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Lead Your Team Managing

Are You a True Leader, or Just a Boss?

Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Employees want to feel like they're part of a team. A manager, much like a coach, should have their staff members' best interests in mind while encouraging improvement and training talent.

But there's a distinction between being just a boss and being a leader – and it could make or break your entire company. Which one are you? Learn the differences. [Are you an effective leader? Ask yourself these questions to find out.]

You shouldn't just explain a task and leave it in your employee's hands. According to Christine Macdonald, director of The Hub Events, a boss ensures you understand your work, while a leader supports and guides you through it.

"The biggest difference between a leader and a boss is that a good leader inspires people and makes them excited about their work," she said.

Success takes passion, and without the desire to complete tasks, workers won't be as driven to give their best performances. As their leader, you should motivate them by letting them know the importance of their work.

Employees are human, and mistakes are expected. Who you are as a boss is evident when you deal with mishaps. Bosses often use criticism or punishment, while leaders use mentorship and encouragement, said Charles A. Mohler, president and founder of Eagle CFO Consulting. If a worker is performing well in a specific line of work, that strength should be recognized and mastered.

"One key element of leadership is the ability to harness the talents of others to achieve a common goal," added Macdonald.

It's important to note strengths and weaknesses of each employee to mentor them independently. Rather than attacking skill gaps, work to patch them by guiding employees through their shortcomings and building their confidence in new areas.

A boss doesn't take the time to get to know his or her employees like a leader does. It's important that you work with their needs and create a culture that encourages open communication.

"By getting to know your team better, you'll be able to understand how to explain your vision in a way that will really connect with each person," said Macdonald. "This means you can personalize the way you motivate people."

Macdonald added that good leaders are genuine and loyal. "You really have to believe in the company and the work you do," she said.

You set an example for your company. If you lack passion or motivation, odds are your team will too. Don't be afraid to be human – be real and express your emotions to connect with your workers.

As the titles suggest, a boss orders his or her workers around without regard for their wellbeing. They often don't consider how much an employee already has on his or her plate and instead just piles on more assignments.

In contrast, "a leader runs with their team and empowers them with a shared vision and strong values in which everyone enrolls and excels," said Jennifer Borba von Stauffenberg, founder of Olive PR Solutions.

To understand how to close these gaps, Macdonald recommends checking out a wide variety of leadership books.

"Reading theories and experiences from other leaders is a great way to learn," she said. "If you begin to understand why leaders do things, it will make more sense when you put it into practice."

If you're still uncertain of your abilities, look to the team you've been leading, Borba von Stauffenberg suggested.

"You'll know you're a good boss because you see it in your team's work and on their faces," she said. "The success is there."

Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela is a recent graduate of Rowan University, where she majored in writing arts and minored in journalism. She currently works as a Purch B2B staff writer while working on her first novel in her free time. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.