“Just do what you're told.”
We’ve all heard that phrase before and most of us have probably said something like it at some point in our life. And whether at home with kids or in the work place, this “do as I say” approach has never really worked.
And there’s no mystery as to why it isn’t effective in the workplace … we humans love our autonomy. We all want a job that allows us to contribute more to our organizations and be involved in the decision-making process. And leaders that fail to adapt to this way of thinking create challenges and pitfalls for themselves. And this “do as I say” misconception is just one of many challenges that can be avoided.
Below are some of the other most common misconceptions about leadership that every leader should ask themselves, “How might this be showing up in my approach to leadership and what should I do about it?”
1. Leaders Are Those At the Top
Leaders are often perceived as those people at the top of the pyramid who hold all the power and control over the organization: CEO, Superintendent of Schools, Executive Director, President (the person at the top of the org chart). This view of leadership is far too simplistic & one-dimensional and thus it lacks the depth that true leadership contains.
A leader is anyone who can generate a view of the future that others see as their future.
Leaders are responsible (i.e. they decide how they want to respond to anything and everything) for their own lives and take this role very seriously.
The most inspiring leader we’ve come across in the last 3 years had such a sense of energy and excitement that it only took her 2 minutes to bring life into a room full of complete strangers. She spoke with passion and said things like, “when I come to work, I come to get busy and serve these kids!” She takes responsibility for her role and wakes up every morning thinking about how she will own and respond to what life presents her. Each and every day.
Her job title? School Janitor. She’ll forever be a leader.
This means that anyone and everyone in an organization can be a leader if they so choose. Leadership is not about a title.
2. Leaders Have All The Answers
There’s a common view that leaders have all the answers because how else would they have risen to their roles. This notion that leaders are “strong” and never show weakness is a relic of the past. People that spend their time hiding their limitations/weaknesses and work hard to manage what others think of them are actually eroding their effectiveness. This is because we don’t trust and thus aren’t able to follow a leader who isn’t human.
The truth: we admire leaders who are willing to be human and to show that they aren’t perfect. This doesn’t mean that these leaders are willing to just sit idly by. No, effective leaders are continually pursuing growth and personal mastery. They are always working to get better because they know they do not have all the answers.
3. Leaders Are Born That Way
Some people are referred to as “a born leader.” Life is far too complex to rely on such a simple notion. There’s no doubt that we are each born with different strengths and weaknesses, but it’s what we do with those that make all the difference. We are the sum total of the millions of decisions we make over our lives. And it’s never too late to go to work on becoming an effective leader.
Mozart was eight years old when he wrote his first symphony. And have you heard of Dimitrion Yordanidis? He was 98 years old when he ran a marathon in Athens, Greece. Now that’s inspiring and the stuff of leadership! These are great reminders that we’re never too young and never too old to lead others.
4. Leadership Is All About The Results
In this fast-paced working environment, the reason that we work has become harder and harder to see. It’s no secret that employee engagement is pathetically low and a great deal of this is due to the fact that organizations have lost sight of the power of leadership to connect people to the purpose of work. Most organizations are managing their people to death by focusing only on results. There’s nothing wrong with getting results. In fact, the very best organizations generate remarkable results year after year. A great leader is also a great manager, and a great manager helps their team generate results by holding them accountable in a supportive way.
But getting results is not why people do what they do.
A leader’s job is to connect the purpose of everyone on their team with the purpose of the organization so that they are intrinsically motivated and excited about their work.
5. Leadership Is Fixed
If someone believes that leadership is a title then it would be logical to assume that someone can only become a leader when a current leader gets another job, resigns, or is fired. The reality is that leadership is not fixed to certain job titles. In the very best organizations, leadership is dynamic because everyone has a chance to inspire and lead anyone else within the organization. This means that everyone can choose to be a leader regardless of their title.
6. Leaders Cannot Afford Failure
People tend to hold a misconception that failure is not an option in successful leadership. This could not be further from the truth. Failure is part of one’s exploration and road to growth and improvement. If a leader is stuck in their comfort zone for fear of failure, new innovations will never be discovered and nothing will ever improve. By failing, a leader can learn from their mistakes and grow as a leader. The willingness to do so also sets an example for the rest of the organization that it is ok to make mistakes, learn from them and get better as a result. Great leaders embrace failure as natural in life and as the very best way to improve.
The Bottom Line
Outdated misconceptions of leadership need to be put aside and replaced with a new one: great leaders are those who take responsibility for their actions and generate a view of the future that others take on as their own. A good leader understands that they are in control of their own lives and that they can learn from their mistakes. By letting go of leadership myths, anyone can be a leader. Any time, any place and anywhere.
This article breakdowns 6 major misconceptions about leadership and how it's perceived. It encourages leaders to reflect on these reflections and see how they are prevalent in their workplace.
Key take away:
A good leader understands that they are in control of their own lives and that they can learn from their mistakes. By letting go of leadership myths, anyone can be a leader.
About the author(s):
Tom Willis is a Co-Founder and Partner with Phoenix Performance Partners. He had the great honor of serving as CEO for Cornerstone; a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers; and an engineer with the Intel Corporation. His life is all about helping others uncover their talents so they can reach their unlimited potential and their organization can thrive.
| Linkedin: Tom
Brad Zimmerman is a Co-Founder and Partner with Phoenix Performance Partners. Zimmerman turned to organizational coaching more than 26 years ago following a successful career in sales and operations. Today, he helps businesses, nonprofits and other organizations develop cultures that transform work environments so people grow and the organizations thrive.
| Linkedin: Brad