Leading Forward: Leadership Misconceptions That Cause Leaders to Derail
There are quite a few misconceptions about the role and contribution of leaders in change processes throughout their organization. Clearing up these leadership misconceptions can help you develop your own leadership style and take the initiative in changing organizations as a whole.
There’s a lot about leadership that is often misunderstood. Until you’re a leader, you don’t quite get that.
But if you ever hope to be, there are some things you need to know — things that would be particularly helpful to know before you’re placed into a leadership position (so they don’t bite you in the ass). It is important to debunk these misconceptions so that leaders can lead from places of emotional intelligence and authenticity.
Misconceptions about leadership can be harmful for a variety of reasons.
When new leaders take on responsibilities without being developed for a new role properly, they fall back on common misconceptions and fallacies about what it means to lead. Their people become disenchanted and disengaged. Team members who have their own designs on becoming leaders learn nasty habits and the cycle just continues to persist, with misconceptions and myths becoming codified into organizational approaches, never to be questioned.
Leadership is one of those things that everyone wants experience in but no one quite knows how to get it.
Some people think that you’re born as a leader, while others think leadership is something that you learn. While it may be a skill that you can grow and develop with time and experience, there are a lot of misconceptions about being one. This is why I’m tackling here and now a couple of myths that I’ve heard frequently throughout my career.
There are many leadership misconceptions that could be unravelled here, but the following are the top 5.
While leadership requires talent, it’s a set of skills that can be learned through training, reflection and experience. Without preparation or direction, many new managers default to stereotypical ways of running things — but rather than helping them lead their team, it can be counterproductive. Here are some common misconceptions about leadership, explaining why leaders are made, not born.
Leadership Misconceptions #1: Leadership Is a Title
Just because your business card says your a leader or the boss doesn’t mean you are in the eyes of your staff. In fact, most probably joke and call you the “boss”. It doesn’t take much to walk around talking down to the staff and acting like you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Remember that leadership is never a title. It’s an act of compassion and service towards another that defines a leader.
Your place on the org chart doesn’t grant you influence.
John Maxwell deals with this misconception calling it Level One Leadership. This is where someone leads because it’s their right to lead. When a person believes their title or place on the organizational chart grants them the credibility, authority, and ability to lead, that is a huge misconception. When you are granted a position, that does give you responsibility and an opportunity to lead, but that’s it. From there, it’s important to develop positive relationships, produce results, and invest in people. Real influence comes from making a difference in people’s lives, not your place on the org chart.
Leadership is not associated with a job description. Just because someone holds the title of CEO does not make them a true example of leadership.
Did they have the wherewithal to make it to the top and become successful? Of course, but that doesn’t mean they’re approachable or even a good manager. They’re still capable of making a series of poor decisions that affect a company’s bottom line. True leadership stems from influence; a true leader is in the trenches with the rest of the company, not only imparting guidance, but doing their part to move the organization forward just as much as everyone else on the team. A leader isn’t watching their team from 50 feet up and monitoring from afar, they’re working beside everyone else and observing to see where they can be the most useful within their department. They’re filling the gaps and completing tasks in people’s absence to ensure the momentum of the company doesn’t stop.
Leaders don’t automatically receive more respect or deference from people. They have to earn it like everyone else.
The title of “leader” doesn’t magically bestow special powers upon anyone. Being made a leader is really just the beginning. It’s what happens next that determines how people will respond to you. People will challenge you and your authority; they will question your wisdom and decision-making abilities. This is the time for you to prove your mettle and show others that you deserve the title you have been given.
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 (and how) 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. A leader is someone that others look up to. They’re someone who lives the way that others would like to live but often are too afraid or unconfident to do themselves. A leader can then give them the courage to stand up for what they believe in. In many ways, a leader’s most important role is to transmit courage to those who have none (or not enough).
Leadership Misconceptions #2: Leaders are Born, Not made
What do Richard Branson, Barack Obama and Jacinda Ardern have in common? They are all able to make powerful connections with people through inspiration and motivation. You might call this the ‘X-factor’, but great leadership is defined by a series of features such as commitment and passion, accountability, integrity, creativity and innovation – all qualities that can be learned.
Leadership isn’t a birthright.
While some people show early signs of leadership capability, leaders are usually shaped by experience, not born ready. In the case of Huffington’s, Arianna Huffington, the female power-house who started out as a pace-setter style of leader, she learnt that ‘great leadership and creativity don’t come from the place of exhaustion and burnout.’ The media mogul shifted her leadership approach, aligning herself more with the servant leadership style which values diverse opinions, cultivates a culture of trust and expects leaders to act with humility. Arianna Huffington’s transition is an example that leadership is about continual learning and growth. Leaders need to self-reflect, develop and improve to be able to respond to critical social, economic and technological shifts.
It is true that some people are born with qualities that make them better leaders than the average person, such as: charisma, strong public speaking, or high EQ.
However, the truth is, 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 — whether others are standing with you or not — you automatically become a leader. You may or may not actually become a leader to more than a handful of people, but what matters is that you’ve lived up to your leadership potential by moving passed fear and having the courage to stand up for what you believe in.
Leaders are born, not made. That expression could not be further from the truth.
While it’s true that some people are just natural born leaders, most people develop their leadership skills by learning, observing and growing. Someone who desires to be a leader has to pursue the role with patience, focus and insights from leadership experts. Many people who are already in leadership roles seek to improve by attending seminars, reading books on leadership training and going back to school to gain advanced degrees to further develop their skills and progress with the times. Successful companies constantly evolve and it’s up to the leaders to avoid stagnation and assume different roles that can help their teams and their strategies keep up with the industry changes and stay ahead of the competition by always seeking improvement.
The death of leadership happens when you stop growing, stop evolving, and stop improving.
Leadership once again is an action. The culture in your organization is a reflection of you as the leader. The beauty of this is that you have it in your control and power to change it all. Drop the bullshit. Let go of the myths around leadership. Stop using bad managers as an example. The best leaders have an unyielding appetite for learning. They’re constantly looking for new information. This isn’t just out of necessity for their jobs — it’s also due to their curiosity. They keep up with the news, seek new ways to solve problems, and read about topics outside their expertise.
Leadership Misconceptions #3: Leaders Need to Be Outgoing Extroverts
People commonly believe that there is a narrow personality profile that all leaders must fit into: Extroverted, sociable and outgoing. Yes, many leaders happen to fit this profile quite well, but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones fit to lead.
Introverts and quieter types can also have the essential qualities of leadership.
In fact, for some organizations, a more introverted leadership style could be the key to success. Introverted leaders may have a different style, but they also bring a number of useful qualities to the table. They tend to be exceptional listeners and deep thinkers – these are qualities that can lend themselves to improved engagement and a knack for next-level strategizing. If you feel called to leadership, but are worried that your introverted nature may hold you back, consider that your qualities are, in fact, special powers that will help you inspire your people and propel your organization forward.
While it’s often the case that leaders tend to be more outgoing, it’s not always true.
Extroverts tend to talk things through and aren’t afraid to seek others’ guidance and input to reach conclusions in a more outwardly manner. Introverts, however, tend to process ideas and conflict inwardly, carefully considering their position more independently from others. When it comes to leadership roles, extroverts tend to be more attracted to those responsibilities due to their eagerness to engage with their team and other colleagues to plan, strategize and solve problems. Whereas, many successful leaders are also introverts, as they tend to lead on instinct and have a good sense of what is best for the team and the company in different situations. If something is amiss, they have a calming way of informing their team while still formulating a reasonable solution that will help move the company forward.
While both introverts and extroverts have their places in the world of business, it’s important to understand that there are benefits and drawback to both leadership styles.
In fact, it could be argued that good leaders have both extroverted and introverted qualities and the self-awareness to know when to adopt each style. For example, there are quite a few successful business leaders who describe themselves as largely introverted. Like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon. Good leaders are not mostly loud, or mostly quiet. Good leaders are loud and outgoing when they need to be. And they are quiet and reflective when their teams need to be heard. Finding a balance between introvert and extrovert will provide your people with the leader they really need.
The most valuable leadership advice I can offer, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, is to be honest about your leadership style.
All leaders have their own distinctive styles and methods for motivating and empowering teams, and while none of them are right or wrong, some can be adjusted to make team work environments as productive and successful as possible. Don’t be afraid to openly and transparently tell your team members about your personality traits. Tell them about your style, they’ll tell you about theirs, and you can all work together to communicate and work effectively.
Leadership Misconceptions #4: Leaders Have All The Answers
While it’s easy to think that the woman or man sitting on top of the mountain may be the fountain of all knowledge, the fact is there are limits to the wisdom of all leaders. After all, no-one can be an expert in everything. And the truth is nobody likes a know-it-all. Great leaders surround themselves with a skilled workforce and empower their team to help fill in the knowledge gaps.
Authenticity in leadership is a great trait, so being able to admit that you don’t know something will also help you make a real connection.
The best leaders are on a continual journey of learning and look to their staff for the best results and understand their team’s potential. Research shows when team members are encouraged to contribute to problem-solving and are praised for their accomplishments, this leads to higher productivity. The depiction of a leader as someone who possesses the sharpest IQ and all the wisdom for the rest of mankind has never been a successful formula. This approach to leadership creates a psychological chasm between the leader and those he or she is supposed to lead.
Leadership is often associated with decisive, dynamic individuals who save companies, achieve victories, and thus change the course of history.
Many myths, legends and other stories depict the leader as hero. However, leaders are not always the heroes who save an organization. Of course, there are top managers or leaders who help a company get back on its feet but they never do this alone. It is about organizing a dynamic process and teamwork to facilitate innovation. Initiators are needed for that yet the initiative for change can be found everywhere: in managers, professionals, employees or even in involved customers. Leading change is all about people who are genuinely looking for new ways, who stick their necks out and take the initiative.
When a leader believes that he has all the answers, he is bound to lead his organization aground because his attitude keeps away all those who can help him get the answers and become a better leader.
A leader who is of the opinion that he has all the answers is like a filled bucket that cannot take in any new content; the best he can be is what he is currently. He cannot get better. Great leaders know that they do not have all the answers, so they work with others to get answers. The thinking that just one person has all the answers is exceedingly fallacious because according to Sidney Yoshida, a Japanese consultant, the higher a leader goes in an organization, the less he knows about the real problems bedeviling the organization.
An all-knowing leader will always find it difficult to solicit input from others.
Such leaders do not admit their shortcomings because they are preoccupied with protecting their “knower status”. People want to make a difference and without being given the space to suggest and try new ideas, they start to withdraw. It becomes more of a challenge when the great performers vote with their feet and join the competition. If a leader stifles that kind of opportunity, they are bound to be left with people who are indifferent to the results of the organization.
Leadership Misconceptions #5: Leaders Need to Be Jerks to Get Results
You can thank reality TV for this stereotype. The chef who yells and screams to get the staff to comply. But raising your voice is a sign of poor management. That old-school mindset that you have to break them down and build them back up is archaic and ineffective with today’s workers. Think about this…do you really want broken down people at your organization? Most managers are really good at breaking people down, they just suck at putting them back together! Don’t be that person.
Leaders who become jerks not only destroy others, they ultimately destroy themselves.
Leaders, after all, make things happen. If you want to be a jerk, make the organization about you. Make sure you’re front and center all the time. Think about how grateful people should be to have you. Be incredulous at why more people don’t thank you for your leadership. Imagine that you should be paid more. Just think of yourself as undervalued and indispensable. Jerks, after all, think it’s all about them. Conversely, effective leaders ensure their team has a healthy and productive culture. One where everyone is bought in to the mission.
Toxic bosses don’t have the longevity they used to, and performance or power is no longer a shield for being a jerk.
With the ongoing war for talent, which continues even during the pandemic, employees simply won’t tolerate bad bosses anymore. As a leader, you have to model the behavior you expect to see from people. This is especially true for leaders working to rebuild their reputations. If you want your team to exhibit empathy and understanding toward you, you have to do the same for them. Empathy is the overlooked secret to building loyalty, and both are too rare in the professional world. And in my experience, empathetic and emotionally healthy workplaces can do more for employee retention than money or prestige.
Leadership is NOT about apportioning blames. Don’t play the blame game!
While the leader has the responsibility to ensure that rules and regulations governing the organization are adhered to by all and sundry, if he goes around with the air of apportioning blames, he would make mincemeat of his leadership and cap the potential of the organization. Creativity thrives where people have a right to fail. But when a leader gives the impression that failing is not permissible, employees become too careful and too cautious and are unable to unleash their talents. This has a telling effect on the fortune of the company. Rather than make apportioning blames his job, a great leader will take the bullet for his people. He will willingly take the blame when things go awry. Doing this would accomplish two things. One, the employees will give their best to the organization. Then, they will grow to trust their leader.
It’s a fallacy to think that the leadership prize is awarded merely for crossing the finish line.
What counts is to bring as many people with you as possible. And that means treating them well along the journey. You can be a clear and decisive and still be kind. It simply means to be considerate; to recognize that even the most difficult of decisions can be communicated in a way that acknowledges that some people may be upset by your call. Make the call. Explain it with grace. Keep your eyes fixed on your goals. Remain focused on the outcomes you want to achieve. Do everything you can to keep the team aligned. And do it all with a sensitivity to the feelings of those you are leading. When you do, you will be a living example that you really can be a tough leader, without being a jerk.
Leadership is a minefield of challenges and misconceptions. Labeling misconceptions gives us a different perspective. Facing challenges helps us see what is possible. Perspective and possibility allow us to leverage our influence and develop the leadership potential inside each of us.
Leadership isn’t always an easily or clearly defined concept.
Some of the world’s greatest leaders would never have been expected as such had the right circumstances aligned. While good leadership starts with individual skills and a cultivated personality, there are quite a few myths surrounding the subject. In order to become a highly respected and renowned leader, you should familiarize yourself with some of the most common misconceptions regarding leadership, which have been covered in this article.
So, take these misconceptions to heart and see them as a warning.
Being a good leader is hard, and it’s a constant learning curve. There isn’t an equation to fill out that outputs the perfect leader, but I hope this helps you become a better one. 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.
No one should feel they’re not cut out to be a leader.
Pragmatically speaking, it would be ideal to know what would be best for the company depending on which industry you’re working in, but it’s also important to know what it takes to inspire a team, have trust in them, have the ability to generate enthusiasm and excitement for how the team is performing and always inform them on where the company is headed. Leaders should never rest on their laurels, they must always be seeking improvement and a willingness to grow in their environment in an effort to stay relevant and respected.
You have the power to change. You always have. You just never tapped into it until now.
I trust this article helps you avoid one or more of these leadership misconceptions! Did any of these myths resonate particularly closely with you? Did you enter into a leadership role with any of them firmly planted in your mind? Can you see how they might negatively impact your ability to lead your people effectively? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.