Are You a Boss or a Leader? 8 Common Traits of a Bully Boss

By Jennifer Lahey  |  

5.3 min read


he words “boss” and “leader” are often used interchangeably, but have big differences in management style; leaders at Vistage claim that “those who have made the journey from one to the other understand these key differences.”

In the 1950s, an MIT management professor, Douglas McGregor drew on the famous psychological concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In short, the hierarchy of needs explains that humans must feel safe, loved, and have esteem before they can grow. McGregor used this concept to theorize two major differences in management style he calls: Theory X and Theory Y. 

According to McGregor, Theory-X style managers avoid responsibility, have little ambition, and are motivated by their own interests and goals. This type of management style hinders employee satisfaction and ignores employee’s need for growth in their own professional lives. Theory-Y style managers enjoy the work they do, are always looking for opportunities to grow, and assume their employees are internally motivated. McGregor believed that Theory-Y managers could motivate their employees to reach their fullest potential. This theory created a clear division and comparison between the boss and the leader.

In simple terms, Theory X managers are “bosses”. They dictate, control, dominate, and intimidate their employees. They often make decisions for the team with little or no input from their employees. Theory Y managers are leaders, and good ones at that. They teach, trust, and inspire. True leaders always aim for their team to be successful, allow for experimentation, fresh ideas, and even failure. Leaders celebrate their employees’ success and don’t take credit for it.

Theory-Y leaders are in demand, both in business and in life. To be a true leader in either one of these facets is no small feat. An effective and inspirational leader can make or break your business and mean the difference between your company’s success or failure. Now, businesses want a leader in place who can focus on how employees are motivated, driven, and what management style would work best for them. With The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment delivered by Predictive Success, leaders can use their people data to uncover all of these answers – exactly how their employees are driven to succeed at work, what motivates them, and what management style would work best for them. With this information, leaders are well-equipped to drive their teams to success. With this information, leaders are well-equipped to drive their teams to success. We see new age leaders seeking any source of objective insight they can on their employees. Our team at Predictive Success is training more leaders in the use of predictive analytics like the new Predictive Index Survey software than at any other time in the last 5 years. When the Predictive Index data is used to better understand the behaviors and needs of the employees, higher levels of productivity is reached.

Are you a boss or a leader? Vistage notes these as the eight key differences between the two.

  1. Bosses deflect mistakes, leaders own them 

As said in the leadership book “Extreme Ownership” by Jacko Willink and Leif Babin, there are “no bad teams, only bad leaders.” An alternative definition for a boss: a bad leader.

  1. Bosses command, leaders teach 

Leaders want their employees to understand the task at hand, they teach, and create a culture of two-way communication – allowing employees to feel comfortable asking questions.

  1. Bosses micromanage, leaders trust and delegate

Bosses create to-do lists for their employees and hover over them as they complete it, leaders trust their employees to create and work through their own to-do lists.

  1. Bosses are authoritative, leaders are influencers 

Leaders persuade their team toward a common goal, communicate effectively, and have empathy with their people. When bosses use authority to lead, they might get results, but they won’t see that same trust and growth in their employees and their company’s mission.

  1. Bosses have big egos, leaders are self-assured 

Bosses are worried about looking good to their own bosses. Leaders trust in themselves that they will. They focus on ensuring their teams and work is up to par and are humble enough to know that the next mistake or obstacle is around the corner.

  1. Bosses think short-term, leaders think long-term

Good leaders think big-picture and don’t waste their energy focusing on what might happen today. While leaders should account for the present, they want to be sure that they are working toward something good next quarter.

  1. Bosses want credit, leaders give credit 

A leader wants their team to succeed and get credit for their own achievements. In the book, “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker, “leaders who work most effectively think ‘we’; they think ‘team’. This is what creates trust and enables you and your team to get the task done.”

  1. Bosses foster fear, leaders build confidence 

Bosses want their teams to fear failure whereas leaders know that failure is a part of the process to success. They work to build their team’s confidence while staying on the right track.

Empathy has always been an important skill for leaders to hone in on – however, 2020 has brought with it all the more reason for leaders to use it as a pillar of their leadership and management style moving forward. Empathy is now considered a currency for CEO’s, an essential skill and tool to have when leading through turbulent times. Predictive Success is hosting a FREE webinar on Thursday, November 12th, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. that will teach CEOs how to lead with empathy and become a beacon of strength and support for their employees. All attendees will receive a free lunch from Uber Eats on us, and a copy of Predictive Success CEO, David Lahey’s new book, “From Hire To Inspire: How to Become the Best Boss”. Register here:

This article was written based on original content contributed to Vistage Research & Insights page by Vistage Staff. Vistage helps CEOs make better decisions by bringing leaders together.


Vistage Staff. (2020, September). Are you a boss or a leader? Vistage. Retrieved from

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. (n.d.) Lumen: Introduction to Business. Retrieved from

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