Leader vs. boss

As we review this year’s SMART 50, many of us will recognize familiar names, friends and colleagues among the honorees. Some of us will make a note to connect, and some of us will review this list with a level of self-reflection.

In addition to recognition and networking, these lists can trigger a series of internal questions. Should I be on this list someday? Can I be on this list? How did they get on this list? Am I building a successful team or organization?

Regardless of what you ask yourself, having that self-awareness and self-reflection are prerequisites to leadership.

Leaders are created

Leaders develop people, strategize on obstacles, empower teams, recognize others, help create bridges and say, “Let’s go” to create, innovate and impact.

Bosses, on the other hand, drive people, take credit, inspire with fear and replace “we” with “I,” too often relying on authority to get things done.

Not all bosses will evolve into leaders. Most promotions are not accompanied by culture or team-building coaches to empower effective leadership. In fact, through my diversity and inclusion work, most employees see their direct manager as a boss, with glimpses of leadership potential. When asked, “Has your manager asked about your career goals in the last six to nine months,” many say no. But when asked, “Do you know your manager’s goals?” many respond with yes.

Because retention and team development are often not primary measurements, many managers are not required to set aside the time to learn how to motivate the employees that make their annual reviews a reality.

How do bosses become leaders?

Leaders were once bosses who made the time to work from the inside out, fostering new self-assurance levels. From my research, leaders who cultivate this shift dedicated time to mastermind groups, goodwill work, mindfulness and self-reflection on life events and learned leadership practices through books, podcasts and training. These types of activities create a space that increases self-reflection and self-awareness.

Over time, these activities cultivate a shift that takes the internal focus away from the person and transfers the interest into empowering and helping others. This shift often decouples the need to be “in charge” and instead positions the work as a guide to the people involved. This collective approach creates an environment where diverse contributions are welcomed, and the momentum of the team will supersede an individual’s accomplishments.
Ask yourself:

  • Are you a boss or a leader?
  • Do you work from a place of fear or a place of opportunity and community?
  • Do you see yourself as being “in charge” or “a guide”?

It is not easy to shift from being in charge to being a guide, but it is necessary to move from being a boss to being a leader.

To do so, be honest about how you approach your position and how you interact with the people around you. Do the self-work necessary to increase your self-awareness on your “why” and then work to become an empowering catalyst of people to create a sustainable impact.

JJ DiGeronimo is President of Tech Savvy Women