The Significant Difference Between Being a Boss and Leader

Blog Barista: Katelyn Cripps | Sept 24, 2018 | Workplace | Brew time: 6 min

I have been in the workforce since I was sixteen. Luckily between then and now, in my early 20s, I have gained more life experience. Recently, I have finally transitioned from working tireless hours in the restaurant and retail industries to gaining professional, corporate-level experience as an intern.

During my time in college, it was easy to find “meaningless” jobs. I have been a nanny, a babysitter, a waitress, a hostess, a mailroom clerk, a farm hand and a retail associate. I used to think that these jobs were a means to an end. But, I failed to realize the significant impact these jobs had on my professionalism in the pursuit of my career. Not only did many of these jobs teach me about time management and hard-work, but I saw the effects of what it meant to be an effective leader rather than just a boss.

It’s safe to say, that many of us have encountered horrible bosses in our lives. But I’m curious, how many of us have encountered phenomenal leaders?

Albert Einstein was quoted once saying, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” Obviously, the two careers mentioned by Einstein are different in many capacities. However, one thing remains—both are deserving of respect.

In a leadership position, in any industry, it’s all about the dignity and respect you give others. Whether it is the president of a university, a CEO of a multimillion-dollar company, or even an upper-level manager, they should all treat the garbage men/women, the janitors…and yes, even the interns, with respect. So, how does your CEO treat the garbage man?

If the answer is with respect, dignity and kindness, then your CEO is not just a boss. Your CEO is a leader.

Not Just an Intern

Being an intern, I am privy to most of our leadership team. I see the inner workings of their daily tasks, their expectations and most importantly, I’m a witness to their character. True, authentic leaders are like magnets. They are magnets because effective leadership is about more than just delegating, and more than bringing in business or revenue. Employees will want to work for, work with and follow a person who is effective, respectful and successful.

Before I became an intern at KL&A, I never felt more loyal to anyone in a leadership position than I do right now. Starting with my manager all the way up to the partners, I feel valued. As an intern, I am not asked to go fetch coffee, do this or that or pick up any dry cleaning. Luckily, I’m given real projects, my ideas are actually listened to and more importantly, I’m respected. I feel a part of the team, despite being just an intern. KL&A’s founding partners have treated me the same way they would treat any full-time employee, the same way they speak to the managers and other KL&A partners.

When employees feel that level of respect, they’ll be more inclined to be more productive. They will take pride in their work. They will want to follow their leaders.

Former President, Dwight Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone to do what you want done because they want to do it.” What company wouldn’t want that?

Leaders and Bosses Are Not One In The Same

The true differences between a boss and a leader are easy to recognize. A boss will be the one who always speaks, a leader will listen. A boss will be controlling while a leader will often encourage independence. Leaders will reward and praise those who work hard and take risks while a boss will not. A boss demands respect, a leader will earn it. There is power in earning respect from your employees. Despite any title as a CEO, CFO, partner or manager, respect is still earned.

Anything a boss does a leader will do in opposite. Leadership is not about authority, it’s about influence. Leaders will have the best interest of everyone at heart: the employees, the clients, and the leadership team.

Characteristics of an Effective Leader

  1. They are respectful—even to the little people (janitors, garbage men and interns).
  2. They are supportive—focusing on the team’s goals as a singular unit.
  3. They have integrity—adhering to the company’s values and ethics.
  4. They coach—helping develop the skills of their team so all reach their full potential.
  5. They communicate—asking for and giving feedback consistently.
  6. They empathize—being patient and tolerating mistakes.  
  7. They are perceptive—knowing when to delegate tasks and offering assistance.
  8. They are a resource—steering employees to find solutions for themselves.  
  9. They listen—allowing their team to openly discuss ideas and thoughts.
  10. They are committed—acting selflessly by investing in their people.  

Future Leading

As an intern, I have learned more about what it means to be leader than I ever did in college, or any other job. An effective, successful leader has a clear vision, they communicate early and often (and with respect), they inspire their team, surround themselves with smart individuals and even admit their mistakes.

KL&A has shaped my belief in what being a leader truly means. Undoubtedly, no one is perfect. A leader will be the first to acknowledge that. But, my time here has somewhat ruined my perspective. I will no longer be willing to work under another boss like Gary Cole in Office Space for any reason.

I have been fortunate to work with some incredibly driven individuals at KL&A. They have taught me what to look for in future employers. But more importantly, they have shown me how to be an effective leader through their actions and words. So when you find yourself in a leadership position, ask yourself this, “Am I treating the garbage man with the same respect as I would someone with authority?” If you’re questioning why it even matters, I promise you it does. It matters because the way you treat people will permeate everything from how employees treat each other to the way your clients are treated.

All in all, the essence of leadership is someone who is selfless, respectful, and diligent. Leaders will lead from behind when their team experiences success, and lead from the frontline so-to-speak when their team is struggling.


  1. Very well said, you have learned an important life lesson. Enjoy as you move forward.

    • This is a great article, because it captures the heart of the company. Today is my birthday, and my Project Manager baked me an apple pie to share with the team. The leadership at KL&A is consistently encouraging and ready to serve others’ interests. I love this company.

  2. Awesome article- so well written- my only comment- you aren’t “just an intern” – you are an “intern” each person brings something to the team- KL&A realizes everyone is important- Jesus cares even for the sparrow- !!!! Human Resources are our most important resource!!!!!!! thank you so much for your excellent observations!

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