in the late 1960s, the theory’s fundamental belief is that there is no single leadership style that is best for every situation. Situational leadership is based on the belief that no single leadership style is best. In other words, the best style depends on the situation at hand.

Succession Planning

Succession planning is a process that involves the identification and development of future leaders across all levels within a company. In essence, succession planning is a way for businesses to prepare for the future. The process ensures that when a key employee decides to leave, the company has someone else in the pipeline to fill their position.

Fiedler’s Contingency Model

Fielder’s contingency model argues no style of leadership is superior to the rest evaluated against three measures of situational control, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level. In Fiedler’s contingency model, task-oriented leaders perform best in highly favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations that are moderately favorable but can improve their position by using superior interpersonal skills.

Management vs. Leadership


Cultural Models

In the context of an organization, cultural models are frameworks that define, shape, and influence corporate culture. Cultural models also provide some structure to a corporate culture that tends to be fluid and vulnerable to change. Once upon a time, most businesses utilized a hierarchical culture where various levels of management oversaw subordinates below them. Today, however, there exists a greater diversity in models as leaders realize the top-down approach is outdated in many industries and that success can be found elsewhere.

Action-Centered Leadership

Action-centered leadership defines leadership in the context of three interlocking areas of responsibility and concern. This framework is used by leaders in the management of teams, groups, and organizations. Developed in the 1960s and first published in 1973, action-centered leadership was revolutionary for its time because it believed leaders could learn the skills they needed to manage others effectively. Adair believed that effective leadership was exemplified by three overlapping circles (responsibilities): achieve the task, build and maintain the team, and develop the individual.

High-Performance Coaching

High-performance coaches work with individuals in personal and professional contexts to enable them to reach their full potential. While these sorts of coaches are commonly associated with sports, it should be noted that the act of coaching is a specific type of behavior that is also useful in business and leadership. 

Forms of Power

When most people are asked to define power, they think about the power a leader possesses as a function of their responsibility for subordinates. Others may think that power comes from the title or position this individual holds. 

Tipping Point Leadership

Tipping Point Leadership is a low-cost means of achieving a strategic shift in an organization by focusing on extremes. Here, the extremes may refer to small groups of people, acts, and activities that exert a disproportionate influence over business performance.

Vroom-Yetton Decision Model

The Vroom-Yetton decision model is a decision-making process based on situational leadership. According to this model, there are five decision-making styles guides group-based decision-making according to the situation at hand and the level of involvement of subordinates: Autocratic Type 1 (AI), Autocratic Type 2 (AII), Consultative Type 1 (CI), Consultative Type 2 (CII), Group-based Type 2 (GII).

Likert’s Management Systems

Likert’s management systems were developed by American social psychologist Rensis Likert. Likert’s management systems are a series of leadership theories based on the study of various organizational dynamics and characteristics. Likert proposed four systems of management, which can also be thought of as leadership styles: Exploitative authoritative, Benevolent authoritative, Consultative, Participative.

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