Leadership vs. Authority: Your Management Style Influences Your Results

Posted By: Natasha Pinckney XCEL,

Think of the best manager you have ever worked with: what is it that made this person so good to work with? Were they easy to talk to? Did they give a lot of praise? Maybe it just feels like they had an “it” factor or a natural talent for working with people. It is easy to think that some people just have that indefinable quality for leadership, but good leadership skills can be honed by the right mindset. I will wager that your favorite manager had the mentality of a leader. It may seem like there is no difference between a leader or a boss, or that it is splitting hairs to differentiate between these two words. The reality is that the level of trust that employees have with their boss is completely different from the trust shared with their leaders. This is because a leader’s focus is on their people first, and a boss’s focus is on results first. A leader focused on taking care of their people has the power to create a higher level of trust and foster higher-performing teams than a boss focused on results or productivity first.  

A manager focused on results is thinking with an authoritative mindset. There is a clear hierarchy of control in the workplace, and there are employees above and below one another. In this mentality, the person with the greatest level of power therefore must be the one at the top of the hierarchy. This is a traditional way of thinking of the workplace, in which there is a boss and underneath them are their employees. A “boss” has the perception of being the authority figure, and one that needs the focus on them. As the figure of authority, they are in charge of the team, they are the ones who need to show results, they are the one who looks bad if things aren’t going well. The mental focus is boss-centric because they alone are responsible for showing good results. This does not give a lot of space for other team members to contribute their talents or foster connections.

A true leader is focused on making everyone around them better regardless of rank. A leader is focused on the team that they work with because they realize that the team as a whole is responsible for attaining results. This does not mean that the leader is not still the one in charge of ensuring that the team is successful. It means that they are a coordinator for success versus the governing presence. Instead of directing tasks to be done, a leader might first consider: Which person on the team has the best skill set for a certain task? Who will benefit the most from a challenge right now? Who is having a difficult time with a family member and could use some help with a task?

The work environment created by a boss feels different than the environment created by a leader. A boss focuses more on consequences, which can create an atmosphere of fear or apprehension. A leader focuses on coaching and growth, which will foster feelings of trust and increased communication. Every challenge comes with a teachable moment. Think like a parent for a moment, your 8-year-old child has come home from school with a failing test grade. Is it more important to fix the grade, or fix the cause of the poor grade? A “boss” parent may punish the child for the low score or be upset and yell. This reaction does not foster trust or fix any underlying issues that caused the low grade. A “leader” parent will ask the child what went wrong and come up with solutions to improve based on their needs. The “boss” reaction may feel better and show an immediate action/response- the child got a bad grade and immediately was punished. This shows that the parent has taken action and dealt with the problem. On the other hand, if there was a deeper reason for the low grade, the “leader” parent is much more likely to get to the root cause of the low grade and fix the real issue. The difference in approach by the parent will also change the reaction of the child. The next time a low test score or some other mistake surfaces, the “boss” reaction is more likely to result in hiding the grade, whereas the “leader” reaction is more likely to encourage the child to open up.  

The relationships fostered by a manager will create morale in the working environment for better or worse. If a manager chooses to respond with authority in the boss mindset, they will find themselves isolated from their team. A manager who chooses to respond with the leader mindset will approach the situation with empathy and understanding and as a result, will create a stronger bond with their teammates. A team that can pull together in adversity will win out over a team led by one individual. Focus on your people first, and the results will follow. Think like a parent that is working to make the best person, not just the greatest achiever. When your team is faced with adversity - be it budget cuts, low occupancy, or a new competitor that threatens your business, as a team, you will pull together. I will part with my favorite quote from best-selling author Simon Sinek:

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge."

This article was written by Natasha Holmberg with Greystar, as a part of the XCEL Committee's goal to provide regular, educational, posts for TAA's blog.