Why is it that we have these beliefs and carry them with us in our day-to-day lives? Mythology resonates soundly with us today. We have an uncanny ability to be able to remember specifics about myths far more readily than details about more mundane matters. One of the reasons for this is that it is much easier to recall information when it is in the form of a narrative as opposed to in its raw state. Myths make it easy.

Sometimes myths can be of tremendous benefit to us in that we are able to remember a situation from which we can learn or grow. Captivating stories allow us to make sense of more multifaceted matters by crossing psychological, social, political, or even spiritual lines. But myths have a downside as well. Without challenge, myths become gospel, and we can find ourselves hanging on to thoughts and practices that are simply ineffectual.

Since myths are a comforting way to explain the unexplainable, it makes sense that we would depend on myths to help us in our leadership journeys. When we take a complex concept like leadership, and depend on myths to explain it, we fall into an intellectual and emotional trap that fails to serve those we lead. Tradition, legends, and folklore become our guiding principles and we become blind to the reality of today’s leadership challenges.

Here are the 10 most common leadership myths and how to overcome them:

MYTH 1: Aggressive leaders get results.
Not always. In fact, oftentimes, forceful leaders introduce performance barriers and anger those who they rely on. Being aggressive is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of insecurities and a way to mask the weaker individual within. It often leads to relying on coercion to get things done, resulting in bare minimum effort and limited results. Meanwhile, loving leaders who work well with others are the ones accomplishing the mission.

MYTH 2: Leaders are supposed to have the answers.
Let us hope not. The complex world in which we lead is far too volatile for us to have the answers all the time. Anyone who thinks they must have every solution is fooling themselves, but not those they work with. We all need to depend on others to fill in the gaps, give us insights into what we might be missing, and provide their expertise. Being vulnerable and humble creates a bridge to team members, nurtures trust, and fuels creativity.

MYTH 3: Leaders do not have enough time.
No one feels like they have enough time and leaders are no different. Time is limited, there are only so many hours in the day. The best leaders make better choices on how they spend their time. They put time aside to increase self-awareness, build relationships, and care for themselves and their employees. They invest their time in their employees and know that employees will invest their discretionary energy and time in return.

MYTH 4: Extroverts make better leaders.
The main difference between the extrovert and introvert is that extroverts think as they speak and introverts speak after they think. To be truthful, they both bring tremendous advantages and some disadvantages to the workplace. Neither has the edge over the other where leadership is concerned. Both can exude love, be authentic, and find joy in the workplace.

MYTH 5: Leaders do not make hard decisions based on feelings.
We all know that leaders make tough decisions all the time. In fact, it is one of the things that leaders are paid to do. Often these decisions are based on data, as they should be. However, when we base our decisions solely on data and metrics and ignore the feelings of those who are impacted by the decisions, we miss a tremendous opportunity to build bridges, trust, and get that much needed buy-in from employees. Emotional intelligence matters.

MYTH 6: Leaders tell it like it is.
One of the more common misconceptions about leadership is that leaders are confident in what they believe—that they take a ‘no holds barred’ approach to telling it like it is. Rarely, if ever, is this the best approach. The way we deliver a message is not the way everyone receives it. Leaders need social awareness and sensitivity in order to convey their vision in ways that people can understand and be inspired. The best leaders have a connection with their employees and deliver the message in a way that will ultimately be better received.

MYTH 7: Leaders make mission first.
The problem with this often-repeated mantra is that a mission cannot be accomplished without its people. It is the people who will implement the decisions made by leaders and devote their time and energy to mission accomplishment. They come first. If people do not come first, mission accomplishment will be mediocre at best. Mission matters of course. It is the reason that we work in any given organisation. But having mission first by definition means that everything else comes second. Waving a mission accomplished flag when its people feel undervalued and uncared for is a failed mission.

MYTH 8: Leaders are highly credentialed and educated.
This is perhaps one of the biggest fallacies of leadership. Not only have numerous individuals with well-known college degrees and intellect failed miserably as leaders, but many out there without college degrees have become tremendous leaders. What matters most is the ability to continue to know one’s self and know the people that work for them. This human connection is what matters most.

MYTH 9: Great leaders are born.
This can sometimes be true, but not always. Leaders are mostly made. We all have the capacity to learn to lead, and leadership takes continual work and learning throughout one’s career. We are not limited in any way by our genetic composition in terms of our ability to influence and inspire others.

MYTH 10: People will take advantage of a humble leader.
This is true only if the leader allows it to happen. Leaders with humility show tremendous character strength and are better able to connect with others and build high performing, productive teams. A humble leader is also well equipped to address poor performance and inappropriate behavior clearly and directly. We can learn a lot from mythology and such stories offer us a sense of grounding and comfort. It is simply a lot easier to depend on things that we assume to be true as opposed to doing the hard work to discover the truth for ourselves. With the time-sensitive, hyper-competitive nature of the workplace, it is no wonder that leadership myths thrive.

What we cannot do is depend on mythology, legend, or stories as substitutes for effective leadership. The role of the leader is far too important to fall into the trap of leaning on unproven theories about what works. Instead of accepting things at face value, leaders must be life-long learners and seekers of the truth about who they are, how they relate to others, and their impact on their organisations. This demands humble inquiry, discernment, and reflection on the part of leaders everywhere.


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