At first glance, it may seem that being a boss or manager is the same thing as being a leader. You might say that all three of those words are synonymous with each other. On paper, this may be true, but the fact of the matter is that there’s a very real difference between managing a team and truly leading a team.

Below, you’ll discover what 3 of those key differences are. You’ll learn how you can move from just being a boss to being an amazing leader.

1. Goal Setting

When it comes to goal-setting, are you a one-man or one-woman show, or do you get your team involved? Bosses tend to set goals without involving the team, which often leads to frustration among team members. Why? Because more often than not, the boss will set goals that are simply unrealistic and impossible. Additionally, team members are often left confused by how to approach the goal and end up wasting too much time scrambling to develop a strategy by the boss’s deadline.

A leader, however, understands that one of the top priorities in maintaining a happy and productive workplace is to ensure all of her team members share a common goal. She creates objectives and key results with her team and helps each team member understand the role they play and how they can contribute toward achieving the goal. As a result, team members feel needed. They’re more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty because they feel as if they have ownership over the goal and the strategy to accomplish it.

2. Support

A boss is often feared in the workplace, the one person no one wants to upset for fear of the repercussions that may follow: being criticized in front of the entire office and having one’s mistakes dissected without any productive input. That’s a common trait among bosses, in fact. When an employee performs poorly, they believe verbal lashings and power plays will get them the result they want. In reality, this more often than not produces the opposite effect, lowering an employee’s self-esteem and increasing the likelihood that they’ll perform poorly again.

Leaders, however, know how to support their team members. They look for ways to improve those under their leadership. If they can identify learning gaps among their team, they connect the employees in question with the right resources and training. A leader praises a team member when they succeed but also jumps in to help when obstacles arise. A leader is encouraging, helpful, and the number one person her team can go to when they have questions or concerns.

3. Influence

A boss believes that the only way to show authority is to assert his control over his team. These types of bosses believe in demanding respect – as opposed to earning it. They are often bullies in the workplace, believing the only way to demonstrate their power is to bring down others and/or be hard on employees. They are overly critical, uninterested in feedback from the team, and hard to please.

A leader, however, believes in inspiring – not in intimidating. A leader wants his team to grow and learn under his leadership, and he’ll give them plenty of opportunities to develop their strengths and also improve their weaknesses. They encourage feedback from their team and take action when there are concerns. They don’t place the blame on their team when there are misses but instead evaluates the situation with their member and develops a new strategy right alongside them. Their employees feel comfortable coming to them because they develop healthy relationships with each other.


So, are you a boss or a leader? Looking at the characteristics above, you’ll be better at determining how to become more of a leader to your team. Under the guidance of a leader, teams will always be happier, healthier, and more productive in the workplace.


Images courtesy of Depositphotos

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Ros Cardinal

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a consultancy specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and leadership coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years. Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, emotional intelligence, organisational behaviour, employee engagement, strategic direction and management.
Ros is a Certified Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute (CAHRI), a member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) and a Professional Member of the Australian Association for Psychological Type (AusAPT). She holds a Graduate Diploma in Human Resources from Deakin University, an Australian Human Resources Institute Professional Diploma in Human Resources and has completed the Australian Graduate School of Management Executive Program, Strategic Human Resource Management.