Magazine Article | September 1, 2015

The Light Touch: Are You A Boss Or A Leader

Source: Life Science Leader

By Bob Garner, entrepreneur, author, and  motivational speaker,

Willie Shoemaker is probably one of the best-known jockeys who ever lived. He once said, “I keep the lightest touch on the horse’s reins. The horse never knows I’m there, until he needs me.”

The person who is a leader also needs that “light touch.” A leader must remember that their role is to create a vision and then surround themselves with the best people who can accomplish that goal. The leader can show what needs to be done, but then the leader must step aside and let people do their jobs.

However, often that is not the approach of many leaders who feel that they have to be a part of every decision — no matter how trivial. By constantly micromanaging every decision, a leader transforms into a “boss” revealing not only a lack of trust for employees, but also, possibly, some control issues.

Employees were hired — and still have a job — because they are experts at what they do. They have skills and talents that need to be unleashed and nourished, not bridled and suffocated. A leader gets out of the way and lets the experts do their jobs, while a boss feels the need to control. If every decision needs to have the “green light” from the boss, be prepared for major bottlenecks in productivity and stifled creativity, as well as decreased morale, teamwork, and communication.

"A leader gets out of the way and lets the experts do their jobs."

Micromanaging is just one issue a boss does that a leader doesn’t. A few more were famously provided by the controversial, yet one-time successful retail magnate Harry Selfridge. He stated, “The boss drives people; the leader coaches them. The boss depends on authority; the leader on goodwill. The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The boss says, ‘I’; the leader says, ‘We.’ The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. The boss says, ‘Go’; the leader says, ‘Let’s go!’”

With that said, a possible downside to being a leader versus a boss is that, with more freedom and latitude to “do their jobs,” there is the possibility that employees may make more mistakes than those who have less autonomy. But, as the “Wizard of Westwood,” the late UCLA coach John Wooden once said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

And that is what any leader really wants — a team of doers. And doers do when they are led by a leader and not a boss. Doers do when they are led by a leader who believes in them and encourages them. Doers do when they are led by a leader who, just like Willie, keeps a light touch on the reins and lets employees know they are always there … if needed.