Common Leadership Myths
“A person always doing his or her best, becomes a natural leader, just by example.”
- Joe Dimaggio
Leadership is one of the most written about topics, it’s also one where myths and misconceptions abound. These ideas hold the associations we so commonly pair leadership with. If they're not acknowledged, they can guide our behavior and undermine our development and growth as leaders.
Here are some of the most common leadership myths:
Leaders must know all the answers.
According to one of leadership’s oldest ways “I don’t know” is the worst set of words out of a leader’s mouth. The truth is leaders don’t know all the answers, nor should they. It’s the ability to listen with the intent of deepening understanding, to look for answers in the appropriate places, to convey and integrate multiple perspectives from a diverse set of people, that renders them capable of decision-making. Great leaders are self-aware and know the limits of their own knowledge and abilities, they’re confident enough to seek expertise and talent where they may be lacking.
Leaders rarely ask questions.
Following the previous, if leaders know all the answers, they rarely ask questions. The truth is great leaders ask a great number of great questions. They’re either highly curious or they’ve come to realize the benefits of curiosity and the impact it has on communication and relationships, innovation and positive changes. They draw on a coaching inspired leadership style, where questions play a vital role in supporting people to do and be their best. Therefore, questions are a fundamental leadership tool.
Leadership is an innate trait.
One of the great myths regarding leadership is that leaders are born, not made. And, while some people, may, from early age display leadership skills, the behaviors and traits associated with it can be developed and honed through awareness, effort, and dedication. When it comes to mindset, the greatest leaders are oriented towards growth, believing that talents and abilities can be learned and mastered throughout our lifetime, and that failure is an opportunity to access new perspectives, beliefs, and behaviors.
Leaders must never demonstrate vulnerability.
Whether it’s admitting mistakes, shortcomings, and limitations or acknowledging struggles and difficulties...contrary to myth, leadership is enhanced not weakened by vulnerability. It’s the openness, transparency, and willingness that it conveys that deepens relationships and make leaders more relatable and capable of positive influence. What we want and expect from our leaders is what we want from people in general, to admit where they fell short, and to commit to making amends. That’s it.
The main responsibility of leaders is taking care of the business.
Counterintuitive, but the main task of leaders is taking care, and supporting their people, creating the conditions for them to thrive and do their best. Richard Branson is a clear example of this attitude, he famously said, “Clients do not come first, employees come first. If you take care of your employees they’ll take care of your business.”
Talk to people who resigned from their job, and you’ll likely hear how they got tired of being treated like a number. With the amount of time spent at work, people rightfully expect to be treated with respect, empathy, and consideration. It's when they're cherished and treated like family, that their level of commitment and willingness to go the extra mile spikes up.
Leaders are loud and rejoice in the spotlight.
A typical image of our culture, exacerbated by Hollywood movies, is that leaders are loud and rejoice in the spotlight. Extroversion is not mandatory when it comes to leadership. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates are said to be introverts with a passion for business.
Leadership is a solo act.
On the contrary, great leaders know they can only go so far by themselves, and that the strength of an organization lies in the people that work in it. Leaders have to understand and learn how to draw the best in people, there’s no way they can do it by themselves. They realize they need a diverse group of people to care for others, innovate and strive forward. In fact, the mark of a great leader is how successfully the business runs without their presence.
Wrapping it Up
In leadership and in life, we each carve our individual paths, and the best thing we can do is rely less on rules, unquestioned beliefs, and assumptions and instead get clear on what matters most to us, on the reasons why we do what we do and want what we want. As long we’re in contact with our deepest values, using them as information and direction when it comes to making decisions, we can steer our lives, organizations, and communities towards greater meaning, health, and longevity.