At the end of a tough day, have you ever thought that you might not be leadership material?
The term leadership material falsely implies that either you have what it takes to be a leader, or you don’t. Throughout time we’ve heard many explanations as to why some people have followers and others don’t. Some of these explanations range from the ancient civilizations who believed that the ability to lead was bestowed upon a lucky few from the gods, to the more recent view that leaders just happen to be born with the right personality, while others are not.
Let’s take a look at some of the most prevalent leadership myths:
Great leaders are born, not made. Although the DNA crap shoot of life does play a role in your ability to lead, you can learn the skills that will allow you to create relationships and an environment where people want to follow you. It’s impossible to debate with accuracy whether the nature/nurture percentage is 50 percent born and 50 percent learned, or perhaps 25 percent born and 75 percent learned, or any other combination of nature vs. nurture. What we do know, however, is if you have a desire to learn the skills of a great leader, practice those skills daily, and learn from your failures, you can significantly improve your ability to lead others.
Leaders and managers are one in the same, ie, managers are leaders and leaders are managers. Although the goal of a manager is to be the leader, in reality, we work with some managers who only have the power of their title. This means that if their team members were given the choice, they would not follow that manager nor would they work for them. In most of these situations, the team members have actually chosen to follow another member of the team or another leader in the organization. While leaders may or may not have a title, what they do always have is a relationship where others have made the decision to follow them.
You need to be a Director, Driver or Red behavioral style if you want to be a leader. Great leaders can be any style: analytical, supportive, amiable, driver, expressive, or hub. Here’s the secret: great leaders are able to adapt their style depending on the situation and who they are communicating with as this is the best way to build relationships and accomplish goals.
Leaders need to have technical expertise to lead others. If this was really true, I’m not qualified to lead this consulting firm. Everyone on my team has more technical expertise in their specific area of the business. Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford, is probably the greatest example of someone who leads a company without technical expertise. Mulally spent his whole career building airplanes at Boeing. When he was hired by Ford, many predicted he was doomed for failure because he lacked technical expertise. Mulally proved that prediction wrong by leading one of the most successful corporate turnarounds in our lifetime.
Owning your mistakes undermines your credibility. Admitting when you make a mistake, taking accountability for improving situations, and delivering on results are signals of confidence and strength, not of weakness. Mangers who don’t accept responsibility and accountability usually end up placing the blame on someone else, and, in turn, tend to lose the respect of others’. Since people don’t follow those they don’t respect, managers who aren’t respected can never be a leader.
People choose their leader. Although we agree with this point, we believe that great leaders do not sit back and wait to be chosen. Great leaders make a conscious decision to lead. Based on their decision to lead, they exhibit the behaviors where others want to follow them.
Managers do things right but leaders do the right things. This is a great concept from Warren Bennis. However, here’s my challenge: I believe that great managers also do the right things, and that great leadersalso do things right. I understand this philosophically but believe the more significant point that supersedes this is that great leaders, with or without a title, have the relationship where people want to follow them.
Leaders are in control. Great leaders trust their team members and therefore give up control. What great leaders do maintain is holding others accountable and taking responsibility for the results of their team or organization.
Leaders have a vision; managers execute the vision. Sometimes people describe this as leaders being big picture thinkers and managers working on the details. Although most leaders do have a vision, great managers also have a positive vision of the future. On the other side of the coin, great leaders also get involved in executing the vision–the actual doing–when needed. Last, while great managers also have a vision, there are times that great leaders have to become involved in the intimate details of something to gain understanding and lead the team in a direction that aligns with their new understanding of the details.
Thankfully, these are myths. Leadership isn’t bestowed upon us or built on something innate and unchangeable, it’s built on behavior, which is largely a choice. Leadership is in your hands so don’t let myths deter you.