By Terri Horvath
In today’s corporate culture, “boss” has nearly become a dirty word. Google the term, and you find the characteristics of a boss to be one who “inspires fear,” “takes credit” and “uses people.” A leader, on the other hand, “inspires enthusiasm,” “gives credit” and “develops people.” “The derogatory terms used for a boss, however, just describe a bad business model,” said Doug Austron, an adjunct professor at Indiana University Kelly School of Business who teaches courses on leadership.
Instead, “boss” should apply to any person given that title by being hired or appointed to a position of authority, he said. He explained there are differences between a good boss and a bad boss. Every company needs a good boss who should focus on the mechanics of the operations and ensure plans and quality controls are in place. “That boss can also be a good leader,” said Austron. “But, a leader doesn’t depend on a title. This is someone who just gets the important things done.”
For Frank Davis, the owner of Circle City Rebar in Indianapolis, the primary difference between a boss and a leader lies in how you treat employees. “A leader inspires you to do something, but a boss makes you do something. Leaders delegate and trust their employees.”
Asked for clarification on the subject, he spent several minutes praising his employees for their initiative and “go-the-extra-mile” attitude. In summing up his thoughts he said, “If you value more about what you get out of people than the credit you receive yourself, then you are well on your way to being a leader.” “A profound distinction in good leadership is respect for human dignity,” added Austron. “Fundamentally it’s about viewing people as people and not objects.”
Fort Wayne businessman John Dortch, who owns the consulting firm The Preston Joan Group, added another level to the distinctions. “A boss deals from a position of authority, and many times separates himself from his staff. A leader instead walks along with the staff. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and has built a relationship of trust.” He added that a leader has to lead by example. This is advice start-up entrepreneur Tekisha Collins, who developed “Smoogy” cookie, has adopted. She said she wants people to see her example of determination. “No matter how many no’s I get,” said Collins, “I keep going. By showing others my hard work and determination, I want to motivate them in the direction I want to go.”
Collins admitted she may face a future problem in her leadership skills. She worries about giving up control and delegating tasks to others. “At some point, I know I have to trust others to handle some of the details to free me up to do what needs to be done.” This type of self-evaluation is also important in leadership, advised Davis. He said occasionally you have to reevaluate yourself as a leader versus a boss.
“It’s very easy to slide back into being a boss.” So, here’s a quick test in evaluating your leadership skills: Do employees dodge direct conversations with you about work and cower while passing you in the hallway? If yes, then you probably qualify as a bad boss. Do employees come to you unafraid with suggestions and ask for your opinions? If yes, congratulations! You pass the first level of leadership.