6 Most Common Misconceptions About Leadership

In my 20s, my boss asked about how I was getting along with my new teammates. I mentioned that everything was going smoothly and highlighted "Maria" for her significant contributions. However, my boss quickly dismissed my comments, stating, "No, she is not a born leader." Confused, I asked for clarification. He said, "She's too quiet, seems insecure, and is too emotional. She will never be a leader."

As it turns out, he was wrong. Maria continued to be a valuable team member, achieving the best performance in the following quarter and being voted the “favorite colleague” by her peers that year. A few years later, she leveraged her informal authority to secure a formal director position in another company.

Like my former boss, many people mistakenly believe leadership cannot be developed. This outdated view limits the potential for growth in both others and oneself. The first step towards adopting a new leadership approach is to identify and discard these old beliefs. Today, we'll explore six common leadership-limiting beliefs and the necessary mindsets to overcome them and practice Democratic Leadership:

🤰"Leaders Are Born, Not Made"

This misconception stems from the confusion of charisma and extroversion with leadership. While charisma and extroversion can be beneficial for leaders, they do not automatically make you one. Charisma can be learned if needed, and introverts can also be leaders. This myth can deter potential leaders and limit your ability to recognize the hidden potential in others.

New Mindset: While some traits may be natural, leadership skills can be developed and honed through experience and education. By engaging in meaningful action, tackling challenging problems, frequently reflecting to learn in action, and creating the same opportunities for others, you can become a better leader and empower others to do the same. Leaders are made!

👆"A Leader Must Have All the Answers"

It's not unusual to assume leaders have all the answers, but the truth is, they don't.

New Mindset: Embrace the notion that leaders are facilitators of knowledge. Encourage team collaboration and be open to learning from others. Effective leadership isn't about having all the answers (because you don't), it’s about enabling all the talents.

👩‍⚖️ “Leadership Requires a Formal Title or Position”

If you are a Director, CEO, or President, are you automatically a leader? Not really. All of us have seen people with big titles not providing any leadership. There is a difference between a position of authority and the practice of leadership.

New Mindset: Leadership is about what you do (action), not what your title is. Can you help us make progress on this challenge and build a new capacity or not? This should be quite a liberating idea, cos you don’t have to wait to gain formal authority (a title) to start leading - you can do it today by enabling yourself and others to achieve your purpose in the face of uncertainty!

🫡 “Leadership is About Commanding and Controlling”

Traditional views often paint leadership as a directive role. This misconception can lead to a command-and-control style of leadership that is often counterproductive and can stifle creativity, reduce morale, and hinder team performance.

New Mindset: Leadership is NOT about creating a dependency on you as a leader. Instead, it's about fostering agency (new capacity) in others to tackle complex challenges and contribute more. This includes listening, exchanging feedback, co-creating, and providing space for others to learn through meaningful experiences, even if they occasionally make mistakes.

🏋️ "Leaders Can't Show Vulnerability"

Showing vulnerability is often seen as a sign of weakness. There's a false notion that leaders must always appear strong and in control.

New Mindset: Encourage a culture of honesty and continuous learning by sharing your challenges and failures with your team. Dispel the myth that good leaders never make mistakes. Great leaders make mistakes, learn from them, and empower others to do the same. This is the path to authentic leadership which builds deep trust.

🥰 “Leadership is About Maintaining Harmony”

Avoiding conflict is often seen as a leadership goal. In reality, leadership involves navigating tensions constructively and viewing them as opportunities for deeper understanding and growth.

New Mindset: Effective leaders bring differences and conflicts to the surface so that we can address them, and use them as ingredients for innovative solutions. Disagreement and productive conflict are catalysts for innovative co-creation.

🚀 Action Item

True leadership begins with self-awareness and the willingness to challenge and transform our own beliefs for the greater good. Here is how you can start:

  1. Choose one belief you have about leadership that might be outdated. Maybe reflect on a recent situation where admitting uncertainty could have helped your team. Or, recall a time when being open and honest could have strengthened your connection with your team.

  2. Over the next seven days, take two minutes each day to write down where and how this belief manifests.

  3. Share your reflections with one person that you trust (from work or otherwise).

Remember, leadership is not about being born with certain traits, but about embracing the journey of continuous growth and development, for both yourself and those you lead.

Until next time,

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