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Boss vs Leader: Learn the Truth for Your Next Interview

- October 20, 2016
Boss vs Leader is an extreme oversimplification

Internet memes and popular management articles often draw a stark line between leaders and bosses. It comes down to boss vs leader, and, apparently, all managers fall in one of two categories all the time. In these oversimplified distinctions, bad bosses are intemperate, mean-spirited shouters, out of touch with the challenges their direct reports are facing. They criticize, micromanage, don’t listen, and take credit for the hard work of others. By contrast, true leaders are wise, calm, empathetic, knowledgeable octopuses who use their eight arms to gracefully manage the competing demands of direct reports and upper management.

In reality, the distinction between a good and bad boss isn’t so clear — especially after a single conversation — and it isn’t always easy to identify the good versus the bad before you accept a job offer and commit yourself. So during your job interview, how can you evaluate the management skills of the person across the table? How can you predict the strength of your future relationship with your supervisor? Follow these four strong tips before and during your next interview.

Recognize that you are not a statistic

The boss who works well with you and the boss who works well with a hypothetical employee are not the same. In the real world, it’s not as simple as boss vs leader. If you don’t take kindly to shouters and nitpickers, you’ll have to weed those out. But be honest with yourself; if you tend to get along with loud taskmasters who let you know where you stand, then so be it. Use your own personal experience and self-knowledge to guide your decision. If you have no work experience, think about your favorite teachers.

Align your goals

Asking “Are you a good boss or a jerk?” won’t produce meaningful information. But here’s a question that will: “Where do you see this position in five years?” Another useful option: “Do you see the company’s market territory expanding in the future, or would you like to stay focused on this local area?” Or: “Are you more interested in putting out marginal products on a tight timeline, or would you rather take more time to produce an excellent product?” When your interviewer answers, measure his feelings against your own.

Present hypotheticals

If you personally care more about quality work than tight deadlines (for example), and it looks like your employer leans the other way, find out what might happen if this conflict comes to a head. For example: “If you and your employees don’t see eye to eye, how do you respond?” Or: “When your sales rep has trouble with a client, how do you approach the problem?”Take notes as your interviewer answers. Her words may tell you everything you need to know about your future happiness in this role.

Be direct

It’s perfectly fine to ask your future managers to describe themselves using their own words. For example: “How would you characterize your management style?” or “What have you learned about leadership during your tenure with this company?” Then sit back and listen while your interviewer discusses the nuances of leadership on his or her own terms. Listen carefully and read between the lines. Don’t think about the boss vs leader divide. Instead, think about your needs.

For more on how to use your interview to determine benefits and drawbacks of an open position, turn to the tips and guidelines available on MyPerfectResume.  

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