At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a great difference between the definitions of a boss and that of a leader. However, if you’ve ever worked for a boss who lacked leadership skills, you won’t need convincing that the differences are significant. To the fortunate few, leadership skills come naturally, but if they don’t, these important skills can be learned. Here are a few of the key elements that distinguish leaders from others in top management.
- Leaders lead by example. This seems obvious, but people frequently disregard it. Employees pay more attention to what you do rather than what you say. For example, if you want your employees to be punctual and arrive at work (and at meetings) on time, make sure you set a positive example.
- Bosses tend to give orders or issue demands. Leaders listen to their workers and peers. They solicit ideas, recommendations and feedback and, in doing so, show respect for the experience and expertise of others. They pay attention to how they speak to employees, avoiding demands in favor of requests.
- Leaders offer constructive criticism – when needed – in private. Leaders do whatever it takes to avoid a public confrontation or loud criticism of their workers. Humiliation is a poor motivator and few people will improve their job performance following a humiliating public scene. The old saying praise in public; punish in private is worth remembering.
- Along similar lines, good leaders make an effort to support and teach their employees. If issues must be addressed, they focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problem. They solicit recommendations and ideas from their staff and listen to their input. Without sugar-coating or denying difficult issues, good team leaders instill optimism and a can-do spirit. Allowing employees to witness your frustrations or anger can generate fear and adversely affect morale.
- Leaders are ongoing participants in the team effort. They don’t do weekly or monthly reviews where they pass judgement from on high. They stay connected with projects and foster ongoing two-way communication. Employees are encouraged to be up front with concerns and ideas.
- Avoiding favoritism is important. A leader might have personal favorites on staff but takes care to keep personal preferences out of the mix in the workplace. Nothing can cause long-term resentments and create damaging interpersonal relationships at work more than playing favorites.
- A good leader doesn’t feel the need to announce his or her position of authority. Good leadership is always self-evident. Accordingly, a good leader avoids self-promotion and seeks recognition for the team rather than personal accolades.
Even the best leaders fall short of their ideals. Someone who is willing to recognize his or her personal mistakes and acknowledge them is demonstrating perhaps the most important characteristic of a true leader – humility.