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Leadership Myths

Like you, I spend a large amount of time thinking about and reading about leadership. Every now and then I discover an assumption I have made about leadership that simply isn’t true, and sometimes I discover thoughts that have hindered me. As I read, I see many others who have made similar discoveries.

These are some repeated myths I have gleaned from others. Perhaps they have existed for you too.

Leaders are born that way. Let’s be straight; leaders are not born. Instead, they work hard to solve problems and overcome all obstacles in business. It’s a matter of strong will, endurance, and self-belief. There is not just one set definition of a leader. It’s a set of qualities that some people grow over time and use to manage their teams productively. Leaders are not born with any specific sort of gift. They simply improve themselves up to the point in which they are able to attract and handle the best employees.

The fact is that leadership can be learned. People can be authentic leaders if they are true to themselves and others and if they get out of their comfort zone. It is true that some great leaders in history such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela were born with a big purpose to take the lead for their nation, but it does not mean that others cannot lead effectively and authentically. As John C. Maxwell said, "The ability to lead is really a collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved."

All entrepreneurs are natural-born leaders. Just because you had a fantastic and timely idea doesn’t mean that you’re capable of organizing, operating, and scaling a business. Even though you’re the “founder” of your business doesn’t automatically mean that you’re in the best position to be its leader. Leadership isn’t tied to a job description. It’s having a vision and getting others to buy into it, growing talent, listening, and influencing others. Those are all qualities that can come from an outside CEO hire. If you don’t feel that you possess strong leadership qualities, then it’s best to check your ego at the door and hand the reins over to someone who does maintain the best skills in leadership.

Leaders can’t show vulnerability. Perhaps one of the most familiar myths is that leaders, no matter what, must dig in and stand their ground. If they accept blame/fault, change direction, or listen to others, it’s a sign of weakness. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Strong leaders own their mistakes and learn from them. They listen to feedback, even when it is negative. They don’t have all the answers and don’t need to appear as though they do. They listen and care for their teams.

Leaders must always be leading. Leadership doesn’t mean becoming a workaholic. Leaders know how to balance their work and their personal lives. Many people actually avoid leadership roles because they’re often intimidated by the misconception that leaders need to be working around the clock: constantly focused, strategizing and refining their vision. Efficient and effective leaders know their limits and know what they can demand from themselves without experiencing burnout. They make time for themselves and their teams to refuel and step back to relax and reflect. Working yourself to the bone is counterproductive.

Extroverts are the best leaders. Extroverts are thought to be more outgoing and confident in social situations. Introverts are considered shy and withdrawn. However, experts say being extroverted or introverted has more to do with how we process information. Extroverts work through problems by discussing them and seeking the advice and input from others. Introverts process their thoughts and conflicts internally. Because of these differences, it shouldn’t be surprising that extroverts are drawn to leadership roles. Being a leader means engaging with other people.

The reality is that not all extroverts are cut out to be leaders. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama are introverts who have been very successful. Just because you’re not the head of a department or comfortable in crowds doesn’t mean that you should sell yourself short. You may still possess the right leadership skills to inspire others.

It takes too much time to develop leadership skills. Using the "no time" is a poor excuse. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. We’re all swamped. Somehow, plenty of leaders can deepen their leadership skills without a problem. All of us can get better. For example, waking up 30 minutes earlier, batching related work, or delegating less critical tasks to others could free up extra time. You can then use this time to read, take a course, or work with a coach or mentor to develop leadership skills.

Leaders and managers are the same thing. Adequate direction and guidance cannot always be equated with a good commander. There are some reasonably significant distinctions between these two roles, such as…

  • Leaders create a vision. Managers establish goals.

  • Managers maintain the status quo, while leaders are agents of change.

  • Leaders are self-aware and unique. Managers copy others and adapt and adopt others' leadership styles.

  • Managers control or avoid risk and problems, while leaders are willing to take risks.

  • Leaders keep focused on the big picture. Managers work on short-term goals.

  • Leaders learn something new every day. Managers rely on their existing talents.

  • Managers build systems, while leaders construct relationships.

  • Leaders coach. Managers assign tasks and provide guidance.

  • Managers have employees. Leaders, on the other hand, have loyal and dedicated fans.

If you have a team with multiple or complex goals, it’s important to know the difference between leadership and management.

Great leaders always roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. There may be times when you should be working side by side with employees—as long as it’s on the right activities. As a leader, you should be primarily focused on tasks like decisions, priorities, and accountabilities. Non-leadership tasks should be automated, delegated, or outsourced so that you’re not draining yourself mentally or physically. Lead with your work and not by prioritizing the work of others.

There are many misconceptions on what constitutes a good leader: We picture someone who is outgoing, decisive, type A, maybe slightly intimidating. While these are great qualities for a leader to have, they could be the primary reasons why some people don’t seek leadership roles.

For those individuals whose personalities don’t quite fit the mold of a leader, they may miss out on some great opportunities for rewarding projects, promotions, higher salaries, and a greater sense of accomplishment.

Position determines leadership. Leadership is not associated with a job description. Just because someone holds the title of CEO or Business Owner does not make them a true example of leadership. 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 guiding, but helping move the organization forward just as much as everyone else on the team. A leader isn’t watching their team from 50 feet up. They’re filling the gaps and completing tasks in people’s absence to ensure the momentum of the company doesn’t stop.

Leaders must be charismatic. Think John F. Kennedy or Steve Jobs. However, most leaders are not even close to being charming and charismatic. You and I can both makes lists of those who are not. There are a number of other qualities that could actually make you a good leader. You need to be proactive, persistent, and rely on analytical thinking. You need to develop interpersonal skills and communication. A charismatic personality is great as well, but certainly not required.

Leaders must be highly educated. Some of the best businessmen of all time had a very limited formal education. For example, people like Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, or John D. Rockefeller were not highly educated, which didn’t stop them from becoming some of the most successful individuals in the history of mankind. The reality is that academic education has nothing to do with authentic leadership. Anyone with any level of education can lead. Successful leaders learn new things all the time, but this does not mean a high level of traditional education. A leader may have no education yet be knowledgeable in certain areas.

Leaders are loners. The fact that leaders have some qualities which make them stand out from the rest of the workforce doesn’t mean they can only be solo players. It’s a myth that leaders work alone and don’t need help from their teams. Truth is, they achieve the best results when they are allowed to manage big groups.

What other myths have you heard? The worst thing about myths is that they can keep potentially awesome leaders from even trying. Don’t believe everything you think.

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