Five Leadership Myths

Too often people find themselves in a position of leading others without the experience or training they need and assume they can, and will, figure it out as they go. While they are 'figuring it out,' a great deal of damage can be done to the people and to the business’s results. These five leadership myths are alive and well today in every enterprise. Let’s take a look at some common leadership mythology.

1. Myth: Star performers in their field or discipline will surely be a star leader of other people. 

Reality: From the day we were born, all the applause has been about "what I have done well," and not "what we have done well." The exception is teamwork within or outside your family. The skills, attributes, and even motivations required to lead people successfully are entirely opposite from those required to be a successful individual contributor. Consider this: if the roles and skills weren't so opposite, it would be a walk in the park for someone to move seamlessly from being a great violin player to being a great conductor.  Leading others is an intellectual and emotional seismic shift in mindset and behaviors that will quickly separate effective leaders from ineffective ones. Making the transition from being an individual contributor to being a leader can seem as difficult as swimming from New York to London alone, without a life jacket. 

2. Myth: Emotions should be left outside the workplace. 

Reality: Leading people is messy! People are, and will always be, unpredictable. Each person is unique, and that means leading people is complex, fun, interesting, frustrating, and yes, messy. Life happens, and it's full of triumphs and tragedies, any of which can happen to any of us at any time. We can't predict surprises!  Leaders have to be ready for just about anything and everything. Like it or not, every person brings their emotions to work. People are 24-hour thinking-feeling creatures. They can and often do behave differently from our preconceived perceptions and/or assumptions about them. Our values drive our decisions, which generates emotions that often show up in our behaviors. It's a knee bone connected to thigh bone kind of thing! Emotions are contagious; we catch flyby emotions even more quickly than we catch a virus. The idea that we can keep emotions out of the workplace is a lot of bunk. Besides, we want people to feel when it suits us, right? We want them to be loyal, grateful, ethical, engaged, and kind to the people they work with and for. It's just the inconvenient feelings that we would like people to leave at the door. It doesn't work that way. We all bring our 24-hour, lifelong selves into work, like it or not.

3. Myth: The best way to make changes is from the top and expect everyone to get onboard.

Reality: The painful truth is, change efforts fail in every organization about 70% of the time, and for some, that’s on a good day. We know this from our own experiences and the research backs our experiences up over and over again. The status quo has a powerful, almost surreal stranglehold on people and organizations. We think and say we are open to new ideas and changes, but it’s often not true because human brains simply aren’t wired that way. And the number one reason change efforts fail is that people resist them. Our life experiences have shown us that too many people with authority over our work and our lives make lousy decisions, often based on lousy information, and end up with lousy results. Having a change process in place is something few leaders actually DO and that’s because very few of us have taken the time to learn, (and it can be learned!), how to lead change well.

4. Myth: Being really smart and/or well-educated is all that really matters.

Reality: Not even close. It is not enough to be really, really, smart. Emotional intelligence matters a heck of a lot – at least four times as much as IQ for healthy and productive relationships.  Even well-meaning smart people who are ineffective leaders can create a lot of damage. Good and effective leaders can accomplish incredible feats with their followers. If no one is truly following us, we aren't leading! We can manage all kinds of tasks that might involve schedules, money, projects, budgets, and so on, and yet everything we do with our staff and other stakeholders involves relationships. How well those relationships work has a great deal to do with how much TRUST is at the center of those relationships, and that has everything to do with EQ, not IQ.

5. Myth: Leaders can’t control the culture of their teams or business.

Reality: Leaders are THE people who set the tone, model the values and principles, behaviors and attitudes that are acceptable, and those that are not. Every leader determines the desired culture in his or her team and organization – what I call their “responsibility pond”. Yes, while it is true that everyone contributes to the culture, the leader either does or does not hold individuals accountable for their role in sustaining the desired culture – regardless of the ‘flavor’ of culture that exists. There is simply no scenario in any organization, team, or family, where the culture doesn’t start at the top.

There are many excellent ways to learn how to lead well when it is the conscious intention of the leader to do so. Leadership is both an art and a science and getting a grip on leadership mythology is a good start.


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