Leaders or Bosses?

By Dave Hanna

Often in today’s organizations we refer to those at the top of the hierarchy as “leaders.” The title is respectful, but not always accurate. Members of the hierarchy have authority to act. This does not necessarily make them leaders.

What is it that separates real leaders from those who merely have the title “leader?” The best way I’ve found to understand the dynamics of leadership is to picture yourself in a situation where someone comes to you with a special request: “We are facing a serious problem! I will need you to give everything you have over the next several weeks to help us solve it. I’m afraid you won’t sleep much or be able to spend much time with your family until things are back to normal.”


Leader or Boss


Would you follow this person with enthusiasm?

Before answering this question, let’s put a face on the one making the request. Which of these individuals would you follow enthusiastically?

  • Steve Jobs
  • Bill Gates
  • Barack Obama
  • Meg Whitman
  • Hillary Clinton

Each of these individuals has (or had) a formal leadership position in an organization. But just because they have subordinates doesn’t necessarily make them a leader. Bosses have subordinates; leaders have followers. That’s been the bottom line throughout the ages.

By this definition, each of these individuals is also a leader. Some people have sacrificed or are sacrificing much to follow their lead.

But the question to you is a very personal one. Would you be willing to forego sleep and family relationships and give everything you have for several weeks for any one of these leaders? The seeds of leadership are found in the relationship between them and their followers. Colin Hall, CEO of Wooltru Ltd. in South Africa, puts it this way, “We’ve forgotten that leadership is really about followership. We’ve never had the followership of 85 percent of the people in this country. We’ve had compliance, but we’ve never had followership. Leadership is about earned followership.”
Now consider your relationship with each of these
individuals. What are some of them missing? Or what do some have that would cause you to volunteer your best efforts to support them? The bonding agent is trust—a trust that can only be earned by trustworthy people. Trustworthiness is a function primarily of two factors:
• Commitment—are you committed to the same purpose as the leader and are both of you willing to make personal sacrifice for that purpose?  Commitment is what the leader is.
• Competence—can they deliver on their promises? This causes us to look at the leader’s skills (technical, strategic, teamwork, etc.) to see if they can effectively mold individuals into cohesive and competent teams. Competence is what a leader does.

Again, the critical test is how you perceive them to measure up in these two areas. And this is the same test for your own leadership. Those who work with you are also assessing who you are and what you can do. Can you confidently expect them to follow you?

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