Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Difference Between a Boss and a Leader

Act #96:  Lead, don't boss.

Today I am attending the inauguration of my alma mater's 9th president, which is causing me to reflect on the concept of leadership - the mountains of literature I've read on what makes a good leader, 20 years of radically different bosses, and my own mistakes as I continue to navigate this complex journey.  If you were to google traits of a good boss, you'd find words like: confident, communicates, listens, trust, feedback, resources, control, consistent, responsible, visionary, and fair. 

While these traits are obviously valuable, I wanted to offer a few more that have been slowly brewing in my mind over the last decade or so.  It's been hard for me to put my finger on them, much less articulate them in one concise word (as you'll see below).  But over the last 10 years or so, I've encountered people who have quietly stood out (even though they never sought to), and who were incredibly successful in their respective fields (even though they didn't define success in traditional terms).  I began to ask myself what traits they possessed that were beyond the list above and this is where I landed:

They don't see themselves as bosses.
Sure they are confident, decisive, and not afraid to take calculated risks, but it's never about them.  It's about something much greater than their individual desire for power and control.  Sometimes it's a worthy mission.  Sometimes it's a legacy of excellence.  Whatever the motivation is, because it is not self-serving, they actually see themselves as "working for their employees", providing them with the tools, resources, clarity, and structure to do their jobs.

They define success beyond the bottom line.
While they take great pride in critical assessment, evaluation, and an evidence-based approach to their work, at the end of the day it's less about the numbers and more about the people.  Period.  You could be producing bars of soap in a factory, but you're not doing a good job simply because you produce x number of bars a day.  You're doing a good job if the soap that you produce makes someone feel vibrant and clean, and refreshes them daily, if even for a small moment in the shower.

They connects the dots.
Regardless of the size of the organization, good leaders know what's going on in various departments, with various employees, and externally outside the organization.  They recognize that these various moving pieces can and should impact one another - and they make intentional decisions to minimize tensions and duplication of work, leverage trends and new opportunities for innovation, and maximize employee collaborations and overall work flow.

They are authentic to the core.
Employees can see right through the most prestigious ivy league MBA.  They know when you are quoting the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  They can tell when they are being "marketed to" or "pitched".  In my experience, my most respected mentors have been painfully real.  Authentic, sometimes even vulnerable - and that has earned every ounce of respect I continue to have for them.  Authenticity makes them relatable.  It builds trust. Would you want to work for someone you don't trust?

So while confidence and vision may seem like essential traits in an effective boss, I would respectfully add the above traits as essential qualities in a true leader.


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