Saturday, June 08, 2013

“Boss” or “Leader”?

“You’re not my boss!”  In recent years, this has been a favorite response from children who don’t want to do what they have been directed to do.  This is a cry for freedom from unwanted or unpleasant direction.  Of course, this response fails to recognize that the person giving the direction probably is that child’s “boss”—a parent or teacher, for example.

As an adult, I have never seen “boss” as a negative term.  I have sometimes used it as an expression of respect and even affection.  Sometimes it is nice to know who is in charge and who will take ultimate responsibility for a decision, thus giving some structure and order in often chaotic circumstances.

Most often, the word “boss” is defined as one who exercises control over workers whether they are skilled or unskilled.  When I looked at one online source, both “boss” and “leader” were defined as “a person who leads, guides, or inspires others.”

I will grant that some people are habitually more bosses than leaders.  They are more concerned about the bottom line or “nickels and noses” than they are about the empowerment of their colleagues or subordinates.  They can become “bossy” with little regard about how this comes across to others.

On the other hand, we expect “leaders” to be concerned about empowerment, casting a vision, and making everyone feel involved as the organization moves into a better future.  This is not always the case.

For example, was Steve Jobs a “boss” or a “leader”?  One’s response probably depends on that individual’s perspective and personal experience with the man.  To some, he was “bossy”—irrational, unpredictable, mercurial, and perfectionist.  To others, he was a “leader”—visionary, creative, unique, and inspiring. 

Perhaps it is possible for one person to be both.  Sometimes, the designated leader must be arbitrary and directive, while at other times he or she can be visionary and empowering.  The situation often determines which approach is best. 

There are times when I have needed a “boss” and others when I needed a “leader.”  Often one person filled both roles.  Perhaps that is the nature of leadership.


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