People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. . . The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.
~Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, for all his faults, had a very strong grasp on leadership.  This leadership quote illustrates a deep understanding of the difference between someone who actually leads and someone whose authority merely comes from their position. The “boss” has authority because he can fire others.  Someone who is truly a leader doesn’t operate from just having authority.  They lead rather than drive those they are responsible for.

This isn’t to say that a leader will never have the authority to fire someone. However, their approach to getting others to do the work that needs done determines whether or not they are operating as a leader or a boss. Someone who points the way and helps people toward the organizational goals is likely functioning as a leader.  Someone who threatens and browbeats others into what they think needs to be accomplished isn’t acting as a leader. The leadership traits that help attract followers are all centered around being able to get others to willingly follow–not forcing them.

When it comes down to it, people will willingly follow a leader–even if they don’t have the ability to fire them.  People will not willingly follow someone who is just acting as a boss with no leadership qualities.  The only thing keeping them around is the paycheck or threat of losing their income.

If you want to find the best leaders, look for people who have volunteers working for them.  When people are free to follow anyone they choose, the best leaders are going to attract the best followers.  Individuals in “leadership” positions in large organizations may or may not be good leaders.  It is hard to tell because most of the people stay in those organizations because of the money.  If the money went away, how many CEO would be able to convince others to stay at their jobs?  Not many.

In the volunteer world, there are many positions, so if you don’t like working in one organization it is easy to switch to another.  If the leader in a volunteer organization is poor or is trying to lead by being “the boss”, chances are their recuits will leave and go somewhere else.