Guiding a Company to Sure Success: Be Both a “Boss” and a “Leader”

It is a well-known belief that “managers” are not born but have to learn their trade just like everyone else: either on the job and/or owning a business. It is also a well-known fact that people can go to school to learn about business management, learn how to be a “manager.” Plus, what it means to be in a management position, occupy the role of manager or owner of a company, is relatively well-defined. When it comes to the topic of “leadership,” however, there seems to be a lot of grey area about what being a “leader” actually means, and a ready definition of “leadership” is not available to most of us. In fact, many people, if asked, would probably respond that having “leadership” skills is like having a “talent” like that of a musician or a professional athlete; i.e., the belief is that having a talent or being a leader is innate; it’s something one either just has or one doesn’t have. You are either born with it or not. The important fact is, however, as Warren Bennis, one of the most well-known and acknowledged experts in “leadership science,” a university professor and consultant to numerous Fortune 500 companies, and a bestselling author of over ten books on leadership explains: “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

Comparing “Bosses” and “Leaders”
The important lesson is, of course, that one learns to be a leader; one can develop the skills necessary for effective readership. When one looks into the topic, one will find plenty of tabular comparisons, matching up what a “boss/manager” is and what a “leader” is, and most evaluations often denigrate being the “boss” and advance the idea that it is better to be a “leader” in the company. Take as one example from many this comparison from an article titled: “7 Characteristics That Separate a Boss from a Leader,” published at

1. Leaders lead rather than rule.
2. Leaders listen and speak rather than command.
3. Leaders motivate rather than terrify.
4. Leaders teach and learn rather than expect and ignore.
5. Leaders take part rather than stay aside.
6. Leaders reprimand rather than scold or shout.
7. Leaders establish relationships.

This approach and attitude it typical of most writings on the topic of explaining what a “leader” is, by comparing it to what it should not be, i.e., a “boss” or “manager.” The assumption in these kinds of comparisons is that being a “boss/manager” is ineffective while being a “leader” brings untold assured results. Being a boss/manager implies having negative qualities that employees poorly respond to whereas being a leader implies having those positive qualities that employees can easily embrace and willingly follow.
A more subtle approach, one that is more “real” and closer to how someone in a position of company owner or company top management should appreciate is that both characteristics and approaches are necessary. The difference is, the smart business owner or person of business authority knows when to embody and project the roles, manners and characteristics of a “boss” and when to embody and project the roles, manners and characteristics of a “leader.”
So, one can learn how to become a “leader” if one works hard at it and understands how important it is for company ownership or company management. Plus, being able to embody both roles leads to the most successful and profitable businesses.

Going Beyond the Traditional Dichotomy
It is important to sometimes step back and review the means you put in place and the attitude you project when “being in charge” because your belief-systems and ways of doing business inevitably become the major reference point for your employees and, if you set yourself up properly, can become a huge factor in your company’s achievements and successes. What is your management philosophy? How do you position your authority with respect to your employees? What strategies do you put in place to inspire your employees so that they strive for excellence? Some think that they do not have what it takes to be both a “boss” and a “leader.” Studies show, however, that if the person at the top, the person at the helm who steers the company in this or that direction can embody both sets of characteristics, their companies are more successful and have more content employees. As the old saying goes: “A happy employee leads to better business.” These kinds of common-sense truisms are, just that, a true reflection of how things could be in your company. True leaders are “visionaries” not in some mystical sense, but meaning that they create a unique mind-set, a common purpose, a set of goals for the company and its employees to aspire to. But “visions” are obviously not enough. The smart business owner can switch and when needed, take on the role of business planner, setting agendas, devising budgets, strategizing how to increase cash flow, how to acquire new customers, etc. Sometimes employees need direction, need a specific set of policies or protocols to follow in carrying out their jobs, fulfilling their responsibilities, dealing with customers, etc. Such policies are important to have in place. But, again, the smart business owner goes further, opening their doors and ears to input and feedback from the employees. Let’s face it, workers are the front line at the actual job site, and they may discover new or innovative ways of doing things that, although seeming to go against the grain of the established protocols, nevertheless can advance the business, make a process more efficient, etc. Being a leader merely requires that you be flexible, take into account what your employees have to say. (An alternative to having one person play both roles is to divide it up and have the owner project the visions of a leader while top management puts in place the policies and supervision necessary.)

Leadership Matters
According to experts who cite the U.S. Small Business Administration, 9 out of 10 small businesses fail in the first three years (Headd, 2003), and this is such a problem that the unemployment it creates, as well as other problems it causes, actually negatively affects the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), slowing economic growth in our country. This has led to much research and an authoritative study discovered that the main reason for small business failure is the lack of effective leadership and the absence of explicit organizational goals and objectives that strong leaders that embody both management styles would put in place to guide employees in order to achieve the company’s directives (Valdiserri and Wilson, 2010). The study began with the premise that “for a small business to be successful it must have robust leadership.” With strong leadership small businesses have been proven to be more successful and profitable in many ways, according to the study. The research canvassed dozens and dozens of small businesses in the construction industry, using empirically valid questionnaires and interviews, including the well-tested “Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire” survey (MLQ). Strong leadership, the kind we have been discussing, “comprised the independent variable that influenced the outcome of the dependent variables of small business profitability and organizational success.” The upshot of these authoritative research studies is that the right kind of leadership, like being able to embody both styles we have been discussing, matters! It has a strong impact on whether you and your business will succeed or fail to meet its goals and objectives.

Provide Structure as Well as Security
It’s common sense that a company cannot run effectively without a structure, without some kind of managerial supervision, providing direction and guidance concerning correct procedures and operations—telling employees what is, and what is not, the correct way of doing things. But, again, also take the time to develop a relationship with your employees. Let them know how you feel, let them know you understand where they are coming from, their situations, their needs and requirements both labor related but also on in a more personal way. This will go far in establishing trust and confidence in your employees that will go both ways. You can learn to trust them and be confident in their skills and, likewise they come to trust you and become confident that you have their interests in mind.
Don’t just tell them what to do, don’t just provide direction, but take the time to go that step further, engage with your managers and employees in order to discover their unexpressed knowledge, talents, skills, and abilities. Find out what is important to them in their careers as well as life goals. Realize that employees are not just “workers” but are also human beings who desire a stimulating career path which includes assurances of development, growth and promotions or raises. Who knows what you could uncover that could be beneficial to your business.

Employees Are Human Beings
Furthermore, and on a more personal level, realize that employees esteem—inside as well as outside their careers—creating positive and lasting connections with other human beings, seeking out peer recognition, aspiring to personal growth and self-expression, and feeing most comfortable in their work environment where they can experience a sense of belonging and community. Deep down inside, employees expect that these and other intrinsic values will become available in a company they work for, and hope employers provide the necessary incentives and environment in order to allow these intrinsic human values to flourish.
A true leader is a source of inspiration to her or his employees, who in turn, when they feel like they belong to something important and are respected for the roles they play within the company, inevitably will strive to do their best. This is a well-proven business dictum!