We all have preconceptions of what it means to be a good leader and what sorts of characteristics we believe leaders must exhibit. Because we have created and continue to create stereotypes for leadership roles, it’s easy to misconstrue or have a misconception of what a leader is and isn’t. It’s unfair to ask all leaders to fit into a cookie-cutter description. Often when we do, we miss the opportunity to optimize unique personality traits and alternative approaches to leading a team.
To put leadership misconceptions to rest once and for all, Fellow has created a guide to identifying some common leadership myths so that we can understand what encompasses a good leader and change your perspective on how to obtain a leadership role while continuing to advance in your career.
What is Leadership?
The Cambridge dictionary defines leadership as:
“The quality or ability that makes a person a leader, or the position of being a leader.”
What’s important to note is that there are no set characteristics associated with leadership in it’s official definition. This is something that individuals have defined over time.
Leadership is the ability to motivate team members to act towards achieving a particular goal. Often, in business, this means guiding individuals with a strategy that’s going to meet the company’s needs to achieve success. The leader acts as the source of inspiration for the team and steers the group in the right direction so that they can take action. In inspiring the team, others want to follow their direction and trust their judgement.
8 Common Leadership Myths You Should Know About
1 A position will make me a leader
Leadership is a skill that can be developed in any position. You don’t need to be in any particular position to be a “leader”. Because leadership is something that is made up of qualities, becoming a leader is attainable in any job that you have throughout your life.
Leadership isn’t associated with a job description but is something that’s developed and in turn, gives you the tools to effectively manage projects or groups of people. Being a CEO of a company or a business owner doesn’t mean that this individual is a true example of leadership. Moreover, being promoted doesn’t mean becoming a leader. Leadership is rooted in qualities and abilities, not a job title.
As Kirstine Stewart, an Executive Committee Member and Head of Shaping the Future of Media at the World Economic Forum, says in this Supermanagers episode:
2 If I am not hearing anyone complain, everyone must be happy
If you’re not hearing complaints, don’t be so quick to assume that everyone is happy. Even if all of your employees are happy, there is always room to learn, to grow and to evolve as a team.
A good leader consistently asks good questions that prompt team members to provide feedback that’s going to culminate valuable insights. Next time, rather than assuming that silence means accordance, think about ways that you can dig deeper and gain some honest, candid feedback from your employees, counterparts or managers.
Often people are intimidated or shy to come forwards with issues that they are facing. That’s why effective leaders make themselves approachable, open and free of judgement so that their team feels comfortable coming to them.
If you want to help your team thrive, you need to create a culture where giving, receiving, and implementing feedback is part of the DNA. With Fellow, you can incorporate feedback into your team’s day-to-day experience and track progress over time.
3 I can lead everyone the same way
Just as certain leadership strategies work more effectively for the business, different leadership styles work more effectively for your team members. Leadership is all about motivating others to enjoy their job and to do their job effectively. As Sara Varni, CMO at Twilio said in the Supermanagers podcast:
Everyone has different learning styles and responds uniquely to different management styles. Leading people in diverse ways means that you are proactively determining how you can utilise different peoples talents effectively so that you can meet organizational goals and objectives.
Great leaders take personalized approaches to managing their team members so that they can yield the greatest results in terms of productivity and efficiency. When going over performance reviews or during one on one meetings, it’s a great idea to ask your employees how they’re best managed and what will enable them to be the most productive in their role.
Check out our recent blog post on different types of employees and how to manage them for additional insight on the topic.
Your first one-on-one meeting with an employee should be used to learn as much as you can about what motivates your new direct report, set clear expectations on how you’ll communicate, and map out a plan for their first month.
4 Leaders must be extroverts
A lot of people think that you have to be an extrovert to be a leader but this is simply not true! Extroverts are thought to be outgoing, confident and comfortable in social settings. While these are great characteristics, it doesn’t mean that they’re absolutely necessary for you to be a good leader.
In fact, being extroverted or introverted has more to do with how individuals process information. Extroverts may be more likely to work through problems by discussing them out loud and seeking the advice from other people. More often than not, introverts process their ideas, thoughts and conflicts internally and tend to be independent thinkers and workers. This internal pondering and independence are qualities that will actually make for a great leader.
Carefully considering your position more independently from others can provide a real advantage in the business world. Just because you’re not so comfortable in crowds and your favourite pastime isn’t spent socializing, it doesn’t mean that you’re not fit to lead. Don’t sell yourself short!
5 Leaders can’t show vulnerability
It’s a huge misconception that leaders can’t show vulnerability. Some people may think that taking responsibility for a shortcoming, changing direction, using the advice from others or admitting a mistake is a sign of weakness. This is a truly unhealthy belief to have and when we hold ourselves to such unrealistic standards, it creates pressure, which turns into stress and what feels like failure when we can’t meet our own expectations of ourselves.
Effective leadership means owning up to mistakes so that you can learn from it! Good leaders want to hear feedback from their team members, whether it’s positive or constructive feedback so that they can continue to learn and grow as leaders.
Nobody has all of the answers, and this is something that true leaders know. At the end of the day, we’re all human. More important than having all of the answers is to listen and support your employees as best as you can.
Ask your direct reports to call you out on the things you’d like to work on.
“In some cases, with some of the people that report to me, I ask them to help me with my deficiencies or the things that I’m naturally bad at. I tell them that I want to work on them and I try to get them to help me with some of those things and call me out,” says David Cancel (CEO at Drift).
Listen to our interview with David Cancel to learn more.
6 Leaders have all the answers
To be an effective leader, you need to have a strong understanding of your own limitations and recognize that teamwork is essential to the success of the organization. There’s always room to learn and grow and often leaders gain the most valuable insights from their team members who are closer to the processes where there are improvements that can be made. It truly takes a diverse team to innovate and think of new ways to achieve common goals.
As opposed to having all of the answers, efficient leaders solicit regular input from their team members and consider all ideas and suggestions brought forward. When leaders admit their mistakes, they can empower their group to execute on the organization’s vision through their own knowledge and experience.
You may not know all of the answers but someone else may have the solutions that you’re looking for, which highlights the importance of collaboration!
7 Great leaders are always in the spotlight
Leadership has absolutely nothing to do with the spotlight. True leaders don’t feel the need to be front and center because their qualities that make them good leaders are inherent and don’t need to be showcased in front of a large audience.
Rather than being fixated on public recognition, good leaders focus on results. In fact, when you’re able to step away from the limelight, you will experience an easier time focusing to bring your company to new heights. This myth, like many others, is counterproductive because it insinuates that you and your ego can take on the role of leading your group solo. The reality is that any great leader takes their ego needs away from themselves and works with the other talented individuals in their group to achieve collective success that everyone can be rewarded for.
8 Great leaders are born, not made
The fact that so many people seem to believe that there is a genetic factor that enables someone to become a leader is more than concerning… This myth alleges that leaders are born with certain characteristics that biologically enable them to move into leadership roles. We would argue the complete opposite: Leaders are made, not born.
As we mentioned earlier on in the article, leadership is a skill set that can be learned, acquired and improved over time. It’s not a genetic disposition. Like any other behaviour, leadership can be learned and so long as you’re willing to focus your time and energy into that leadership development. Anything is achievable once you set your mind to it!
Check out our blog post with book recommendations for managers and leaders who want to continue learning and growing in their role.
Here’s the bottom line: Throw away all of your predispositions and prejudgements because anybody can be a leader. Forget about all of these common myths that you’ve heard! Good management means that as a leader, you empower others to acquire leadership skills as well.
Real leaders work towards teaching team members to take over their role so that one day, when they’ve moved up or they’ve moved on, the organization can still function successfully, with business operating as usual, in their absence.
Leadership is an acquired set of skills that are attainable for anyone, so long as you feel motivated and enthusiastic about taking on some extra responsibility and stepping up to the challenge.