The performance of any institution relies on the executions of the personnel who make up the population of internal customers also known as the workers or employees of the institution. Their output, their production, quality of work, job satisfaction, dedication, commitment, reliability, punctuality, sacrifice, (you get it), is what brings success or failure to the mission of the organization.

For 2 decades my occupation has been one organized by what is termed a scalar organizational structured institution. Scalar principle (chain of command) a clear definition of authority in the organization. This authority flows down the chain of command from the top level to the first or lowest level in the organization.

Prior to operating in SWAT as well as my career to date in the Fire Service (16 years to present fire, 12 years to present SWAT), I held other occupations in construction, River Guiding, as well as a few other rural adventurous occupations.

Over the course of years, it has become evident to me key differences between bosses and leaders.



Photo of Author On A Fire
The administration, or management overseeing the mission of the organization directs the employees in two very distinctive ways from what I have come to observe. There is the boss and there is the leader.

They say leaders are born and not made. There is no course, no school, no curriculum, no exam or program that can fully equip nor form one into a good leader. Nor can a true leader be discovered by these elementary didactic measures. You have it or you do not. It is a natural talent, an innate ability to project an unseen aura to ones peers of confidence and capability. Being a leader inspires others, leaving those being led a desire to emulate, follow, and mirror the leader.

Bosses rise up, anointed by those higher in authority than they with the hopes of overseeing the organization and enhancing the efficacy of the institution both in production as well as cost savings/efficiencies. Often bosses are, “company men/women”, doing the bidding of the company/organization. A boss expects adherence to their standards solely based on their position of authority, obtained via them proving their scholastic knowledge, ability to memorize obscure facts and regurgitate non-sensical materials never to be seen again outside of their appointment process. With a boss it is the position that is respected and obeyed, with a leader it is the man.

Bosses can be leaders. There are times when a true leader, achieves a boss position, and then he/she LEADS from there. However, not all bosses are in fact leaders. Often, bosses who never held the innate, organic skill set of being a leader attempt to force themselves into the mold of being a leader, as one forces a square peg into a round hole. They beat on themselves and those they lead, attempting to force the existence of a persona they will never achieve with any level of training or any ceremonial blessing declaring them a certain rank or managerial role. Bosses fail to lead and can only boss those below them in a domineering even browbeating way. The failure to lead by a boss is often broadcast by clear attributes of their inability.

List of attributes below from TD.ORG

Narcissist. A bad boss is endlessly self-centered. Everything is about them and not the people they manage or what is going on in their employees’ personal lives. It is never about the team, but rather all about how good they look. Conversely, leaders lead with integrity, honesty, care, and authenticity.

Bully. Bullies manage through fear mongering and intimidation. They create a culture of distrust, nervousness, and fear. Under their thumb, employees are worried about losing their jobs. Office politics begin to dominate employee performance.

Unapologetic. Leaders are quick to realize their missteps or mistakes and offer an apology. Bosses never realize their egregious behavior and certainly never atone or apologize for it.

Suck Up. Bad bosses are notorious for spending little time with the people they manage. Instead, they spend their time sucking up to their boss and only trying to look good in their boss’s eyes.

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Poor Communicator. Not giving clear instructions is a prominent trait among bad bosses. They frequently guard information and treat it as power. In addition, they often contradict themselves or give conflicting instructions. Their direct reports spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decode or interpret what limited communication is offered.

Terrible Listener. They don’t listen, which goes hand in hand with being bad communicators. Worse, they do not even care to listen. Whatever you say, bosses hear what they want to hear. In addition, they are never fully present during interactions with employees. Leaders listen.

Always Right. These bosses have a compulsive need to be right and consistently point out how others are wrong. They can never admit a mistake and say, “I am sorry.”

Unavailable. Rarely available, they are MIA when needed most, especially in times of crisis, when critical decisions need to be made, or in employee situations that require sensitivity.

Never Praise or Encourage. Quick to criticize and slow to praise: Too many employees of bad bosses report that their managers have not thanked them in years. Given that recognition is the most effective driver of engagement, this is one of the most egregious traits.

Blamer. Lacking any personal accountability, these bosses blame everyone else when something goes wrong. They often break the rules or office policies to shift blame onto others.

Unrealistic and Demanding. Set goals that are both unrealistic and unattainable, often doing so because of trait 5 (suck up). When these goals are not met, they blame their employees for not achieving them, labeling the employees weak, lazy, or poor performers.

Indecisive. Live in fear of themselves, which often leads to decision paralysis. This indecision stems from a boss’s fear of making a mistake or simply not having enough basic business intelligence to make the decision.

Micromanager. Whatever work you are performing, the micromanager is always looking over your shoulder and second guessing every decision you make. Highly controlling, micromanagers demand every last bit of information and squelch any opportunity for innovation or creativity. You are to execute orders and report back. Command and control.

Tolerant of Mediocrity and Relishes the Suck Ups. They care more about whether employees kiss ass than how they perform. They are tolerant of employees who do average or subpar work. Even if it is glaringly apparent that a poor performer must go, that person can remain in the position because of the ability to suck up.

Manipulative. Bad bosses are notorious for scheming and manipulating others, either for their own agenda or just for fun.

Vindictive. Questioning a boss makes him/her feel threatened, and likely to go after you to make you feel the same way.

Inconsiderate and Shaming. Rude and inconsiderate, fond of shaming their employees. They use staff meetings as a forum to belittle or publicly humiliate them. The behavior is spawned by their own insecurities and fears; many bosses feel better about themselves when ridiculing others.

Take Credit for Other People’s Hard Work. Leaders take pride in their team’s accomplishments and go out of their way to make sure higher-ups know who to thank for a job well done.

In World War II, Korea, Vietnam, as well as further US conflicts there are numerous accounts of when young inexperienced officers graduating with an education on military history and tactics from prestigious military academies such as West Point, would arrive on the frontline of combat, thrust into the position of being in authority over seasoned, war tattered men who had been educated not by books, but by artillery bombardment, mud, death, barbed wire, sniper fire, hunger and fatigue.

Some of these young inexperienced officers proved their merit and succeeded in becoming true leaders. Others failed. Relying solely on their name, their rank or social class, their educational background and tests passed, many young officers made tremendous strategic and tactical errors, costing the lives of men. Often, their ineptitude was clearly evident to the men they were tasked with leading with dissension erupting in the lower ranks. Non-officers, natural in the skills of leadership, were often looked to as the true leaders of units. The majority of the men in particular groups would look passed, even through the inept boss appointed over them and look to those who held not the stripes on his arm or bars on his collar but who wore the dirt of experience and bore the spirit of a true leader.

A true leader cares for his troops, his employees, his peers, those whose mission it is his to direct for the outcomes desired by the organization. The leader is an example. His decisions are calculated, correct, often balancing unseen altruistic rules ensuring the well being, health and moral of those under his command. The leader is ever thoughtful, ever caring, in a way loving those below him almost greater than himself. Could one simply determine a leader by their adherence to the golden rule? Perhaps not.

You often know who the leaders are (if they are not in a position of “leadership” as an appointed boss) by seeing the interactions among those around them – their peers. They are often emulated, followed, their input is requested, their experience tapped.

General Robert E. Lee was a true leader and a great commander. He was the only graduate of West Point who never received a single demerit. After his surrender, he rode on his horse while thousands of men followed, even though the war had ended. Their army was disbanded yet they followed their general for inspiration, guidance and leadership. That is a leader. A man you would follow, even after suffering defeat, and into the Hades itself.

Those under leaders hold a desire to perform, not because it’s their job. No, those under leaders wish to put out so as to gain the admiration of the leader they strive to emulate, the leader whose respect holds value above any compensation. Performance is executed by those beneath true leaders in order to bring success to their mission and the success of their leader. His accolade is their medal.

This is no trivial discussion, especially in the setting of public safety institutions of the military. In organizations whose job it is to protect life or property, executing high risk performances the very core of its performance rests with the direction from those LEADING, not bossing, LEADING. Morale, performance, outlook, vision, all of it emanates from the top down. The direction of an institution is not governed by the lowest ranks, but by those who succeed or fail at leading it.

The greatest threat and deteriorating effect to any organization is that of having bosses where leaders should be.

The Trenches



Bosses can be leaders. There are times when a true leader, achieves a boss position, and then he/she LEADS from there.