At one of our dinner conversations, my husband and I talked about how different we are when it comes to raising our three children. At one point, he commented how my authoritative stand made me more of a boss than a leader, and that I should aspire to be the latter.

It got me thinking about these two labels and how important it is these days to be aware of the small but stark differences. While your team may quickly understand that you’re the “boss” who gives out the day’s orders, your ability to position yourself as a “leader” they have full confidence in can make all the difference in the way they respond to and work with you.

Caveman Leadership Isn’t Going to Cut It

Gone are the days when employees simply nod their heads to the Big Boss who barks out orders and expects a full report by the end of the day.

A positive and thriving company culture that breeds progress and success banks on individuals, with unique talents and skills, who feel happy and satisfied with the work that they do and the people they work with. A boss who’s only interest is to meet goals and expectations, make profit, and runs the show on intimidation and domination would ultimately drive people away in frustration and dread.

In short, being in a place of authority alone doesn’t earn trust and respect. You have to remove yourself from your high pedestal and find that balance between being in tune with your team’s needs and ideas and leading them towards the ideal end goal.

And so as parents, it’s important that we create an environment where the children can feel free to express themselves and share their thoughts and ideas with us.

It’s Time to Evolve From Being a Boss to Being a Leader

So how do you level up from being a bone-clubbing boss to a perceptive and innovative leader?

Rather than giving you binary oppositions that categorize these two roles in black and white, let’s take a look at the impactful characteristics of an ideal leader and how you can apply these to your own situation.

Leaders are figures of positive influence.

Leaders don’t instigate authority in order to arrest people’s attention and respect. They are a positive influence; models that others admire and feel encouraged to emulate.

Leaders direct with everyone’s best interests in mind. They consult with each member of the team and arrive at a solution that both satisfies everyone and moves the project forward.

Take action: At your next meeting or brainstorm session, sit down with your team and ask each member for their thoughts, suggestions, and feedback to solve current issues or problems in the project. You can then propose solutions based on what has been discussed.

Leaders manage in empathy and kindness.

Unlike the boss who disregards personal setbacks in order to prioritize the task at hand, the leader understands that a company isn’t managed in a vacuum and that life can throw curve balls at you when you least expect it.

Above all, leaders understand that the team is made up of human beings, each with their unique personalities and needs. They empathize with them in times of need and show respect and consideration. In return, their teammates or employees appreciate this and feel more inclined to respect and trust their leaders.

Take action: At your next company lunch hour, sit down with one or two of your employees and ask how they’re doing. If one of your teammates approaches you asking for a day off, listen and be open about it. If it’s necessary, grant their request wholeheartedly.

Leaders seek solutions to make things better.

When things go awry at the office, it’s always easy to point fingers and blame others. Leaders focus on understanding the problem and doing whatever it takes to make things right again.

In terms of progress, leaders strive for solutions that go beyond the mediocre. They work to take things to the next level by constantly asking the question, “What else can we do to make this work or work better?”

Take action: When settling disputes or analyzing project setbacks, stop yourself whenever you feel the urge to blame or pinpoint mistakes. Instead, ask your teammates what can be done to make things right again.

Leaders aim for transformation.

Leaders aren’t defined by the number of milestones they’re able to hit or the short-term wins they’re able to achieve. Instead, they work with the long-term goal in mind and make strategic decisions that could transform the original idea into a successful product.

Take action: Look at where the project is at this point—features released, milestones, team suggestions, solutions taken to address problems and concerns—and see if all these tasks are moving the project and the business towards the original end-goals. If there are tasks or features that are out of scope or that you feel won’t make a significant impact, remove these and focus on what can create long-term results.

Leaders lead with a vision.

People feel inspired and motivated to work when they’re driven by leaders with a solid vision and genuine passion to transform that vision into reality. This is the core ideal that binds everyone together and brings clarity and direction to the team. Without vision, everyone would simply be at work just to work rather than coming together to make a difference in the world.

Take action: Spend some time by yourself or with your team to visualize and concretize your vision for the team and the business. Write as many ideas, words, phrases, and outcomes that serve as the foundation of that vision.

Your Thoughts

Which of the five characteristics can you add or refine your own qualities as a leader? Share your story and ideas in the comments below.

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