You don’t need me to tell you that leadership is under the spotlight at the moment. This applies to leadership in many of the areas of our lives; including politics obviously! The thing is, while there’s a lot said about it, it seems that it is much misunderstood and surrounded by myths. So, I thought it might be useful to debunk some of these myths in this week’s tip.
In doing this I must declare that I have believed some of these in my past. There are a great many myths I could offer you but, for me, the 10 key myths surrounding this thing called leadership are interconnected and are:
- Leaders are born, not made – Let me put you right on this one straight away. As the great coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” I believe that this is the most dangerous leadership myth, that there is a genetic factor, or be born into the ‘right’ family in order to be a leader. I have been in a maternity unit twice in my life. I have heard midwives say, “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl”. I’ve never heard them say, “It’s a leader”. So, leadership is a skill, not a genetic disposition. Nuff said!
- Leaders are infallible – No they are not! They are human, just like you and me. They make mistakes, just like you and me. I have often argued that leadership is much about being authentic and part of that is to be vulnerable. That said, leaders do have to have credibility in the eyes of those who follow them.
- Leaders are charismatic/extroverted – Now, it may be true that extroverts are more likely to network and eagerly seek opportunity. However, this myth has resulted in a misconception that introverts are less desirable leadership candidates. Introverts tend to be introspective and observant, naturally making them thoughtful listeners. These are valuable traits to managerial roles, which require conflict resolution and human resource management. In his book Good to Great Jim Collins says that exceptional leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. “It’s not that [they] have no ego or self-interest,” says Collins. “Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.” Amazing leaders, Collins found, “are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless
- Leadership is a rare skill and only exists only at the top of an organisation – It seems that our current view of leadership tends to be one-dimensional, with responsibility for leadership belonging to one or two people at the top of a pyramid of power and control. In reality, leadership is multidimensional. In any given day, each of us moves through a range of different expressions of leadership. We are all leaders in one way or another, and when we hold a wider view of leadership, we can work together in a way that utilises the unique talents of everyone. I remember once seeing an old gent whose job it was to wash cars exhibit great leadership on the forecourt of his company’s showroom
- Leadership and management are the same thing – Leadership and management are often confused as being the same thing – but they’re different. One general difference between the two is that leaders have people who follow them, while managers have people who work for and with them. But sometimes one person can be both the leader and the manager. Leadership is about getting people to comprehend and believe in whatever vision is set for the organisation. If you’re a leader, it’s about getting people to want to follow you on achieving your (and the corporate) goals. Management is more about administering the work and making sure the day-to-day activities are happening as they should.
- Leaders have to have all the answers – In the past, we tended to believe that leaders were superheroes and problem solvers who provided solutions to difficult problems in an instant. In many ways, this is the antithesis of collaboration and inclusion and produces solutions that are often shallow or one-dimensional because they have not undergone rigorous, committed examination and debate by those they work with. Actually, curiosity and powerful questions are a critical part of effective leadership. Truly amazing leaders empower others to become leaders themselves
- Great Leaders work alone – This is the “lone wolf” theory of leadership. Keep yourself isolated and separate from “the pack.” Otherwise, you will be unable to retain the alpha position and lead effectively. It might have been a useful notion when the strongest did survive because we had to hunt for food or run from predators, but we have far outgrown this basic biological functioning. Effective leaders of today are skillful at evoking leadership in others (see 6 above)
- Leaders don’t ask for help – This goes back to being vulnerable. Some folks are uncomfortable asking for help and perceive doing so is a sign of weakness, which real leaders should not have. But, competent leaders will delegate and show that they trust their team.
- The leader’s ideas are always best – On the contrary. The best leaders have a clear understanding of their own limitations. They know that success is a team sport. They realise that it takes a diverse team to be truly successful. They search for passionate people in diverse areas of expertise and bring them together. Great leaders listen more than they speak. They listen with the goal to understand, not the goal to prove themselves right
- I’m not qualified to be a leader – Didn’t you read the number 1 myth??? Earning multiple degrees and a wealth of influence might be traditional ways to gain credibility, but they don’t guarantee competent leadership. Leadership in practice, rather than degrees, proves you’re qualified.
So, there you are then. 10 myths of leadership that have, hopefully, been busted. Now you can get down to the business of developing your leadership skills. I honestly believe that we need leaders today like we have never before if we are to meet the challenges that we face.