All of us can be a “boss”; not everyone can become a leader. After all, being a boss is very easy: you just need to be imbued with a little more power than those around you, which grants you the right to give orders and excert that differential of power over others.
There’s an installed debate of whether leaders are born or can be nurtured. Let’s be real here; charisma helps -which favors the latter possibility- but there’s no reason why someone can not become a leader especially if they earn a masters in leadership . He or she must only learn to very basic things. The rest is just experience wielding that power wisely.
Can a “boss” be a leader?
Sometimes. By definition, a leader is a person who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal. So you can be a boss and make others do your bidding; but influencing others? Influencing means getting others to -sometimes blindly- support your acts and decisions without the need of forcing them into it, -and sometimes- without instilling fear to achieve an objective.
History has given us countless leaders. Some of them positive influencers like Mandela and also some neffarious ones like Charles Taylor. What is undeniable, is that they all mobilized masses.
I don’t care about the Taylors, they help accomplish nothing positive, so lets ignore them and focus on the Mandelas.
The first Ingredient
Some people have the power to unite, others divide. You may not be Freud’s fan, you may not even agree with him, but the man got something right when he wrote “Mass Psychology and the analysis of the Ego”. He argumented that one fundamental assumption of the mass is that the leader loves everyone equally.
There, I just said it, the keyword is love. Cheesy and not very scientific? No dude, Evident. Dive into your past and bring some of your former bosses. Now pick one that had a “favorite”, a preferred employee. Wasn’t that one of the reasons why you and your peers disliked this person? When a leader loves -use the work like if it makes you feel more comfortable- some more than others, he or she divides.
This divide is what makes the first distinction between negative and positive leaders… you know, divide and conquer.
In the workplace, those who alienate the majority in favor of a few risk mutiny… and revolutions have shown us that a mass aligned to an ideal is usually unstoppable. At work, you don’t have an army to defend you against your subordinates, you end up on your own.
I know we are only human and that having preferences is part of our nature. Unfortunately, if you are a boss, you can’t afford that luxury. What do you do then? You create the illusion, that assumption that Freud wrote about. You don’t have to like everyone equally, just give equal and fair treatment to everyone. This is politics, you need supporters, not adversaries.
The second ingredient
It doesn’t suffice with loving everyone equally. People doesn’t follow spontaneously. You have to give so you can get. Which takes me to our next keyword: service.
A boss can not become a leader unless he has his “followers’” best interest at the top of his/her priority list. We said this is a game of politics: if you want supporters you need to support, which means giving people what they need, defending them against outside-and more powerful- forces and being ready to jump to protect their individual interests and aspirations. If you don’t have a vocation for serving others, you’ll fail.
For instance, let me tell you what my current boss does to keep me happy at work. She knows I’m curious and that I like to stick my nose into as many new places as possible. So whenever a new project comes up, she volunteers me for it. Thus, I’m happy, I support.
Being a leader is not a benefit -and neither a right-, it’s an obligation. It’s the obligation to nurture the wellfare and success of those around you. It’s fostering synergy and non-zero sum games. After all, your team’s successes and failures are also ultimately yours as well.
When you make others succeed, they will “owe” their success to you simply because you enabled them to succeed.
People tend to be very vocal about those whom they deeply dislike and also very keen to express gratitude towards those who’ve helped them; and this can only embiggen your leadership aura.