Leader vs. Boss: Main skills of the modern leader?


EN Leiter vs. Chef


Modern work life is facing growing complexity. Because of specialisation leaders face new challenges. The traditional boss who was mainly a control institution seems to reach his limits in modern work life. The modern leader must be more than just a control institution as he must manage talents of employees for maximum welfare of the organisation. This article highlights some main skills of the modern leader. This article is meant to shed light on the whole issue and address the essential differences between boss and leader.


Challenges of the modern leader

Following the newest surveys (for example Travailsuisse) the employer happiness is decreasing in Switzerland. In a survey of the career advisory Rundstedt, 65% of job changers said that they are not leaving the company but their supervisor. Only overtime is a more frequent reason for job changes (68%).

There is no evidence that the quality of managers is decreasing over time. A part of the answer must be that the challenges for managers have changed. Hierarchical structures are more and more redeemed by the self-determined employee. Surprisingly this seems to put supervisors in a more important role then in the hierarchical work environment.


Boss vs. leader

First, we must determine the main differences between the classical boss and the modern leader. The typical boss is mainly interested in controlling the employees with regards to a clearly defined working operation, whilst the modern leader sees himself as the supervisor of the whole working process. The leader understands the process, but the responsibility to define the parts of the process is hold by the qualified employee. Nevertheless, it´s important for the leader to have an overview of the process as a whole. He is responsible for the efficient use of the resources and talents of the individual employee. In contrast, the boss is only interested to hold his powerful position whilst he is controlling the employees doing the operations of the top-down defined process. The boss can be seen as the paragon of the micro-manager. The leader must formulate a clearly defined target for the individual employee, whilst the employee is free how to reach the target.

In the field of simple routine work, the boss approach is sufficient to lead a group or division. As soon as the working environment gets too complex for a supervisor to understand all single operations, he cannot control the single operations anymore. In this case the boss reaches his limits whilst the modern leader still has the overview because delegated the particular operations to his employees. The leaders’ main task is to ensure that the effort of the individual fits into the corporate process (or strategy). That´s easier said than done. We should have a closer look at the skills, this modern leader needs.


Skills of the modern leader

The discussion about the skills of the modern supervisor is mainly opinion based and sometimes contradictory. Google performed a study (“Project Oxygen”)  to bring some hard empirical facts into the discussion.

This study evaluated the 8 most important skills of a successful manager.

  1. Has a clear vision and strategy for the team: A vision motivates the individual employee and at best it gives his work a higher purpose as a small part of the whole. The strategy on the other side limits the responsibilities of the employee and helps him to focus on his task.
  2. Is a good coach: The leader has to convey the vision and strategy to the team in an understandable manner. If necessary, he has to be point of contact for technical questions.
  3. Empowers the team and does not micromanage: The leader has to take care not to cross the thin line between coaching and micromanagement.
  4. Expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being: Most of us know, that the measurement of performance is a very usual thing, whilst the study above shows, that the employee welfare is not on the same level of importance for employers. A typical issue is that short-term profit has to be generated on the cost of employee welfare. A good leader has to balance short- and long-term goals.
  5. Is productive and results-oriented: Despite the employee participation there are still decisions only the leader of the organization or group can make. The need for this has to be seen by the leader and the decision has to be made quick and in the interest of the organization. Results-oriented means to focus on the output and not on the input of the employees.
  6. Is a good communicator. Listens and shares information: As soon as a decision is made, this has to be communicated. Because of the exponential growth of information, the ability to distinguish between relevant and non-relevant information is of growing importance. A good leader knows which information is important for whom and assures everyone to get the relevant information in an understandable manner.
  7. Helps with career development: Career opportunities are very important to hold the people in the organization and to avoid expensive fluctuation.
  8. Has key technical skills that help him or her advice the team: Finally (although with decreasing importance) the leader must be up to date about the hands-on work. The importance is decreasing as the work complexity is increasing. In very complex environments the leader is not able anymore to understand all hands-on steps of the process anymore. In this case the focus should be to trust and coordinate the employees and to coordinate them effectively.


Summing up

We see that technical progress has a big impact on leadership. On the one hand this must lead to rethinking of the leading style of managers. In most of the modern working fields the old-fashioned controlling boss, has lost his right to exist. On the other hand, this demands some patience of the employees as this needs some time. If both sides, try to understand the opposite the organization is prepared for the future.



Tran, Sang. (2017). GOOGLE: a reflection of culture, leader, and management. International Journal of Corporate Social Responsibility. 2. 10.1186/s40991-017-0021-0.
Tobias Fritschi, Simonina Kraus, Carmen Steiner & Larissa Luchsinger (BFH) (2019)
Barometer Gute Arbeit“ Qualität der Arbeitsbedingungen aus der Sicht der Arbeitnehmenden – Ergebnisse für die Jahre 2015 bis 2019
nach oben