Do You Work for a Leader or for a Boss?

Over the last couple of years, I have talked to many organizations and have been fortunate enough to play a business coach’s role to several leaders of trucking companies. For me, and not to oversimplify the process, all these folks fall into two categories: bosses or leaders. Determining which type is which is important because it dictates my approach to future discussions. One way of finding out is merely asking for the organizational chart. The conclusions revealed are mitigated by the size of the business and through experience gained over the years. A Boss will have far more lines coming off their names than a Leader. The watch-out hint is an organizational chart that looks like one of a Leader but in reality, the Boss’s instinct is to be a fixer and they will circumvent their senior managers’ authority and go right around them to get at an issue. Bosses can’t help themselves and will continually circumvent the managers’ authority and minimize their roles; this is usually not a productive environment for anyone working under this type of structure.

Definition: A boss is an individual who believes that the success of every effort in their business needs their direction and stamp of approval for it to be successful. They may require input from others but rarely, and when they do, it is usually taken in a cursory manner and usually, it is asked only to support a decision already made by themselves. They determine their self-worth by the direction they give others. They look at themselves as THE problem solvers in the business. Beware if any individual below them were to make a decision on their own, successful or not, because to move ahead without approval can be disastrous for the individual. Usually, these Bosses are not evil in any way; they have just not been exposed to anything that might vary from their version of what they see as leadership. I believe that most people’s natural inclination would be to be a Boss, take charge, and get it done!

When facing this situation, my approach begins with trying to open the Boss’s eyes to the value that others will bring to the table if they are allowed. A leader looks at the organization from a different paradigm; they see their people as the key to success, not the obstacles to success. The difference is a workforce who checks their brains at the door and follows as best they can the role they were hired to do. I say as best they can because many companies run by bosses do not even have detailed role descriptions for their employees. The leader’s workforce not only gets a detailed role description; they are encouraged to think outside the box, express ideas and challenge the norm.

Definition: A Leader is an individual who sees delegation as their best friend; Bosses see it as the enemy. Leaders think long term, Bosses think short term. Leaders put people first, Bosses put results first. Leaders understand that they must dedicate a significant amount of time working on their business whereas a Boss spends almost all their time working in the business. In other words, thinking and acting strategically instead of spending all their time bouncing between fires that happen regularly.
A Leader will surround themselves with competent senior managers and then allow them to act and manage with a considerable measure of autonomy. To get the most out of their staff, a Leader is constantly coaching and encouraging the best from them, while supporting their development.

I have seen some relatively large companies that are run by bosses who work very hard to attract bright young minds into their companies, only to lose them in short order. These new folks become frustrated very quickly if they are in an environment that does not allow them the autonomy to try new things and to learn. Being restrained from coloring outside the lines will have them looking at new opportunities quickly as soon as they perceive a roadblock to advancement by a Boss.

I was a boss for too many years and it almost cost me everything I had. I believe I came by it honestly. Coming out of the driver’s seat and directly running a small trucking company left me no knowledge of the difference between the two leadership styles. Through executive coaching and a ferocious appetite to read business books and biographies about successful leaders, I began to distance myself from the Boss role into a Leadership role.

It might sound cliché, but it began to become fun again when it started to be about the people rather than about me. It also began to be much more profitable. Suddenly, there was a real thrill in challenging people to take on new projects, giving them the tools to be successful and watching them as they gained confidence and looked for the next project to tackle. We posted every new job that came up to everyone in the company before we went outside our business, including our driving force. Every department had a budget item for their people’s education, and they were encouraged to spend it.

My mantra to my senior managers was to work towards making themselves obsolete. Their objective was to mold their department and their people into becoming self-sustaining. They were told to become coaches to their people, with the underlying principle being to ask: ‘what obstacles might I remove for you to become more efficient at your job?’ I was not impressed with managers who might spend an inordinate amount of time in the office. This meant they had no balance in their life or they were not capable of coaching and supporting their staff.

I felt successful when I was able to walk through our office and see clusters of people standing in group kibitzing, laughing, and having a good time. I could do this because I knew they were dedicated, knowledgeable people who were in line with what our company was trying to achieve. A boss could never do this; they would have nightmares over the loss of control this would represent.

All the best for 2021 and Safe Trucking

Ray J. Haight

About Ray J. Haight

Areas of Focus: Operations, Recruiting & Retention, Human Resources With a career spanning four decades, Ray has been involved in all facets of the North American Trucking Industry.