Paul C. Williams

Interfacing Technology & Business
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Friday, November 15, 2013

Boss vs. Leader : Is it fair to polarize this distinction?

I saw the title image here floating around LinkedIn this morning.

There seems to be a lot of this kind of wisdom around.  I, for one, don't buy it.  It actually bugs the crap out of me.

I can agree with the Boss column.  We have all been subjected to bossy people in our lives, whether they are siblings or cousins, or just that bossy kid in our play group.  The behavior meets the criteria in the boss column.

I'm not sure I agree with the Leader column.  In the leader column we see behaviors that I ascribe more to a mentor or cheerleader.

The difference is what linguists call "code switching", or being able to fluidly shift between communication styles as required. Sometimes we apply the concept to different languages, or more recently by NPR to reference how race relations has evolved in the US.

The point is this: Leaders know what communication style to adopt for any given situation.  The most effective leaders I've worked with know when it's appropriate to say: "Yes, I hear your opinion on how we execute. However, this is my project, and I need you to execute the way I want."  According to the table above, this is a boss-like behavior, but ultimately leaders sometimes need to hold the reigns and drive a specific course.

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