Lean Quote: A Boss vs A Leader

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.


"A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions.  —  Russel Ewing

We’ve all experienced variations of Boss vs. Leader types in our working lives. The truth is, it seems easier and more expedient to “boss” than to be a leader. But research and anecdotal evidence both show that leaders have more engaged employees, and get better results.  

Being a boss is a lot easier than being a leader. Bosses issue orders and enforce rules. They manage up, not down, and are more concerned with pleasing their own bosses than with helping to grow their own employees. Bosses typically have a fixed idea of how things should work and are not open to new ideas. Of course, “my way or the highway" does not develop committed employees. Those who succumb to the "authority trap" and try to tell and/or sell their ideas are not leading; they are issuing orders or dictating.  

A leader needs to exhibit flexibility and develop common goals that individuals can support and become excited about. Leading requires a dialogue between the employee and the manager. The manager is working not only to attain acceptable performance levels, but also to help the employee grow and develop into a self-motivated achiever who will not only perform satisfactorily but will want to be the best that they can be. 

Here are some major differences between a boss and a leader: 

1. Bosses “tell”; leaders “teach”. When it comes to improving performance, the boss tells the employee what is expected and how to get things done. The leader explains what is needed and why, and seeks the employee’s input and ideas. Leaders show employees how to improve, seek their commitment, and encourage them to think for themselves.  

2. Bosses inspire fear; leaders inspire trust. While fear may work in the short term, it does not inspire people to do their best in the long term. Fearful employees do what they need to do to survive, at least until they find a different job. Employees working for a good leader feel a sense of belonging, empowerment, and loyalty that makes them want to do their best work.  

3. Bosses like to talk; leaders prefer to listen. Bosses are often out of touch with the day-to-day realities of the workplace. They are often inaccessible. They tend to spend a lot of time away from the work area: in their offices, on the computer, in meetings. Leaders like to work where the action is. They want to be available for the employees and want to be part of the daily activity.  

4. A boss needs to control. Whether it is the flow of paper, calls, e-mails, requests, or meetings, bosses want everything to go through them. Control is central to their being. A leader uses control as a tool selectively. Leaders allow a free flow of information without feeling the need to be traffic cops. They are not threatened by members of their team talking to their own coach or their coach's coach. By being honest and candid, they tell it like it is to their team and they expect the same in return.  

5. A boss limits the training and development of the people under him or her. Bosses want only the most necessary technical or administration training for their people. Development is foreign to the boss. A leader ranks training and development as a top priority. Once a leader hires the best, he molds them to make them even better. Nothing is more gratifying to a leader than seeing their people advance to ever greater heights. They see it not as a threat but as the greatest compliment 

Nobody wants a boss, but everybody wants a leader. 


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