Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Top 5 Myths of Leadership

There are whole libraries full of books on leadership, as well as countless magazine articles and an increasing number of blog articles. Many of these mediums contain exactly the same message or messages, but in some rather unique ways. Some try and identify THE most important aspect of leadership, while others talk about the various components of leadership and how all are critically important. With all that has been written about leadership you would assume that most leaders, especially new leaders, would quickly come to grasp the fundamentals required to lead their teams. None the less, myths about leadership not only exist, but appear to be growing. Perhaps this is because companies have laid off experienced managers and replaced them with younger, less experienced managers in a misguided attempt to save money. Or perhaps it is a lack of good role models in leadership that fosters the myths. But in any event, myths and misconceptions about leadership abound.

Below are 5 myths about leadership that I experience most often as a coach. These top 5 do not come from a scientific survey with thousands of responses, but from my personal experience. See if these myths match up with the things that you experience most often.

1. Management is the same as leadership

Too many people (myself included) have a tendency to interchange the terms management and leadership. The result is that we are unable to distinguish between one’s ability to manage a process and their ability to lead people. Managing a process requires the intelligence and logic to understand the process, identify the shortcomings, and hopefully resolve them. The results are easily identifiable and measurable. Leading people, on the other hand, requires an ability to identify and communicate fuzzy concepts like vision and values, a willingness to live in the gray area of human values, and an understanding of the illogical nature of human beings.

These concepts could not be more different, yet the confusion remains.

2. Leadership cannot be learned 

We often hear about someone’s natural leadership abilities and how someone has been a leader their entire life. Likewise, we associate certain personality traits with leadership and believe that the lack of these traits means a lack of leadership abilities. The reality is that some people ARE natural leaders. The skills required to influence people come quite naturally to them. But the key here is that leadership is not a talent, it’s a skill. And, like any skill, it can be learned. It may not be easy for some people to learn and implement the skills of leadership, but it is not impossible. With the right guidance and assistance, any person can become a leader.

3. Leadership means controlling and manipulating others

Leadership is about influencing others and having them want to do the things you need them to do. Leaders have the ability to appeal to their followers and create a desire to achieve the common goals. It is about creating an environment of motivation and passion for the followers. Leaders create a feeling of openness and belonging. On the other hand, some people believe that leading is about making someone do what they don’t want to do. They use threats and intimidation to get things done. They believe that using their “power” is leading. But forcing someone to do something against their will is not leadership or motivation, it’s coercion. And coercion is not leadership.

4. The leader is always the smartest person in the room

There is no question that leaders tend to be intelligent people. And certainly there are times when the leader IS the smartest person in the room. But, a real leader understands their own limitations and focuses on the goals and vision of the organization. They realize that they don’t have all of the answers. And, in doing so, they routinely surround themselves with the smartest people they can find, listen to them, and meld those ideas in with their own. The only way that the leaders are the smartest people in the room is in the realization that they are NOT the smartest people in the room.

5. Titles create leaders

This may be the most common myth of leadership. And, this myth is common at all levels of the organization. But whether the title is “Team Leader” or “Sr. Vice President”, leadership cannot be bestowed through a title. The reason is quite simple. For someone to be a leader, they must have followers. And, while a Sr. Vice President might have staff below them, there is no guarantee that the staff is actually following the leader. If you want to identify the leader in any organization, simply check and see who the team turns to and who they listen to. That is your leader, regardless of their title.

There you have my “Top 5 Myths of Leadership”. I would certainly be interested in hearing your thoughts about the myths that you most commonly see.

I hope that you enjoyed this article. At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allows us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

1 comment:

  1. Dave,

    As they say on Myth-busters Busted. Thanks for busting the myths. I have struggled with the leadership can't be learned. There are some that are natural at it and they are able pull all of the pieces together. Others are good at inspiring and poor at management.

    But I agree, if one is self aware or has an advocate who is willing to tell the truth we can learn to be better at leadership