Mar 22, 2017 Wheeler Coleman Leadership No Comments

What Is The Difference Between A Traditional Boss And A Collaborative Boss?

Picture a boss from the 1980s, and maybe you’ve got an image of a leader who leads from the top while everyone else follows. They’re the authority figure, and what they say goes.

While certainly not representative of all traditional bosses, David Ogilvy’s recollection of the time an employee was fired by his boss is telling of the distance that existed between the boss and his team:

“Another agency fired a copywriter because he dared talk to the boss in the men’s room.”

In 2017, however, the collaborative boss is seen as much more progressive. They’re open to their team leading alongside them as they take on a more collaborative approach in a bid to get better results, and stay ahead of the competition.

But where did the idea of the collaborative boss come from?

The Organic Change From Tradition To Collaboration

Change is the essence of capitalism, and of business in general. Any business that doesn’t know how to adapt to change – or who steadfastly refuses to change – gets left behind.

There are many instigators of change. While we can’t control these triggers, what we can control is how we react to them.

Volatile economic climates, the transition to a digital world, and our rivals adopting new approaches to boosting productivity are all triggers that can (and should) cause us to change our own methods and approaches.

Right now, we’re seeing a new kind of boss behind the desk, one that challenges the traditional idea of a boss by being more open to collaboration, not just with partners, but with their employees.

Innovation is at the heart of this change. It can be described as doing something different. But what sets it apart from mere experimentation is the calculated conception, execution and foresight that is involved – as well as the all important value that it creates.

And as more companies adopt the idea of a collaborative boss, the results are:

  • More creative thought among employees
  • Fresher, vital ideas
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Greater sense of belonging felt by the employees whose concepts are welcomed and respected

In the past, employees rarely – if at all – felt like they owned their work. As we become more collaborative, employees are aware that they’re a much more vital part of the process and company they work for. This inspires motivation, which leads to corporate growth.

A lot of this is a result of the focus-shift to company culture, as more companies set out to define what their culture is, and where their employees fit in. Openness and shared ideas are becoming the norm as companies realize that businesses work better in a collective team.

Let’s take a look at the differences between a traditional boss and a collaborative boss.


Power has always been centralized among traditional bosses who are in charge. It’s all about authority. The boss is the expert, and they know best. It’s incredibly hierarchical.

But it’s also a very old-school approach that sounds a tad like totalitarianism. It means that the best ideas from employees at the bottom of the ladder may never get voiced.

Employees may still get a chance to have their voice heard. They just need to make sure they stick around the company long enough.

On the other hand, collaborative bosses distribute power collectively, believing that the best way to get the best results is to absorb the combined power of everyone in the room – rather than relying on the expertise of one or two people.

They believe that everyone has a great idea in them, and that group brainstorming sessions will bring out the best in people, as well as the company.


Knowledge is power, and so is information. Traditional bosses prefer not to have their leadership challenged or called into question. And by withholding information from their employees, it’s unlikely that anyone will be in a position to call them into question.

However, collaborative bosses want more openness and transparency. They want to make sure that everyone is singing from the same song sheet, as they, too, believe that information is power, only more powerful when it’s shared out among more people.

The more we know, the more we can do. Rather than let one person etch away at a problem by themselves for hours on end, a collaborative approach means more people can have a go at solving the problem together.


The traditional boss has never been one to come up with all the ideas himself. He knows he isn’t that good.

However, idea generation has largely been an exclusive club for the boss and a handful of his closest executives.

If you’re not near the top of the hierarchical food chain, it’s unlikely that you’ll be invited to discuss ideas with the boss.

There is a sensible reason for this, and it’s related to the point above. If key information about the business and markets is withheld from most of the employees, it’s redundant to invite them to brainstorming sessions.

As such, a traditional boss will be open to ideas, but only from the people they really trust.

Sometimes, however, they’ll just run with their own idea.

Conversely, collaborative bosses believe that brainstorming sessions work best when the whole team is invited along.

There are good reasons for this. They believe that inviting the whole team to brainstorming sessions means there will be unique insights that they themselves would not have considered.

They will also get to hear contrarian views and fresh perspectives.

More perspectives and different takes on things mean there will be lively discussions, dynamic exchanges and importantly – a whole bag load of new ideas to take home and think through.

Solving Problems

There is a big difference between how traditional businesses solve problems and in comparison to how collaborative businesses solve problems.

In traditional businesses, the solutions are drafted and created by the boss and his executives, before being delivered to the rest of the team.

In collaborative businesses, the whole team works on a problem together, and comes up with the solution. They believe that a group approach is a much more efficient way to solving a problem.

Drawing on the strength and mental agility of each team member is much better than relying on one or two people to create lasting, effective solutions.

Responsibilities And Rules

One of the biggest problems that traditional corporate culture can create is a suppressed creative process.

A team that doesn’t feel free to create is a team that could lose spirit, heart, imagination and crucially – innovation. Traditional bosses can restrict a team’s creative spirit by imposing rules and responsibilities on team members, even responsibilities that a member might not agree with, and which may sap their energies.

Designating specific roles might seem like a good idea to the boss who believes in discipline and order. But often, a team member might be designated a role that doesn’t play to their strengths.

By contrast, in a collaborative culture, teams work together on projects. Resources and information are not withheld but is instead shared out among the teams. This means that roles and duties have blurred boundaries, with the team able to move freely from one role to another – whatever works best for them at the time.

Creativity is not only encouraged – it flourishes.

The difference between a traditional boss and a collaborative boss can be summed up in one word: Power.

A traditional boss has power, and is probably keen to hold onto it. A collaborative boss knows that empowering his whole team is better for the greater good of the company and the customers it serves.