Just because you’re in a position of authority doesn’t mean you’re effective at your job.
To truly get your direct reports to the next level, you need to be a committed leader who inspires everyone to do their best. Being a boss or a mere manager won’t get the job done.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the differences between each kind of authority figure—the boss, the manager, and the leader—as we rank them from worst to best.
1. The Boss
Of the three, the boss is most likely to create a toxic work environment. This category is where you’re going to find the narcissists and the bullies.
Bosses are smart people who possess the capacity to do better; that’s how they landed their roles in the first place. It’s just that they refuse to learn or haven’t been taught the basic skills needed to demonstrate Tactical Empathy™—or the ability to consciously demonstrate an understanding of their employees perspective.
They operate this way because of the hubris that their egos produce. Bosses believe that they are or should be infallible. These are the people who equate authority with power. They do many of the things they do not because they should but simply because they can. These are the my way or the highway types.
All too often, they are insensitive to the impact that their words and behaviors have on those under their charge.
Remember: People don’t leave their companies because they hate their jobs. They leave because they don’t like their bosses.
If there’s a silver lining to this style of leader, it’s that they are better versed at aggressive, direct communication—a skill that has its time and place. When the enemy is inside the wire, and they are passing out the last rounds of ammunition, direct, curt communication is warranted. The problem is that these bosses don’t know how to turn it off.
2. The Manager
This type of authority figure is almost exclusively a task manager. They want to manage the environment and they have little interest in or use for connecting with their people. Unfortunately, that lack of willingness to connect is problematic for their teams.
Managers are so focused on the mission that anything that rocks the boat is an annoyance. Having to mitigate said rocking boat is just one more thing that takes their attention away from moving the organization forward. To this end, managers go out of their way to avoid difficult conversations. They also do their best to avoid making decisions because they don’t want to be perceived as making the wrong one.
The manager is torn between who they are and how they are perceived. They’re in the midst of a constant internal battle to prove themselves, which usually translates to an overbearing management style. Managers don’t operate this way maliciously. They simply care about their image, and they do everything they can to protect it.
Managers find themselves more comfortable doing the work themselves than they are delegating because they figure they know how to do it better than anyone else and if they do it, they know it will be done right. Simply put, many managers are micromanagers. They jump in and do the work in the mud when they should be directing how the mud is dealt with. Unfortunately, that micromanagement attacks employee autonomy—which causes people to begin resenting their superiors.
Managers genuinely want to be liked, and that comes across in the way they deliver their messages. But at the end of the day, it’s all about self-image. Difficult conversations are avoided and new ideas rarely bubble to the surface.
3. The Leader
Everyone in a position of authority should strive to be a leader. This is the person who balances the needs of the organization with the needs of the individual employee with good proficiency. Leaders recognize that it’s not all about them, and they use Tactical Empathy to connect with their team on a deep level. In fact, the highest-performing organizations have exceptional leaders who use Tactical Empathy every day to get the best out of their teams.
Leaders know how to keep their Ego and Authority™ in check. They know that doing so is important. When unchecked, ego and authority can impact their decisions, their behaviors, and their people—and not in a good way. Leaders are more proactive, more strategic, and more intuitive. As a bonus, it’s much easier for them to navigate difficult conversations because they adopt a caregiver mindset and cultivate an environment where each member of the team feels involved and enjoys what they’re doing.
How to Be a Leader
Transitioning from a boss or manager to a leader starts by aggressively increasing your Emotional Intelligence™ (EQ)™. To do that, use affirmations and literally look in the mirror and say It’s not about me out loud. Make a concerted effort to view the landscape through the eyes of the people you are responsible for.
Recognize that your words and action affect those around you. When you understand that everything you say or do has an impact on the person receiving the message, you can increase morale, get employees to buy in easily, and improve collaboration.
Leaders understand that they are third. Their people are first and the organization is second. It’s about putting your people first. When your employees know that you understand their circumstances and what they’re going through, they’ll go to bat for you day in and day out. It’s really that simple.
Becoming a leader requires a never-ending quest for knowledge. As Harry Truman once said, leaders are readers. The leader who stops learning is doomed to failure. If you’re interested in becoming a better leader, check out my book: Ego, Authority, Failure: Using Emotional Intelligence Like a Hostage Negotiator to Succeed as a Leader™. If you already have, continue your journey by checking out The Black Swan Group Leadership Guide™.