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Leader vs Boss: What is the Difference?

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23rd Aug, 2023
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Leader vs Boss: What is the Difference?


If you have ever encountered a person in a leadership position or if you have ever led a team, you probably have an idea – what is the difference between a boss and a leader. Or, maybe you are about to take up a new role as a head and you are thinking of how to be your best in that position. Well, this article is just for you. 

Leadership is more than just about getting people to do the work; it is about impacting lives and leaving a positive mark at your workplace. Leadership is an opportunity for an individual or a group to influence a team towards the growth of an organization. According to Kelvin Kruse, the founder and CEO of LeadX and a contributor at Forbes, leadership is a process of social influence that maximizes others’ efforts to achieve a goal. You can also incorporate these qualities into your leadership styles via MBA from Jindal Global Business School.

In this piece, we will look at a leader vs a boss – their meanings and what makes them different. 

Leader vs Boss

So, now that we know what leadership is, let us look at the two kinds of people that usually take up leadership roles – the boss and the leader. Take a look at this image which shows how leaders and bosses get tasks done. 

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We will give you simple definitions of these two kinds of people but first, what do the leadership experts have to say about leaders?

  • John C. Maxwell defines a leader as one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
  • Charles Handy sees a leader as a person who shapes and shares a vision which gives points of work to others. 
  • Dr. Myles Munroe defines leader as someone who sees a better future and is willing to pay the price to bring that future to the present.

These are excellent definitions of leaders. But what about bosses? 

  • Oxford learners’ dictionary defines a boss as a person who is in charge of others and tells them what to do.
  • Collins dictionary defines a boss as a person in authority over employees.
  • The Britannica dictionary defines a boss as a person who has a lot of power in an organization. 

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Leader vs Boss: Which One Works For You?

I am sure that by now, you are starting to see how different a boss is from a leader. You are also wondering which one you belong to. To get to this, let us understand the terms individually and highlight how to identify a leader and a boss, according to our earlier definitions.

How to Identify a Leader

A leader has certain peculiarities and strengths. The leadership experts we referenced have done the good job of explaining them in general terms. Now, we will outline them individually and then briefly discuss each of them. At the end of this, you will see the qualities you need to have as a true leader and assess what you need to do to improve.

  • A Leader Has Vision: As a leader, you need to be fully aware of what you want to achieve and how you must get there. No one will follow you if they don’t believe in your vision. You need to have a vision and sell it to others for you to get loyal followers.
  • A Leader Takes Initiative: Just as in our image, a leader should not be afraid or too lazy to be in front. As a leader, you should always be ahead of others and lead the way. You should always be ready to think up ideas that bring about solutions to problems.
  • A Leader Motivates Others: There are several people who need guidance and it takes a good leader to identify them and nurture them. 
  • A Leader is a Risk-Taker: A person who is always unwilling or afraid to take risks and try new things cannot be a good leader. Even in human terms, a leader should know when to take a chance on a person whose present status may not seem so convincing.
  • A Leader is Always Ready to Learn: Several times, people think that leadership positions are for people who know it all. This is not true. As humans, we learn everyday and even from unlikely sources. A good leader is always open to new knowledge.
  • A Leader Does Not Look Down on Others: Every leader was once a follower. So, they in turn should not disregard the people looking up to them, no matter their position or background.

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How to Identify a Boss

We are familiar with phrases like “Oh! He’s so bossy!” or “I don’t like her. She is always bossing people around.” That’s right. A boss is in a leadership position but does not use this to inspire others. A boss is obsessed with duty at work and goes about this the wrong way. 

Now, let us look at the qualities of a boss.

  • A Boss is Power-Drunk: A boss is obsessed with power and sees their leadership position as an opportunity to exert this power over others. 
  • A Boss is Controlling: A boss is not interested in seeing the strengths and interests of others. A boss believes that things should only be done their own way.
  • A Boss Instills Fear Rather than Respect: A boss believes that the only way to get people to work is to make them afraid. They prefer to be feared than to be respected.
  •  A Boss Breaks People: A boss is only concerned about the numbers and is less bothered about the cost of work on the lives of others. A boss pushes people to their breaking point.  

We have looked at the qualities of a leader and a boss. Now, let us take a quick side-by-side look at the boss and leader difference.

A leader influences peopleA boss commands people
A leader leads peopleA boss stays behind and tells people what to do
A leader is eager to nurture people to succeedA boss only wants to get tasks done.
A leader elevates people when they succeedA boss takes all the credit for success
A leader sees the position as an opportunity for serviceA boss sees the position as an opportunity for absolute power
A leader is patient with peopleA boss is short-tempered and impatient


From now on, you should begin to evaluate each of your actions against these metrics. This way, you will know what kind of leader you are and make a change to be a good leader to the people you lead via MBA from upGrad

Boss vs Leader: Can I Be a Better Boss Than a Leader or Vice Versa?

Leadership abilities often come naturally to people. To know if you can be a better boss  or leader, you need to understand your strengths as an individual and how to channel them. 

However, individuals can develop any leadership skill they are interested in. There are five theories to guide you towards this. They are: 

  • Contingency Theory
  • Situational Theory
  • Transformational Theory
  • Trait Theory
  • Behavioral Theory

Now, what if we told you that there’s one more person who handles leadership roles? This person is known as a manager.

So, who is a manager?

In simple terms, a manager is a person who is responsible for managing and supervising a team of employees in a company. It is safe to say that a manager is a leader in a company.

It is important to point out here that a leader can exist outside of a corporate workplace or organization. Meanwhile, the powers of a boss or a manager are only limited to the structure of the company.

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In a business, a manager can be mistaken for a boss. This is because the process of supervision can often involve getting people to do things. Therefore, we should also analyze the difference between boss and manager.

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Difference Between Boss and Leader Responsibilities 

The roles of both individuals are very similar as they are both in charge of other employees and are tasked with driving results. However, they discharge their responsibilities differently, as we will discuss below.

  1. A manager/leader works as a collaborator while a boss sees themselves as an authority. Although they are in charge, managers believe that the work to be done is a collective responsibility.
  2. A manager/leader empowers workers to be more efficient in their jobs, while a boss is only concerned with turnover and deadlines.
  3. A manager/leader seeks the opinion of others before making important decisions, while a boss gives little to no room for suggestions from workers.
  4. A manager/leader builds teams and resolves conflicts to foster good relationships among workers. A boss, however, judges disagreements among workers without proper assessment of the sides involved.
  5. A manager/leader boosts productivity by making themselves available for workers, while a boss sets a bar between themselves and workers, which can affect the overall quality of work.
  6. A manager/leader promotes a positive work culture while a boss can make the workplace toxic for employees.

You can acquire top-notch expertise in leadership by pursuing MBA from DBS 


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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1Can a person be both a leader and a boss simultaneously?

Yes, there are leadership positions that require a person to remain firm while motivating workers to deliver on their tasks.Ans: Yes, there are leadership positions that require a person to remain firm while motivating workers to deliver on their tasks.

2What are some common traits of effective leaders?

According to Harvard Business School, effective leaders are usually innovative, transparent, accountable, influential, resilient and decisive.

3Can a boss also be a good leader? How?

Yes, a boss can also be a good leader by mastering how to inspire workers to respect rather than fear them.

4How can individuals develop leadership skills even if they are in a managerial position?

If you are already in a managerial position, you can develop leadership skills by taking top management courses.