I am calling time on these dated myths!
My goal in this article is to expose some unhealthy and limiting leadership myths and replace them with liberating truths. My sincere hope is that you leave this article believing that you are capable of great leadership, regardless of who you are, where you are from, what your profession is, and how ‘educated’ you are.
What leadership is really about!
I believe that a root cause of these myths continuing to be viewed as truths, is a wide-spread foundational misunderstanding of what real leadership is, and how true leaders behave. I believe that the purpose of leadership is to realize potential of other people and situations. As such leadership is simply behavior directed towards realizing potential. Leadership holds no title or rank. It is not something that can be given or taken away by anyone else. Leadership is a choice; it’s your choice.
The following five myths are just some I have encountered in various forms. Some of these myths I have wrongly believed myself before learning their truthful counterparts. It’s time to speak out and to act up. It’s time to bust these myths.
Myth #1: Great leaders are born
It has been a long held romantic belief that recognized great leaders, like Abraham Lincoln, they were always great leaders. But the reality is far from the myth.
Truth: Leadership is simply behavior and practicing leadership behavior is a choice. Therefore, those who have achieved ‘greatness’ have worked hard and practiced diligently. The second root of this myth is that we often mis-label leaders. We see ‘successful’ and charismatic individuals and label them as leaders because they have a lot of inherited authority, and a lot of followers. But this does not mean they are great leaders.
A true leader is someone who intentionally and purposefully acts in the best interest of others. The result of great leadership, summed up beautifully by Tom Peters, is it creates more leaders, not followers. This truth is liberating as it gives you the power to decide to become a leader by practicing leadership.
Myth #2: The greatest leadership exists at the top of organizations
There may be credible and correct non-leadership reasons to promote people: their technical abilities, their market knowledge, their ability to optimize processes or manage projects, but this does not automatically mean that they are the best leaders.
Truth: Although leadership behavior may be different at various levels in company, it is still just behavior. There are many examples of great leadership existing at the ‘lower’ levels of companies. Leadership ability is not automatically inherited through a position or job title. In an ideal world, companies would have leaders at all levels, with the most experienced and capable leaders at the top. However, this is not common. Leadership performance and improvement requires disciplined practice.
Myth #3: The best leaders are the most educated
We wrongly believe that knowledge = position, and position = leadership; therefore knowledge= leadership.
Truth: Being knowledgeable in an area of expertise does not translate into leadership ability. Management, or technical degrees or certifications are important, but they do not earn leadership credit/qualifications. If anything is an indicator of a leader’s ability it is how many other people they have raised-up, how people trust them, and how many followers they have helped to create.
Myth #4: The goal of leadership is to get results
Because leadership is considered synonymous with top management (title and rank), it’s often thought that the goal of leadership is to get results such as: sales, profit, market share, etc.
Truth: If we accept that the goal of leadership is to realize the potential people and situations, we can more clearly see that leadership focus, regardless of title and rank, should be on supporting the potential of the people around them. When we support our people, they will be available, competent, and ready to deliver the results. I’ll repeat that again, great leaders look after their people, and the people take care of the results.
Myth #5: Leadership ability grows with tenure
It is often assumed that the longer someone has worked in an organization, the better the leader they are. Although this can certainly be true, it’s not an absolute truth.
Truth: Leadership is first a choice, and great performance is a result of disciplined practice. I am confident that you know this to be true as I am sure you have witnessed with your own eyes great leadership from tenured and new hires alike, and vice versa with lack of leadership ability.
Damage/Limitation of unhealthy myths
The negative impact of these myths is that it may prevent people from believing they can be, or are already, leaders. They may hold people back from trying to develop their leadership ability. They can deny people of the opportunity to really grow as individuals, and worse still it can deprive the world of the value and contribution of their unrealized leadership impact, and unrealized potential.
Now, let’s think about the opposite scenario. Imagine a world where people reject these myths and embrace the truths. Imagine people of all experiences, job backgrounds, ages, genders, educational levels believing leadership is a choice, and knowing that to become a good, or even great leader, they must put in the effort through intentional daily practice. They turn up every day to practice and grow as a leader; not for the results or the accolades, but to support the potential of the people around them. This is what I call ‘everyday leadership’.
Continuing this thought exercise, extrapolate the effect of the discipline daily leadership of these individuals over the course of a year, a decade, or a lifetime; it can be enormous and profound. This is the exciting outcome of the compound power of everyday leadership.
Call to Practice
My plea and call-to-action is for you to reject these, and similar limiting myths. Instead, choose to be a leader. Choose to practice daily. Trust in yourself and commit to the challenging growth process. Measure your leadership success by the degree to which you positively influence the potential of others and situations you are part of.
Keep this up for long enough and I am confident that your compounded effects will be remarkable!
I appreciate you reading this article. I would love to hear from you. What leadership myths do you want to bust? Or maybe you view the myths/truths I have listed a little differently. Respond back with your ideas, thoughts, and challenges. This type of constructive discussion will help us all grow.