During the workshop "Leader perché" (Leader Why?), my colleague Carlo De Rosa and myself mulled over the questions – "What is the role of a boss do?", and "What is the role of a leader?"
Here is what we came up with – a boss is responsible for needs such as safety, guidance and direction in situations where the gap of experience and knowhow between the boss and the employees is very wide. In other words, it is when instructions are needed to do the job well or to solve a problem.
A leader, on the other hand, does not give instructions or solutions. Leaders share their perspective, their vision, they embody a type of behavior, a way of being, that creates a work environment which enables employees explore and find the solution which is appropriate, specific and makes sense in situations which are constantly changing. A leader transfers the ability to find the solution, rather than the solution itself.
So, it appears that there is a big difference between the roles of boss and leader and between professions that have been around since antiquity such as; professor, counselor, lawyer, doctor, boss and newer professions such as leader and coach.
Obviously that there is nothing wrong with behaving as a boss, it depends on the conditions and situation.
We asked ourselves why the term "boss" often has an un-pleasant connotation, evoking a sense of someone who is authoritarian and an abuse of power rather than the respect evoked by someone wo is authoritative?
It may be because today the challenges and complexity of the problems we are faced with need to be approached differently to how we solved problems in the past. There are new opportunities and resources that we may not yet fully understand how they work and the possible effects. Or perhaps we are becoming accustomed (abusively?) to a world where knowledge is more widespread and available to all…
Without a doubt, what is called for is an ability that is uncommon and difficult: ductility. The ability to change from the old and trusted approach, that of expert, to a new role, that of explorer. Moving from the role of the decision maker to that of co-decision maker. What is also needed is the ability to switch from the Socratic role of facilitator to bearing witness of one's own experience. These are two different roles, but they are twin.
It's not easy but it is possible. One has to accept a little discomfort and uncertainty, to hone the ability of listening and of paying attention to oneself and to others at a much deeper level than was needed in the past.
It is difficult, as change often is. It is, however, possible, with the practice of discipline and training. It is certainly more and more useful and ever more necessary.