Are You a Boss or a Leader?

It’s funny to me that we’re still using the term “boss.” How quaint. It’s time, however, to come up with something more appropriate—a name for someone who embodies what we need, now and in the future. 2020 is around the corner, and we can’t carry traditional roles, and more importantly, characteristics into the next decade and beyond.

Think about this: According to a 2014 survey, one in three Americans are freelancers (independent contractors, temporary workers, etc.). By 2020, this will increase to 50 percent. How must we adapt to accommodate a more mobile, independent, technology-savvy, and niche-skilled workforce? How do we stop being bosses and become leaders?

Leaders should:

1. Have an Insatiable Appetite for Change  The best leaders will not just react to change, but seek it out, drive it, and never settle for business as usual. Sustained change means old behaviors must go, and change must start with leaders themselves.

2. Be Culture-Centric Eighty-six percent of C-suite executives and 84 percent of managers say culture is critical to their organizations’ success, and 60 percent believe it plays a bigger factor in success than either their strategy or business model. Leaders must live the culture in a big way and be an example of the best the company can do.

3. Breathe Technology  Fifty percent of managers’ time is spent orchestrating work (e.g., searching for information, spending time in non-productive meetings, sending and responding to emails, etc.) instead of actually doing it. Great leaders will embrace the tools that automate and facilitate work more efficiently, and they’ll drive the adoption of this technology company-wide. “We’ve reached an inflection point where technology can actually assist in reducing the amount of work,” says our friend Myndi Garrett, business development manager for Cisco. “Technology and culture have been a key enabler of this shift.”

4. Lead Side-by-Side  Top-down leadership is so 2001. 2020 leaders will be selfless servants to individuals and teams, listening, trusting, and empowering them to achieve organizational and personal goals.

5. Be Visionary  People accomplish more when they believe in a purpose beyond themselves. Being able to articulate that purpose so that others can share the vision in real ways is central to successful leadership.

6. Be Thick-Skinned  Think Yelp for leaders. In today’s transparent, opinionated, and highly-connected real-time feedback world, leaders are judged and rated by past and current employees through sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn. Listening and responding to feedback, whether positive or negative, builds trust.

Do you have the necessary skills and motivation to live into this new role, or are you more comfortable being a boss than a leader? If you aren’t ready, your people will decide for you.


Jennifer Oertli is co-founder and partner at Radiant CX, a strategic culture change and employee engagement consultancy focused on change initiatives.

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