Gino's Blog

The difference between boss & leader

Several years ago, I chose leadership as my master’s thesis topic. Specifically, my goal was to find the true secret to leadership. The first step was a literature review. Leadership is one of the most written-about topics. It started near the beginning of civilization. I broke up the literature review into three eras – pre-modern, modern, post-modern. After reading countless theories, I wrote a 333-page literature review as the first stage of my thesis. I brought it to my ethics committee. They tore it apart with a ‘how-dare-you’ scolding for exceeding the traditional 50 pages. And I got yelled at for including real-life experience which, apparently, doesn’t count. Identical to elementary school scolding for pushing and shoving in the recess line. No one explained why or how on Earth to reduce centuries of theories to 50 pages.

No literature review, no master’s thesis will ever fully prepare you to lead a team out of any kind out of hell or stop a team from sliding into hell. True leadership is exhausting because no fight is worse than fighting hell – the fight to get out of hell or the fight to stop your team from going straight to hell.

Many people are obsessed with being the boss. There are several reasons for the boss obsession – power, money, title, more likes, control but the main reason is escaping the frontline. Here’s what I mean. I was in a seminar one night when I was in my master’s program. The professor asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up. One after another said ‘boss’ even though they would miss the frontline. Without putting up my hand, I asked, “If you’ll miss it so much, why don’t you stay there?” Everyone ganged up on me with how-dare-yous. I struck a chord. Policing taught me that the first sign of deception is anger is response to a simple question. The sand fight ended up in the equivalent of being sent to our rooms – we all were sent to the cafeteria as punishment.

True leadership is exhausting. It’s not sexy, not glamorous. There’s a big difference between boss and leaders. Bosses brag at cocktail parties that they have X number of people working “under” them and “reporting” to them. Bosses call themselves superiors and those ‘beneath’ them subordinates. It’s perverse language. Filthy. Dehumanizing. True leaders are too busy and too exhausted to worry about looking sexy. Fighting hell is a contact sport. The glamour of ‘boss’ printed on a business card or on the corner-office door is window dressing and make-up that covers-up what’s missing. True leadership is revealed when the gloves are dropped. Leadership is measured in distance – where the hell you are when hell happens.

Hell exposes every imposter. No disguise can hide incompetent leadership when a team faces hell. No amount of layers can protect a pretender. The difference between a boss and leader is direction – who runs like hell and who stands up to fight it.

I’m honoured to be a guest on a live call-in TV show called ‘Health Matters’ hosted by Dr. Lana Marconi, Rogers Cable Channel 10 TV, Peel Region – Mississauga/Brampton. Monday, May 6, 7-8 pm. Thank you for the opportunity.


Gino Arcaro M.Ed., B.Sc., NCCP Level 3
owner – X Fitness Inc.
head coach – Oakville Longhorns football team
author – Soul of a Lifter

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