Are You a Boss or a Leader?

With Possibilities Coach Christine McIver

by Kim Dietrich

In her recent show “Are you a boss or a leader” Possibilities Coach Christine McIver asked listeners to consider their beliefs around the concept of bosses and leaders. She looked first to history to explore the origins of the concepts:  

Leader comes from the Old English lædan, which meant “to go before as a guide”. As such, a leader is one who leads, goes first, or is the most prominent. Leaders are motivational and inspirational. And, though some leaders are also bosses, that word has a different origin and carries different connotations. Boss is thought to have originated from the Dutch baas, meaning master, and was used in the 1600s to refer to a ship’s captain. The baas was quite literally the person steering the ship! Today bosses sit at the helm of workplaces, unions and even families; my grandmother is the boss of our family. They even lead criminal organizations, as with the feared mafia boss.

During ten years of working as a Human Resources Manager, Christine came to realize that many of us carry negative feelings about ‘being the boss’. She points out how this is connected to the negativity of being ‘bossy’. Indeed, the verb boss describes giving orders in a domineering way. In the workplace the boss is the one in charge, the one telling people what to do. Christine acknowledges that some people do relish this kind of control, but it can also be a heavy load to carry as it brings huge responsibility. Bosses not only have to answer for the bottom line, but also for the actions of all their workers. Ultimately, when something goes wrong, it falls on the boss.

Christine talks about the fears people hold of their bosses. Bosses hold power and the ability to wield it when someone isn’t performing as they should. And because the title comes with the capacity to fire someone, workers sometimes want to hide from their bosses. Ironically, bosses who rely on this fear to drive performance often see it backfire. Christine points that a fearful workplace generally equals a toxic atmosphere, which can derail the best efforts of anyone in charge.

If your workers are afraid of you, they won’t be inclined to help you achieve your goals or those of your organization. To steer clear of such pitfalls, Christine stresses how crucial it is to look at how you lead. Stamping out fear and focusing on your development as a leader can help you motivate and inspire your team. And as great leaders have demonstrated, inspiration rather than fear, is key to being a successful in a top role.

To expand on the power of inspirational leadership, Christine turns again to history. As she points out, most of us can call to mind leaders that left us feeling inspired. The most powerful historical leaders were often those most able to inspire. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Junior, JFK and Abraham Lincoln were all such inspirational leaders. They all held incredibly strong beliefs in their principles and conducted themselves with great integrity. By 21st century standards, they were certainly not perfect. Gandhi advocated for peaceful protest, but has been labelled a racist by numerous authors. Nelson Mandela underwent extreme persecution and hardship before leading his country out of apartheid, but did not do so without violence. JFK inspired a generation, but also held a reputation for womanizing.

Even great historical leaders have their flaws. Christine emphasizes, however, that great leadership isn’t about holding up a perfect ideal. What’s more important is to have an awareness of your faults and to work within them. Consider Abraham Lincoln – a famous leader prone to anger – who was known to have kept his frustrations in check by writing letters and letting them remain unsent. He acknowledged a flaw and developed a way to keep it from alienating those around him. As Christine stresses, becoming aware of your imperfections and taking steps to address them – as Lincoln did – can be a powerful step to improving as a leader.

Taking an unsparing look at your faults doesn’t come without effort. Getting help can make the journey easier and your work more effective. Christine – who has coached countless business professionals – points out that working with an impartial outsider can be one of the most powerful ways to hold yourself accountable. In her coaching, she helps leaders get clear on their motivations and take an unsparing look at their shortcomings. In turn, this helps them grow exponentially as leaders.

Christine discusses reflecting at day’s end on how you speak to your team. This can help remove fear and foster trust in your workplace – often the first step in bringing out the best in your people. She further stresses how getting clear on your inner motivations helps clarify your larger goals. Doing this work better positions you to guide your team. As Christine further emphasizes, it’s not always enough to be focused on the bottom line. In her practice as a coach she helps people set other, larger goals as part of inspiring and guiding their teams forward.

Becoming the boss may seem like the pinnacle of success to some, but it’s what you do in the position that is the true measure of success. Christine refers to executive coach Marshall Goldsmith’s book to underline the importance of realizing that “what got you here won’t get you there”. In her capacity as a coach, Christine has seen repeatedly how important it is to identify and overcome your shortcomings as a leader; it is crucial to succeeding in the top role. In her experience, setting an intention to be a conscious leader and getting honest about your shortcomings is crucial. From there, setting goals and working on continuous improvement with a coach like Christine will move you forward incrementally.

Simply put, if you want to succeed as a boss, you need to strengthen and develop your leadership traits. It’s not easy work and Christine could be an incredible resource in the process. As she helps you towards developing your own inspirational style of guidance, your team will feel infinitely more valued. In turn, you will all be better positioned to realize the goals of your business together.

Listen to Christine’s show here:

Contact Christine McIver


Kim DietrichKim Dietrich is a freelance writer specializing in lifestyle, career and business writing for online and print media. Her work has appeared in Toronto Life magazine, East Coast Living and Saturday Night.


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