Some CEOs are bosses. Some are leaders. Some are managers. To me, each of these words has a very distinct meaning, and I know CEOs who fall into each category. Knowing which kind of CEO you're dealing with can be very helpful. Knowing which kind of CEO you are can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses. 

1. Bosses

Bosses are directive. By all accounts, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk both fall into this category. They are directive about what they think and make sure their view is implemented to the greatest level of detail. 

For example, when Apple was creating the iPod, Steve Jobs demanded over and over again that the design and interface be simple, both in appearance and functionality. A famous story has him checking in on the project daily, demanding each time, "Simplify!" His vision dictated that if he wanted a song or a function, he should be able to get there in just three intuitive clicks. This directive leadership style helped make Apple the giant it is today. 

Drawbacks to the Boss CEO

With the boss CEO, it's their way or the highway. If you work with a boss, understand that you need to be in line with their direction. If you are a boss, be aware that for every Steve Jobs, there are plenty of other bosses who have led their companies into ruin because they were sure that theirs was the only right way. 

2. Leaders

Leaders are visionaries. They make their own path. Jeff Bezos and Larry Page are leaders in this style. They think big, and they're not about to let anything get in their way. 

Larry Page's Moonshot Factory is a perfect example. This is the place where hard, long-term problems come to find solutions that make the world a radically better place. The projects sound like science fiction: balloons on the edge of space that bring the internet to rural areas, renewable energy storage using tanks of molten salt, electricity generated by kites. These, along with self-driving cars, are categorized as "graduated" on the website. Just as fascinating are the "in development" and "discontinued" projects. 

It takes visionary leadership to put major resources into projects this big--and it's no surprise that some end up discontinued. The ones that make it to market change the world. 

Drawbacks to the Leader CEO

Drawbacks to the leader CEO are that big visions take big resources. It's easy to run out of runway when you're going for a moonshot. Also: hire carefully. Big visions require big thinkers at every level. If you work for a leader, know that your project might not work out. For every "graduated" moonshot, there are "discontinued" projects as well. 

3. Managers

Managers are behind the scenes. While leaders and bosses make headlines, managers are quietly plugging away, helping everyone on the team be their best selves for the benefit of the company. 

I would describe myself as a manager. As Techstars CEO, I need to provide the company with leadership and vision, but I like to work collaboratively. Techstars isn't about me. It's about all of us, working together, making something we can all be proud of and helping entrepreneurs succeed. 

I don't have any big name examples to give, because manager-style CEOs tend not to have the huge personalities that make bosses and leaders so much fun to read about. 

Drawbacks to the Manager CEO

If you're a manager CEO, you probably won't end up as a household name. Then again, you probably don't want to. Managers can be powerful, but they tend to stay behind the scenes. If you work for a manager, get ready to give your knowledgeable opinion. You're expected to be a contributing member of the team. 

No one style is right. No one style is better than the others. Extremely successful companies are led by each type of CEO. Take a look at your CEO (or yourself), and see which category is the closest fit. Now that you know, you can play to the best aspects of the style--and do your best to avoid the drawbacks. 

Published on: Sep 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.