The Difference between a Boss and a Leader: My Past Experiences…

I’ve been thinking lately: It’s been 33 years since I have taken my first step into work. My very first work experience was the period when I was working as a tennis instructor at some holiday resort in the late 1980s.

During this period when only a few families had the luxury of owning a “summer house”, boys like me used to work and have fun at the same time during their school break. I must be honest that I really am having difficulties trying to explain the situation back then to generation Y and Z because, as parents, we are doing are best to make sure they have anything they want in life. Maybe because we had to work to own what we have desired when we were young.

Looking back now, I think our past experience of talking to our parents on the phone once a week (since there were no cellular phones back then) made us the “resilient” leaders we are today, especially considering that I gained my first work experience in a French company, I certainly had quite different and intense experiences in an early age.

All sorts of odd things happened to me. I remember, when our French supervisor had a terrible accident, I had to assume his role as supervisor since no one else but me had the courage to take initiative. After a week, appreciating my bravery, the Frenchman leaned into my ear and whispered, “Congratulations my boy! But I must warn you: We are here to help! Not to boost our egos!” I was only 19 years old and there I was learning my first lesson. It’s not always easy to thrive under pressure, but if you can muster up such courage, never let your ego to take control of your actions.

It’s not easy to make the right decision either when you’re under pressure, and the fact that you have gone through many difficulties while trying to make the right decision won’t definitely help you make the right decision. If you are faced with challenges constantly, then you must have made a mistake somewhere

A proper and good education is essential if you want to have the ability and the strength to make the right decision to get through the tough times. This education must have an interdisciplinary nature and must absolutely be based on experiment and observation.

No one can say about the greatest leaders of all time such as Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun or Mehmed the Conqueror that they hadn’t read any books or had had nothing to do with art or science. They had all improved, yet perfected, their interdisciplinary skills and abilities during their educational life or later in their lives. A good leader doesn’t necessarily need to know everything. A maestro cannot play every musical instrument but s/he knows how to conduct an orchestra.

There are some significant differences between a boss and a leader. As the name implies, a boss bosses around, tells people what to do, gives orders. A leader, on the other hand, leads. If a leader tries to tell people what to do, and a boss tries to lead, things may become complicated. Either in our home or in our workplace, there is always a boss and a leader.

In addition to the fact that a leader must have a good education and a large amount of experience in order to carry out his/her responsibilities as a leader, s/he must also be consistent and determined. If the decisions a leader makes differentiate depending on the subject, there is a problem somewhere, which means that leader acts upon the opinions of the last person who walks out from his/her office. I’ve such types of persons everywhere throughout my career, in business environments, in politics, in sports, or even in academia.

On the other hand, a boss has a lot of responsibilities too. S/he must execute each and every decision of the leader without taking a step back, no matter how much pressure s/he feels. Otherwise, the system would fail. A boss doesn’t necessarily need to be highly qualified (it would be great if s/he was) but there is one essential trait s/he must possess: a strong moral character. As a boss, s/he needs to be open, express his opinions, and sometimes warn the leader if necessary.

The organizations I worked in helped me gain a lot of experience during my career. Sometimes, I tend to look back and try to see the mistakes that my former colleagues made. People make millions of tiny mistakes that are very similar to each other; sometimes they make mistakes huge mistakes that can jeopardize their career. I usually calculate probability after carefully scrutinizing such big mistakes. Based on the result, I try to create an approach for how to make good decisions.

Good moral character and “accountability” are two main important factors that shape everything we do, either in our personal lives or in our work. It’s important to be able to answer to your former and prospective colleagues, directors for something that you did or didn’t. You should be able to explain why you have changed the things that your former colleagues did before you or you have left them the way they are.

It’s also important to make sure whether the work we are doing will being any benefit to society. Anything we do would remain useless if it’s only made for a particular person or a group. Also, if we do something only with the purpose of messing with somebody else’s efforts would result in nothing but bad luck. The most honest thing we could do is to show a better performance than our competitors. There were such holdings that they started a company just to ruin their rivals, even though their rivals were operating in an entirely different industry. Such endeavours brought nothing but bad luck.

“Employees aren’t happy. The employer isn’t either…”

A boss or a leader should know that the “boss is happy” statement doesn’t actually mean anything. The organizations that do not generate economic or social output are doomed to collapse. The profit from the companies’ operations may go to the boss but no company on the face of the earth is a property of the person who manages it. Sometimes, a general manager may need to protect the company from his/her own boss, because s/he is responsible for ensuring that each and every employee in that company receives their salary every month. Sometimes, a general manager will need to speak out to protect the Boss from his/her own mistakes. As a matter of fact, a company would endure forever when the employers and employees care about it and do the best they could to protect it.

I had all sorts of disagreement with Presidents and Executive Board Members of companies I worked for as a top-level manager. With my capacity of executive board member, I used to object in a moderate manner to executive managers’ perpetually meaningless insistence. I have always tried to warn people, who want others to fix their past mistakes, in the kindest way possible. My methods haven’t changed a bit since. You can always thrive in spite of time, logistics or supply challenges if you succeed to remain calm. But, if you put even more pressure on the personnel, difficulty situations will arise that will create possibly irremediable mistakes.

One time, I was trying to obtain an expense report for a task that needed to be completed in 4 or 5 days. I called the team that was dealing with this expense report and told them to get that document ready as immediately as possible. Not to my surprise, they filed a complaint about me to this Member of the Executive Board who was also serving as the leader of their team. Visiting me in my office late in that evening, the Board Member said, “Why are you hurrying your friends up? Don’t you know that we are working for days? We have already got the approval from the Chair. What’s all this fuss about?”

As you grow older, you take into account the circumstances under which a person expresses his/her feelings. That day, the person who was standing in before me was older than me and has been exposed to prolonged stress in some construction site. That’s why I chose my words wisely and carefully, “Accept my undying gratitude for everything you did. You and your friends performed your duties flawlessly. Now, it’s my turn to ensure that all expenses are made in accordance with auditing standards so as this organization can operate without encountering any potential problems and be able to answer whenever it is asked to”. Apparently, I wasn’t able to sooth his anger completely but he left the room with an unsatisfied expression on his face, realizing that I spoke wisely. It’s good to be appreciated but if “getting appreciated and feeling valued” is the only reason why you work, then you need to question what you are doing.

“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” said Peter Drucker. This is the way to achieve great success. Becoming a World Champion by building a team of keen and honest football players and enabling them to train and play as a team in total harmony is better than becoming a World Champion by hiring the best football players in the world. And this can only be achieved with the help of the right leaders and managers.

Also, there is a big difference between “being hesitant” and managing your time efficiently to make the right decision. “A bad decision is better than no decision at all”, they say. But I tend to disagree with that statement. As the name implies, a bad decision is a “bad decision.” The right dialogue between a leader and a boss would yield a better decision. Organizations that stay on top of the latest technology, build an effective human capital plan, believe in education and experience hardly make bad decisions.
If you are expected to make a decision that no one will like, take my word for it, and make the “right” decision. Remember, if you make your decisions just to gain some sympathy, you will become an “antipathetic” person in the eyes of others.
Many once-popular people who thought they were good leaders are enjoying their early retirement today! They are alone in a crowd. I’ve met so many people like this. And I’m sure they’re still standing idle where I have met them.