Seven Leadership Myths & Misconceptions Debunked
There are persistent leadership myths & misconceptions that permeate our culture and quietly influence how we conduct ourselves in the workplace and beyond.
Conventional leadership methods are on their way out.
People are no more looking for just work, they are looking to make a difference and feel as if they matter in the larger scheme of things. This need is creating efficient leaders at every level in organizations, with leadership roles flowing from person to person.
The truth is that few of us have been properly trained for leadership.
Most people who rise to leadership positions do so because they have been performing well enough to merit a promotion, not because they have studied leadership techniques. As a result, many people who find themselves promoted to a management-level position operate under several common myths about what makes a good leader.
Some of the most commonly held beliefs about leaders are complete myths.
But their remarkable popularity and persistence have a decidedly toxic effect on many of our careers and companies. It’s long past time we shared those misconceptions.
So, let’s clear the air and talk about a few of those myths and misconceptions.
In particular, the seven I’ve highlighted which can keep you from reaching your leadership potential. Each is harmful in their own way, either giving people the wrong idea about leaders or about leadership in general.
Here are the leadership myths and misconceptions that should be thrown back to where they came from.
There is a lot of advice out there for how to be an effective leader. Unfortunately, some of that helps spread unrealistic myths and misconceptions of how a leader should behave. Foster a strong leadership by avoiding these debunked leadership myths & misconceptions.
Myth #1: Leaders are Born
We all have met somebody who believes this to be true. Simply, some people are born leaders, while others have to follow them. The truth is that not too many people remain the same as they were when they were born.
Leadership is a skill, not a disposition.
You too can become a leader if you choose to become one. It might be easier for some than others, but leadership is for everyone.
Born leaders simply do not exist. Period.
We all have the potential of becoming capable leaders by taking full responsibility for our actions with those we lead. We might contribute to any endeavor, whether our contribution comes from the front of the effort or from behind it.
It’s entirely possible to learn how to be a good manager, provided you are willing to put in the effort.
Learning how to be an effective leader requires diligence and practice, as does learning any new skill, but if you apply yourself and devote time to building up your skills, eventually you will find that you have improved your leadership abilities.
It is true that some people are born with qualities that make them better leaders than the average person.
The truth is, living up to our leadership potential is closely aligned with living up to our potential as human beings in general. To live up to our potential, in part, means to move passed fear and to do and act on the things that we care about — and that’s also a big part of what makes a great leader.
📚 Additional reading
Certainly, some individuals show early signs of leadership. They know how to influence people to take action. However, many leaders do not blossom until later in life when they find a problem or issue that stimulates their passion.
Myth#2: Titles make Leaders
Leaders are often perceived as those people at the top of the pyramid who hold all the power and control over the organization. This view of leadership is far too simplistic and one-dimensional and thus it lacks the depth that true leadership contains.
Identifying Leadership with a title is probably the deepest and most damaging misconception.
Specifically, it’s the misunderstanding that leadership is a title or position someone is given, like being a manager or boss. Titles are just pieces of paper!
The truth is, even someone without any rank or title can become a leader.
That’s because leadership is based on influence, not position. This is why people often lose their leadership positions, particularly when other more charismatic individuals challenge them — they lose their influence over the people they’ve been leading.
The myth that leadership prowess belonged only to people at the top of a pyramid of power is gone. 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 utilizes the unique talents of everyone.
You could be the boss or the manager, but if your team listens more to one of your subordinates, he or she is the true leader.
You don’t need a title or proof of income to lead. We can see this in all levels of governments, school systems, even families. Leadership is about influence. When people allow you to influence their lives, you step into a leadership role.
📚 Additional reading
Leadership cannot be appointed or assigned; it is not based on title or position. Rather, the measure of leadership is influence. Leadership is the ability to influence, inspire, and motivate others to achieve organizational objectives, regardless of a person’s rank, title, or status.
Myth #3: Leaders know It All
Leadership, rather than being the solitary responsibility of a single individual, is a collaborative activity. No single person has all the answers, nor is any single person solely responsible for the successes or failures of an organization.
Some leaders think they must be smarter and know more than anyone working for them.
That logic may have held true in the industrial age when a line worker rose to manager by knowing how to perform every job on the factory floor. But with today’s fast-moving business culture, leaders need to be willing and able to tap into the skills and expertise of the smart people around them.
Everyone has weaknesses. Good leaders know this, and surround themselves with people that make up for those weaknesses.
The lone wolf theory of leadership — keeping yourself isolated and separated from the pack is ineffective. If it wasn’t, you would be able to retain the alpha position and hide your weaknesses and personality from others while clinging to your pompous authority and mystique of fake knowledge.
There’s a common myth that leaders have all the answers because how else would they have risen to their roles?
This notion that leaders are strong and never show weakness is a relic of the past. People that spend their time hiding their weaknesses and work hard to manage what others think of them are actually eroding their effectiveness. This is because we don’t trust and thus aren’t able to follow a leader who isn’t human.
People admire leaders who are willing to be human and to show that they aren’t perfect.
This doesn’t mean that these leaders are willing to just sit idly by. No, effective leaders are continually pursuing growth and personal mastery. They are always working to get better because they know they do not have all the answers.
📚 Additional reading
Leaders who believe they know all the answers are often left in the dust by leaders who know they still have a lot to learn. The best leaders look to colleagues, customers and people on their teams for the best solutions.
Myth #4: Leaders don't make Mistakes
People tend to hold a misconception that failure is not an option in successful leadership. This could not be further from the truth. Failure is part of one’s exploration and road to growth and improvement.
By failing, a leader can learn from their mistakes and grow as a leader.
If a leader is stuck in their comfort zone for fear of failure, new innovations will never be discovered and nothing will ever improve. The willingness to do so also sets an example for the rest of the organization that it is ok to make mistakes, learn from them and get better as a result.
Failure is an essential part of exploration, new discovery, and encouraging innovation.
If we cannot afford to fail, then we must stay with proven approaches from the past. Our actions lack curiosity and exploration because we are so afraid of failure that we aren’t willing to try something new.
It’s not absence of mistakes that makes a great leader. Nobody is perfect and mistakes are apart of life at every position or stage of life.
In fact, they might be perceived as making more mistakes than others because the decisions they make are more visible. It’s their ability to learn from their mistakes and move forward that helps them to keep growing.
It’s easy to see at leaders as infallible. However, not only does everyone makes mistakes, but those errors help us learn and grow.
A strong leader understands the difference between sloppy work and unforeseen missteps. The latter means that your employees are experimenting and taking risks, which can lead to both individual and organizational growth.
Myth #5: Leaders are Extroverts
For decades, it was common wisdom that only extroverts could be successful leaders. Introverts, on the other hand, must nurture extroverted characteristics in order to successfully lead teams.
The reality is that introverts can make great leaders.
Two of the key traits of introversion, listening to others and quiet reflection, are critical components of sound decision making. Larry Page, Bill Gates and Albert Einstein stand as solid examples of just how successful introverts can be.
One of the most popular myths surrounding leadership is the belief that all good leaders possess a specific set of traits.
Popular leaders are often portrayed as charismatic, extrovert, and decisive. But when it comes to leadership, there is no one size fits all. Thus, it appears to be more beneficial to match a person’s leadership style to the demands of their followers and the constraints of the situation.
A company’s leadership is certainly going to have more time in the spotlight. Great leaders, though, have an understanding of when to step back and allow others to be recognized.
Additionally, not all leaders necessarily have senior positions that require being out in the public eye: plenty of people transform organizations from within and successfully grow their team or department without ever stepping into the limelight.
Not all extroverts are cut-out to be leaders.
While there are definitely extroverts at the helm of some successful companies, successful leaders are mostly just passionate, driven, and talented people bringing new ways of doing things that could use some shaking up.
Myth #6: Leaders don't Really Work
Many people misunderstand what a leader’s true role is and often think of it as simply someone who tells everyone else what they’re supposed to be doing. In this way, they confuse being a leader with being a boss or a manager.
A leader is not a manager and a manager is not a leader.
A leader deals with the intangibles — they inspire people to move on a cause by touching their hearts. A manager, on the other hand, simply manages. It’s a much more basic, organizational duty that deals very little with emotions or anything intangible.
Great leadership requires finding the best person to accomplish a task and giving that person the resources and support to do it.
It requires understanding all the factors associated with delegating and following up. It requires finding and analyzing data, and it requires meeting, planning and organizing for future activities. All of those require time and effort. That is work.
It’s important for leaders to understand the daily tasks and projects they’re assigning out to their team. But there’s a distinct difference between leading and doing.
If you’re spending all your time immersing yourself in your team’s tasks, you could undermine your own success as a leader. As a leader, you should be primarily focused on tasks like decisions, priorities, and accountabilities.
Doing is tactical; leadership is strategic. And you need both to build successful teams and organizations.
People are commonly promoted to leadership positions because they’re effective at doing certain tasks, and this makes them think they need to do those things even better as a leader. As a result, they continue to focus on doing and undermine their ability to achieve success as a leader.
Myth #7: Leaders want Attention
This leadership myth is a tricky one. It’s partially true. Leaders do NOT seek attention for themselves. They are passionate about something — an idea, a project, a thing.
Leaders aren’t looking for attention, but to impact the world.
They want others to notice, to pay attention. They want to impact the world with that thing which matters the most. Rather than being fixated on public recognition, good leaders focus on results.
That being said, you might need to catch the attention. To share a vision to a large group, to rally them to the next big thing.
That’s a good thing for many leaders and can be a lot more efficient than more intimate settings. You can actually be a more effective leader when you know when and how to engage large groups in a productive way.
Leadership has absolutely nothing to do with the spotlight.
True leaders don’t feel the need to be front and center because their qualities that make them good leaders are inherent and don’t need to be showcased in front of a large audience.
When you’re able to step away from the limelight, you will experience an easier time focusing to bring your company to new heights.
This leadership myth is counterproductive because it insinuates that you and your ego can take on the role of leading your group solo. The reality is that any great leader takes their ego needs away from themselves and works with the other talented individuals in their group to achieve collective success that everyone can be rewarded for.
You become a leader when you care enough about a cause — enough that you’ll do something about it whether others will or won’t. When you have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, you become a leader.
Outdated misconceptions of leadership need to be put aside and replaced with a new one.
Great leaders are those who take responsibility for their actions and generate a view of the future that others take on as their own. A good leader understands that they are in control of their own lives and that they can learn from their mistakes.
There are several damaging misconceptions about leadership. And it’s unfortunate because we all have such great leadership potential.
Take these misconceptions to heart and see them as a warning. You have great potential — the potential to not only do something great with your life but to become a great leader and inspire others to do something great with their life as well.
Leaders are those who are responsible for their world.
When we have the capacity to respond creatively rather than in a patterned and reactive way, we understand that we are the authors of our own lives. We are all valuable and we each hold pieces of the solutions to challenges that face us.
By letting go of leadership myths, anyone can be a leader. Any time, any place and anywhere.
Leadership is about connecting. It’s connecting people to an idea and to each other. Without a vision there is no leader. What do you think makes a great leader? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment below!