Are You A Leader Or A Boss?

This week I am teaching EntreLeadership Performance Series here in Tennessee, and will be finishing the week off with a couple of Formula races in Savannah. I’ve asked some of the incredibly talented commenters of this blog to share their wisdom. Here’s a great post by Lily Kreitinger. Lily’s specializes in helping companies effectively train their team members. Follow Lily on LinkedIn. You can guest post as well! Read how to here.

If you want to find out if you are a leader or just a boss, here’s a check-list that can help based on some of the best examples of great leaders I’ve known.

  • A leader has passion, a boss has a title. My dad held a leadership position in a Fortune 500 corporation for more than 20 years. He was a high performer and had an impeccable reputation. He changed the lives of many of his team members, teaching them never to conform or compromise their integrity and always to be on fire because they were serving many people through their work. Passion he had.
  • A leader is open to growth, a boss knows it all. Juan was close to 70-years old when I started working for him. He led a nonprofit dedicated to providing consulting and training services to public and private schools and other organizations. He read three to four books a week, and learned how to use a laptop in his 70s. He never stopped learning.
  • A leader builds relationships, a boss pulls out the org chart. Iliana was head of Faith Formation at a school. She connected with her team on a personal level. She also disliked having a title. She rolled up her sleeves and got the job done alongside her team. Everyone who worked with her was treated as family. During our time together, she was a trusted mentor and friend.
  • A leader praises effort, a boss points out mistakes. Tracy made it a point to check in with her team every day. She never micromanaged, delegating efficiently, and always looked for positive actions to recognize immediately. She knew how to say, “You rock!” and her team knew she meant it.

I love this anonymous quote I recently found online: “If you think you are a leading and no one is following, you’re just taking a walk.” By keeping this check-list handy, you’ll never be “just walking” again.

Question: What are you doing today to be a successful leader?


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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

106 thoughts on “Are You A Leader Or A Boss?”

  1. Holy cow, what a great article to read first thing Monday morning!  I was explaining this very concept to some people over the weekend.  Ironically, they are academics who teach “leadership”, yet exhibit (and teach!)many of the very negative traits alluded to above. Many believe that being a “leader” (aka just a boss) means you should thump your chest and exert your authority over the rest of the office.  I deal with it every day, and I make it my goal to diffuse the negativity before it reaches my small team.  It’s challenging to say the least!
    Although I’m not considered to be in a leadership position by my superiors, I am getting ready to make the rounds of the people I work with on my team and just check in and make some small talk about our projects for the week.  We have some excellent opportunities to help our clients this week, so I want to get out in front and pull for a while to get things set on the correct course for the week.  I like to set the expectations so that the members of my little team know what we are shooting for, then step back and let them do their magic.  I used to micromanage (at other positions), but learned (mostly the hard way) that my way generally isn’t the way my teammates would do something.  Take home message: The important thing is to fan the passions, communicate the expectations, and then be there to support the processes that have been delegated.  Not rocket science, but my own bosses don’t seem to get it!
    Woot, woot, it’s a new week!  Make it memorable!

    1. @steelegoing Man, I love that idea of going around at the first of the week and just touching bases! Not in a threatening way, just to make sure we are all on the same page and if need be, head off at the pass any problems that the team may foresee. Thanks for being a great example!

        1. @cabinart I find that most references to soccer are met with blank stares. And EntreLeadership teaches to communicate in a way the OTHER person will understand 😉

    2.  @steelegoing Like you, I don’t have a leadership “position”, but I know that I am a leader by example. I can be very difficult to be a leader this way, but we all need to try to what we can.

    3.  @steelegoing What a graet comment. You made so many great points. I love the “thump your chest” image. Very true!!  It seems like you ARE in a leadership position right now and you’re taking all the right steps to help your team move in the right direction.  Woot woot back!!

    4.  @steelegoing What a great comment. You made so many great points. I love the “thump your chest” image. Very true!!  It seems like you ARE in a leadership position right now and you’re taking all the right steps to help your team move in the right direction.  Woot woot back!!

      1.  @lilykreitinger  @steelegoing Way to go!  This is how it starts!  You are impacting everyone around you and showing true leadership by being a “passionate server”.  I applaud you on this!  Especially on a Monday.  😉
        P.S.  You never know who is watching, so be careful you could accidentally get promoted. :O

      2.  @lilykreitinger I can’t agree more with you LIly – you can be in a leadership position without the title. Leaders are those who influence others, and who can turn around to see people following after them. You don’t need a job title to get that happening. You need people skills.  I think @steelegoing you are already leading – or you’re at least moving in the right direction to do so. 

  2. Lily, in the words of Tracy in your post… “You Rock!” and you know I mean it! What a great post, as all of yours are! I think it’s so interesting that soooo many people THINK they’re a leader when they are really just sitting in the chair where a leader SHOULD be.
    What am I doing today? I’m certainly learning. I have very little in the way of a leadership role currently, but I am striking to live out these principles as a team member. I am reading this blog and several other sources of information on becoming a better leader, team member, husband and father. I am noting the qualities of those around me in management roles to learn what to do and not to do so that I will be a successful leader.
    Thank you lily, for distilling and organizing such important principles from your wealth of experience!!

    PS this was definitely a lead off home run for “Commenter’s Week”!

    1. @Skropp I agree (and likewise follow) the same principle of “leading from the trenches”, as has been mentioned here many times before. Your point of following the leadership principles here, without being a leader, can never steer you wrong. Management takes note of that behavior and work ethic, and it will pay dividends one day soon!

      Plus, you’re just plain fun to be around when you look beyond your own role and help the vision of the entire organization!

        1. @lilykreitinger @skottydog Side note: every time Chris is gone, all I can think of is that quote that’s something like “when the cat’s away the mice come out to play” haha. I think we have a better relationship than that with Chris (i hope..) but it still runs through my mind 🙂

  3. Great post, Lily! Definitely some good contrasts between being a leader and being a boss. I especially like your second point. It is important for the leader to be constantly learning. He should already know a lot, but when someone becomes a “know it all”, they quickly lose credibility with their team members. A “know it all” that makes a mistake without acknowledging it will always lose compared to a leader that makes a mistake and learns from it.

    1. @JoshuaWRivers Great points Josh. As someone who does know it all, I completely concur that leaders must always be learning! Haha totally joking about knowing it all…I’m much closer to knowing little to nothing!

    2.  @JoshuaWRivers Good point Josh!  Also, I think if you ask any “leader” they will tell you that they are always learning.  However, if you ask them the last time they read a book or what they do to be pro-active about becoming better, and they role their eyes, you might have a “boss”.

  4. Praise publicly, correct privately. Usually the leaders who point out mistakes in front of others tend to have the less-than-passionate “atta boys” when they do offer them.

    I have worked for both types of people, and the team that is given the heart-felt praises are usually more unified and happier crew!

    Thanks for another great post, Lily! Your insight is always encouraging!

    1. @skottydog That’s a really good principle to articulate Scott! Praise publicly, correct privately. Atta Boy 😉 I’m really trying to work on this with my daughter too. I catch myself disciplining herib front of people sometimes and you can tell she gets embarassed…not how I’d wanna be treated. There are times with kids where the social line must be immediate, but it is, by no means, every single time!

      1.  @lilykreitinger …and even MORE nuts when the people who don’t get public praise don’t “get it” and step up their game.  They interpret it as favoritism.  

    2.  @skottydog LOOOOOVVVEEEE this. Praise publicly, correct privately. This is true on the job and in the home, don’t you think?  And how would you like to be corrected? Are you correcting in that way? How would you like to be praised? Are you praising others in that way?  Good things to think about.

      1.  @Aaron Nelson   This reminds me of when my kids are acting up when we’re out.  I tell them, “Let’s go have a little talk.”  Everyone around (including the guilty party) knows what that means, yet it’s handled in a loving, and private setting.

        1. @Skropp For the most part, yes. Nothing is foolproof. However, it comes in quite handy when you’re out somewhere that you DON’T want to be.

          Then, you can pull the “that’s it! We’re leaving!” card! ha ha! ;^}

        2.  @skottydog  @Skropp LOL the ‘TALK’ in the bathroom almost always works. (Worked for me and my brother growing up.) And usually does well with our kids. (You do need to make it happen though if they push across your line in the sand. Don’t just keep sayin “If you don’t…. then …..” Actually do it.

  5. I’ll put in my two cents with my year’s single-word mission statement: purpose. The highest level a “boss” achieves is that of responsibility: I have a responsibility to make sure things are in order, so this is how things will be done. A leader on the other hand achieves a level of purpose, which includes but goes beyond responsibility to achieve things greater than yourself. 

    1.  @Jon Henry I absolutely LOVE this last part. Achieve things greater than yourself.  That is the reason whey we do hour-long commutes, get up at 4:45 AM, etc… Because it is certainly not about me. It’s about putting my talents to work for others.

        1.  @Skropp  @lilykreitinger I don’t see how Skropp getting to work at 4:30 AM is a big deal. I mean, its only 7:30 AM when you account for the real world / East Coast adjustment.

        2. @Jon Henry @lilykreitinger Jon, I’ve lived on the east coast…it is a lot of things, some even good but it is certainly NOT the real world! Haha. Your comment still cracked me up and all I have to say is “touché”

    2.  @Jon Henry I absolutely LOVE this last part. Achieve things greater than yourself.  That is the reason why we do hour-long commutes, get up at 4:45 AM, etc… Because it is certainly not about me. It’s about putting my talents to work for others.

  6. A leader shows the way; a boss just tells it. I remember the terror of dealing with angry customers while the boss lurked back in the office and then the hiney-chewing that followed later. I also remember a leader dealing with the angry customers and then explaining the principles to us peons later. 
    Lily, you showed us the way to write a burnt-rice post for Commenter’s Week – great list, interesting examples! 
    And, perhaps “woot, woot” should be added to the glossary. . . 

    1.  @cabinart Great point Jana! A boss generates terror, a leader generates admiration.  I’ve been blessed to have leaders throughout my career, and just one “boss’.
      Woot woot is now a new entry on the glossary. : )

      1. @lilykreitinger @cabinart Terror and/or apathy. The bad bosses I have I just start not wanting to even interact with them…which is just as detrimental!

  7. Nice work Lily!  Short & sweet!  Love how you tied it into real leaders that you’ve been exposed to.  As usual, it reminds me that I should be on the look-out for leaders doing things right and recognize that!  I’m sure I don’t do that enough.

  8. Chris! Wow, I published a very similar post this morning called Management is Not True Leadership. These two could go hand in hand. 
    I’m building relationships and continuing to grow as I strive to be a successful leader. Some days it’s rough, others it is easy. Regardless it’s something I must do. 
    But I struggle with point four, encouraging instead of pointing out mistakes. It’s so easy to see the faults rather than the successes. This is something i’m going to work towards improving.

    1.  @Joseph Lalonde Joseph – I see part four as my area of opportunity on the home front. At work, I tend to be great at handing out praise. At home I praise as well, but I think I tend to focus on faults more. Hmmm. I echo your feelings: I need to improve here.  

      1.  @Aaron Nelson I think it’s the easiest habit to fall into. We’ve become comfortable with our spouse and let loose a little too easily when it comes to a fault. Sometimes I wish my wife would slap me when I fall into that trap.
        Any suggestions on how to improve?

        1.  @Joseph Lalonde Great question. I’m looking for answers there too…My wife and I are working through a book together (off and on) about ‘Her needs’ and ‘His needs.’ The book is a hard read because it asks you tough questions – and questions you need to give ‘feedback’ to the other about. 
          It’s been an eye opening deal to see some things through her eyes. It’s not easy to get to that space, cus it’s easier and more ‘convenient’  to stay behind your own eyes….if that makes sense.
          That’s my suggestion to improve from a guy who is still working hard to improve. Look for ways to allow yourself to to see you and how you act through HER / Their (kids) eyes.
          Stupid but relevant example: yesterday I watched Monsters Inc for the 1,000000000000000 th time with my boys. Have you seen it?
          Near the end there’s a part where ‘Boo’ is accidentally scared by Sully. Sully doesn’t realize how scary he has been until he sees himself on the monitor – freeze framed  in full ROAR. Next frame: Boo looking at him with terror. Then he gets it. 
          Bingo. It’s not an easy place to move to, but I have some behaviors that I instantly understood as being terrible (Blind to it before) when I suddenly caught a glimpse of myself through my wife’s eyes.  
          Hope I didn’t overdue it…just thought it might speak to the question some…

        2.  @Joseph Lalonde
           A couple suggestions, i can elaborate if you want me to
          1) Ask her to slap you if she is so inclined everytime you fall into the trap, after a while you’ll see it coming.
          2) Before you focus on any fault at home promise to find 2-3 good things and bring those up before the fault.
          3) Ask her what you can do to be a better spouse. The clincher, let her talk, and just nod your head in agreement, no explanations, buts etc. Then go do one of those things.
          4) Remember we are very different from you, once in a while, put yourself in her shoes or the kids shoes, and try and spend some time in that space. You’ll be amazed at the insights you’ll find.
          5) Finaly for no reason, do a special small thing for them, once in a while, just because….it gives you better footing for when you have to point out faults. I digress here a little bit, but this last point reminds me of my little girl who is always drawing pictures of me (it looks like me sort of), and will present them with the words, “I love you to heaven” literally out of the blue. If she ever had to point out some faults, she has a nice foundation for this.

        3.  @Aaron Nelson His Needs, Her Needs is a great book. My wife and I read it when we first got married. It may be time for another read through.
          Monsters Inc… That’s a great movie. Relating our faults through the actions of Sully brings it into a clearer light. Something I’ll have to pay attention to.

        4.  @Joseph Lalonde
           Joseph, It’s great for building character:):):), something about what doesn’t harm you makes you stronger (not sure), but you get the idea. The fact that you are willing to try is worth a couple points:)

    2. @Joseph Lalonde That is a tough one Joe! I REALLY struggle with that an home with my daughter. It’s easy to always see the things done wrong or not done…much harder to compliment!

      1.  @Skropp  Right! It is tough. I wonder why it’s so easy to fall into noticing the faults rather than what’s done right. I wonder if it could be the familiarity of family?

        1. @Joseph Lalonde Ya, I think familiarity has a lot to do with it. We spend all day trying to very intentional with our actions so when we get home we just shut all of that and be ourselves…and my normal self isn’t nearly as kind and intentional as I wish it was!

  9. Great post, Lily. Loved your third point – I think it is so important as a leader to know what you are asking your team to do because you’ve done it. Or you are doing it with them. I’ve had bosses who sat in their office dictating what needed to be done – hard to gain respect or enthusiasm from your team that way. And all of these points are important no matter where you lead from.

    1.  @CarolDublin I Love this point too. If you aren’t willing to go with your team and do what they are asking them to do – maybe it’s best that you don’t ask them to do anything. Agree: modeling and doing what you’re asking others to do is an awesome way to earn respect and followers.

      1. @Aaron Nelson @CarolDublin Reminds me of Dave’s story about helping carry equipment. When you see THE boss doing that kinda stuff it’s hard to have the guts to utter the phrase “that’s not my job”

        1.  @Skropp  @Aaron  @CarolDublin No boss or leader should ever EVER say those words “that’s not my job.” Especially if you embrace the leadership style Jesus modelled: washing his followers’ feet. Best example of ‘nothing is not my job.’

        1.  @lilykreitinger 🙂 Thanks Lily! LOOOVE the bus/subway most the time. Mobile university!! (I don’t think many people realize that I’m actually in school when I’m in public transport. 😉  ) 

    2.  @CarolDublin I agree with that Carol. You have a lot more influence when you know what it’s like to do the work, rather than just dictating what others should do.

  10. MattMcWilliams2

    Question: What are you doing today to be a successful leader?
    Answer: Reading blogs like yours Chris and reading books. Also, working on leading my one team member well and leading my clients well. And most importantly, it truly does start at home…I have a long way to go in being a leader to my family, but most days are better than the day before.

    1.  @MattMcWilliams2 Boy do I feel that Matt! Leading is not all at work. If you can’t lead at home……well what’s the point really? I’m with you! Working really hard to build influence and alignment and unity on the homefront too. Sadly, when rough water hits your business, it’s mighty tempting to drop everything to try and keep things rolling business wise – to the detriment of family. That’s bad. IF your family breaks…you break.

      1. @Aaron Nelson @MattMcWilliams2 I think its way harder to lead at home than it’ll ever be at the office! Those at home know all sides of you, good bad and ugly!

        1.  @Skropp  @Aaron  @MattMcWilliams2 totally man. At home there’s no fakin it. In fact, that’s where you get your ‘leadership’ blast furnace tested in the ins and outs of day to day ‘leadership conversations’ you have with your family. That’s where the rubber hits the road!!! 

  11. Boy would I love to have the chance to meet that 70 year old leader you shared about Lily! I think that kind of person can never really grow old, no matter how old their birth certificate says they are. That kind of attitude and way of living and attacking life for sure makes a great leader. 
    What am I doing today to be a successful leader:
    1. Realizing that I’m the problem and solution of my company. (I’m the LID) that means I need to be like your 70 year old example – always learning and always hungry for more. 
    2. I’m working hard to lean on my team vs try to do it all myself. (Small business, leadership team of 3 – so it’s mighty tempting to fill my plate up without depending on those around me. MISTAKE.)  Leaning on others tells them: I trust you. 
    3. I’m casting vision for the future. Vital for my own motivation, but also for the people working with me. 
    Thanks for this great post Lily! 

      1.  @selfemployedbob Hmm, thanks for that. Honestly – I don’t feel productive yet. But I think it’s about creating the right momentum so that someday soon, I will be more productive than I am now. 
        How’s the book club going? Have you been promoting it more than once?? (Meant to ask you that previously.)

        1.  @Aaron Nelson One step at a time brother!  You can do it!
          Thanks for asking again about the book club!  It’s off to a good start.  I got a bunch of push back on the 6:30am start time, so I think I’m going to change it to lunch time on Fridays.  That should up the attendance.  So far, I have five people signed up, but the response I’m getting from everyone is really positive.  Most people just can’t believe that there isn’t a catch.  Several thought I was trying to sell them something.  My direct supervisor suggested I charge for it.  Can you believe that?  The great thing is that one of the sign-ups is a high-level director, so it will be great to get him involved in that kind of discussion.
          I need to do another blog post on it.

        2.  @selfemployedbob Yes please on that blog post! Your foray into influencing up is super interesting to me. I meet so many people who feel powerless where they work, and they don’t realize that they CAN make a difference no matter where they are on the corp food chain. 
          I’m excited that you’ve already got some people on your book club! And management too! Awesome! That’s the influencers that you want to have on board 🙂 As has been pointed out in other discussions: Culture change flows best when comes top down. 
          Looking forward to your post!

    1.  @Aaron Nelson You sound a lot like me – sometimes it seems simpler to do things myself, but in the end, it’s so much better to trust others and share your vision with them. Frees you up to do more learning and even more vision casting!

    2. @Aaron Nelson That leader you mention is an outstanding human being. He visited my dad in the hospital when he had a heart attack and visited him at home when my dad was in the terminal stages of cancer. Not many people do that.

  12. MattMcWilliams2

    Just read this: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” From Sirius Black in Harry Potter. 
    That’s a big difference between a “boss” and a leader.

  13. Answer: Today I am reading Lilly’s post & subscribing to her blog.  I am convinced that these actions will contribute to my success as a leader.

    1. @LouiseThaxton Absolutely. Expecting to grow as a person and leader without learning is like expecting a tomato plant to grow without water or sunlight! (my wife has a tomato plant on our porch, so it’s top of mind! 🙂 )

  14. Three things 1) Currently working really hard to get to know my team, understand who they are, where they are coming from, what motivates them, and taking to heart that if my team is successful, then I’ll be successful. 2) I read a ton, I’ve stepped it up over the last month or two (just wish I had 25.5 hours in a day). 3) I may not always comment, but I ensure i read every post here.!

      1.  @lilykreitinger  @ginasmom Technically you only have like 23 hours and 56 minutes in each rotation of the Earth. Fortunately, the Earth is moving so fast that we have to wait 4 extra minutes and change to be in a similar spot we were in the “day” before. Think of those 4 minutes as a gift .., 🙂

    1.  @ginasmom I love your first point! If you have read anything by John Maxwell, you’ll know he’s HUGE on relationship. You can’t really deeply lead someone unless you do so out of relationship. (I believe that with everything. You always EARN someone’s heart. You can never command it and think that you have it at the same time. )

      1.  @Aaron Nelson
        Love John Maxwell….and i love how you put it. My experience so far and with some well timed advice from yours truly a few months ago, was to focus on this aspect and this alone. It’s already making a huge difference, as i “earn their hearts”, i hope and believe my team is doing the same, but i can already see the difference in how we relate.

      2. @Aaron Nelson @ginasmom Awesome point Aaron! Someone may work for you, but for them to be dedicated you have got to build a relationship and earn their trust and respect!

  15. Love this!  I wish I had more time in the day to READ and absorb the wealth of knowledge available.  I want to inspire my team & sometimes need help inspiring myself!  Great piece Chris, thanks!

    1. @lily_kreitinger No! Just his go-to fill in person! There are others, too, but you knock it out of the park on short notice consistently!

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